I know you’re tired. Run down. Sad. Fed up. Angry, even.
I don’t blame you one bit.
I know the deep paucity you feel in your bones. The worst possible Sunday afternoon tragedy used to be a dry pot roast, a brown, leathery consequence of post-benediction parking lot conferences with Tom or Betty.
Now you go home, exhausted from the noise, bothered by the blatant emotional manipulation, haunted by the poverty you see. You’ve gone home angry and annoyed. You’ve wept over what they’ve done with your church, with THE church.
You know worship is supposed to be more than a rock show.
I know the people around you don’t get it, either. You’ve been told that you’re doing Satan’s work by daring to question the
church growth strategists leaders in front of you.
They’ve said you’re hindering the work of the Holy Spirit.
You’ve been called a Pharisee.
It’s been alleged that you’re callously indifferent to the eternal souls of the unchurched.
Even the ones you count as friends think you’re just pining for the good ol’ days. At the very least, you’re laughingly dismissed.
Your gifts have been shunned, ignored, wasted. Heck, I’ve been there, too, that time the paralegal became my boss.
Maybe you’ve been barred from your former places of service, replaced by an American Idol wanna-be with a hot mic and a six-string Ovation.
If you feel like you’re just barely hanging on, please let me offer this one piece of advice.
Leave. Just leave it all behind.
Dear brothers and sisters, if this is you, hear me out.
You can go. Yes, you can go.
I don’t say this lightly. There is real, unabashed grief in this prospect.
I know you have friends at your church. Maybe it’s the only spiritual home you’ve ever known. You’ve witnessed marriages there. You’ve rejoiced as your community has been shaped by water and Word. You’ve said goodbye to loved ones. You’ve given faithfully through the spiritual Advents and Christmases, the Lents and the Easters. You’ve cared together for the communities and the world around you. But it’s not the same place. Something’s changed, and it’s something that was never supposed to change. Not like this, anyhow.
Please know that if nobody else gets you, I do. I stand with you and honor you in your grief. You’re not being selfish or petty. You don’t have an attitude problem.
But let’s face it. It’s just not the same.
This beloved community, which once marked Sundays by coming together for the work of God’s people, is now a haven for entertainment. It’s a concert venue, really. If it weren’t for a few casual mentions of God and Jesus you wouldn’t even know they had anything to do with this whole thing.
Hale and hearty strains of disciplined worshipers are gone, and in their place, an electronic assault of primal, orgasmic ad libs.
Your script, your job, your voice have all been taken away, and now you just sit there, empty-handed, and empty-souled.
Songs of faith have been replaced by remarkably vapid, thoroughly mundane jesusy ditties.
The rhythm of the church year has given way to the mixed-metered syncopation of popular whim.
Sermons are guided by what the pastor says God is telling him (and it’s usually a him, unfortunately), not by a lectionary or a liturgical calendar.
Sacraments? What’s a sacrament? Commercial pop music is our new contemporary pseudo-sacrament.
There was once appropriate room for a complete range of human emotion, freely flowing from the retelling and reenactment of God’s mighty acts in Jesus Christ. Sobriety, grief, intentionality, urgency, repentance, lament resolution, thanksgiving, joy. And so forth and so on. Now, we’re expected to have fun. Church is the place for a good time, in Jesus’ thoroughly amusing name.
I’ve seen it too. This is how I grew up, in fact. I had a sneaking suspicion that there was more to church than the derivative music and self-aggrandizing topical sermon series. If there wasn’t, I’d have been through with church as soon as I moved out on my own.
Thank God that wasn’t it
Worshiper, please be honest. As tough as it is, you know you can’t stay here, biding the months or years or decades until by God’s grace you grow deaf, blind, and senile. You are right to feel this way. It isn’t a matter of taste or preference, whatever the entertainers may say.
The impetus for your grief is not hurt feelings, or even what’s happening with your own church. You grieve over what’s happened to the church.
This is worship, for God’s sake. And they’ve pulled it up by the roots.
Dear Christian, just go.
You have my blessing, even if you have no one else’s.
Go home and rest. Go home and heal. Go home, and don’t come back.
Go home and stay, if you have to. For a while, at least.
When your alarm clock chimes next Sunday, hit the snooze. Turn it off. Let your
pew stadium-style seat stay cold this week.
And next week, maybe.
Really, stay home for as long as it takes.
But don’t stay there forever.
After all, there are others who feel like you.
And there are still faith communities that have resisted preferential worship and consumer, little-C christianity.
You may have to look a little harder for them. They don’t have billboards. They don’t usually have huge crosses announcing their presence just for the hell of it. They probably don’t have TV commercials or radio spots or celebrity pastors.
You may have to go outside the faith tradition that’s become part of your identity. They might not sing all the same songs or use all the same language you remember. You might not agree with all their theology. There may be faithful followers there who vote differently than you. They might not even agree with you on every hot-button political issue. That’s okay. The church’s worship matters more than any of those things.
So when the buzzing in your ears has finally faded. When the fog has lifted. When the menacing waters of the entertainment church have finally receded. When you can breathe again, get back out there. When the post-traumatic worship disorder has released, start burning the early Sunday oil again.
Find a place where you can sit and rest and not be triggered.
Find a place where you can go and participate and just be part of the church once more.
Find a place where all voices have a prayer to pray, a song to sing, a sermon to say, and a common story to tell.
Find a place where “The body of Christ, broken for you,” means so much more than “It’s who I am, it’s who I am, it’s who I am.”
Find a place where Table, Font, and Pulpit haven’t been displaced by drum cage, music stand, and Madonna mic.
Find a place where the generational arrogance doesn’t obscure the multi-directional vision of true Christian worship.
And be a part of the worshiping community once again.
I won’t blame you if you go and never come back.
I’ll understand. That could have been me, too.
But, dear brother and sister, you matter.
And the church matters.
So, please go, but don’t stay gone forever.