The video “Me Church” (credit to Billy Park for finding it; if you like it so much and you just gotta have it) made me smile at first, then think mournfully about what it meant from the church’s perspective, and then later it percolated into a different sentiment altogether.
I know what they’re saying, there are people who think that the church revolves around them. They want a church to offer a program for their needs, when they want it, with an entertainment level that suits them, and parking perks. I understand the problem. They are not willing to listen to anything uncomfortable discipline-wise nor are they willing to sacrifice any of their personal time, money, or energy for the sake of the Gospel.
Or are they?
This morning, I had the chance to sit down with Ray Gonzalez, former missionary and bible translator for Wycliffe, who now works for the Seed Company. We met at a Perspectives class almost three years ago that Ray had coordinated, which helped me gain a great deal of appreciation for the historical and strategic dimensions of mission work.
Ray had suggested we read a book together, Revolution by George Barna (as in the Barna Group). And although neither one of us had made it through the entire book, we had plenty to talk about (If you haven’t read the book, here’s a sampling of reviews: TallSkinnyKiwi, JollyBlogger, Out of Ur) . Both of us are children of immigrants, Ray hails from a Mexican heritage and I, from a Korean. It seems we both grew up in church and still spend a great deal of our time supporting ministry and working with many churches. And while I can’t say this about it myself, Ray has a couple of decades of ministry experience, mostly missionary context. To be short, we’re not the wishy-washy type Christians that the video clip is targeting here — quite the opposite, it seems as though church and evangelism are the only things we ever talk about (even family might be a distant second!).
Yet in the coolness of an autumn Saturday morning, overlooking Lake Lucerne from two wicker chairs, we didn’t play favorites with the book, we simply shared the honest truth to one another that neither one of us had felt satisfied with “church” in a long time.
It wasn’t about us. It wasn’t that there wasn’t a men’s ministry or a missions committee or a good enough worship team. It wasn’t as though we were dissatisfied that our churches don’t cater to our needs. It was simply because of the fact that church wasn’t the spiritual center of our lives. Please don’t misunderstand, we both love the church, we support the church, we are part of a local church, but the local church is only a component of our spiritual lives. Jesus is the center, but not necessarily, nor merely the church itself.
In essence, Ray and I both found ourselves confessing that we wanted church everyday. We considered our jobs full-time ministries. We thought of our neighborhoods where we lived as mission fields. We find community with people that we play sports with and work with, it seemed strange to have all that kind of mentality and language stop on Sunday. Through the course of our conversation, it seemed as though perhaps the local church with all its various factions and politics, seemed to demand more of our attention on the church than the work of the church itself. Perhaps the reason why churches seem to be “greying” and congregations less motivated, is because there is a certain sense of disconnect with the demands that they make on our time and yet the small return that is made to impact the community.
Don’t get me wrong, I may not understand all the nuances of denominations and various theologies, but it seems strange to the non-believer that when Christians say that they want to impact the nations and reach the world for God, there are dozens of churches in a square mile, that each funnel more money into their utilities, mortgage, maintenance, sound equipment, carpeting, and programs than they do anywhere else.
I could see how the creators of that video can satirize a “Me Church”, but I could also find real-life examples of “Church Church” — The First Presbyterian Church of the First Presbyterian Church. Ethnic churches have a stronger tendency to make church about their ethnicity and be drawing people only into their communities while notoriously excluding those that leave or “break” fellowship with them. In essence, the First Korean Baptist Church is really for, and only for, First Korean Baptists.
Of course, I know that not all churches are like that, much like there are many strong believers who aren’t “backsliding” just because they didn’t show up on Sunday. While I could see someone criticizing Barna for writing such a book, some of the figures that his surveys I think are so compelling that he had to write it. Someone has to write about this. It’s not going away.
In any case, fixing this world is going to be a lot harder with a broken hammer and broken nails…
but for such a task, a carpenter’s body was broken.