Here are a few more thoughts on the subject, which I started blogging about in July.
Just busy doing my job, I ask . . . “Do you have a church at which you worship regularly?”
She answers: “No. I haven’t been to worship regularly in almost two years.”
I say, “Oh, are you looking for a church?,” thinking to myself: possible new member??!?
She says: “I’m still recovering and I’m not sure I’m ready yet. I used to work at a church.”
Say no more.
If politics makes strange bedfellows, so does the secret fraternity of Those Who Sleep In On Sundays. Along with all the Atheists and Secular Humanists and People Who Don’t Care are those among us who at one time got up early every single Sunday morning . . . but who have since given up on the church. And lots of those asleep on Sunday are folks who had at one time been leaders in the church. Like the very nice woman I was chatting with the other day (who, by the way, would make a great church member).
But who can blame them? The church can be a treacherous place, and not just for those of us who work here. What begins as the hope for community and spiritual nurture can easily turn into (at least) just another thing to do or (at worst) a toxic place where one can get hurt pretty badly.
Why is that?
Well, I’ll tell you why. Churches are human institutions. There’s nothing in the institutional expression of any church that makes it impervious to contamination by all the things other human institutions fall prey to: power hunger, greed, lust, social climbing, jealousy, elitism, dishonesty. The problems come when we begin to confuse the work of the church with the work and presence of God, when the two may very well be synonymous or even complimentary but they are never, ever exclusive.
We sometimes forget that just like it takes discipline to keep our own little lives in tune to the voice and direction of God, so it takes a committed collective effort to be aware and attuned to the movement and direction of God’s Spirit in our corporate life-our life as the church.
People give up on the church most often when the church is unable or unwilling to practice disciplines that keep it attuned to the leadership and direction of God’s Spirit. And when we’re not listening, then we begin to practice not being the church but rather being something else-an advocacy organization or one family’s country club or a self-help group or even an entertainment organization.
And when that happens, well, then, it all snowballs from there until there’s a big crash and, inevitably somebody gets hurt.
And gives up on the church.
So, I am pondering today: why even keep the doors open? When even inquire if a visitor has a faith community? Why even employ a church staff? Why don’t we just give up on the church, too?
I don’t know the answer to those questions, but I do know I’d rather just keep setting the alarm for Sundays. See, I still feel the whisper of God’s presence when the organ plays. I feel somehow cosmically connected when I hear “The peace of the Lord be with you.” And I feel nourished when I slurp down the dried out square of Pepperidge Farm Light White Bread and flimsy cup of Welch’s along with everybody else.
I’m not quite ready to give up on the church yet.
But I knew her pain, that young woman who explained she was taking a break. And she knew mine, because before she left she gave me a hug and said she knew. She just knew. No, I’ve not given up on the church. But I know how close I’ve come. Seems to me that puts me in a third category altogether: Those Who Have Been Sorely Tempted To Sleep In On Sundays.
Since we’ve walked along the precipice and seen where the church can fall, seems it’s up to us to do what we can to keep things on the straight and narrow . . . to keep voicing the reason we’re here . . . to keep praying for the church . . . to remember the high purpose to which we have been called-loving God and loving each other-and to radically live it out.
If those of us who are here can stick to the hard discipline of living corporately into our calling as the church, then maybe more people will be setting their alarms for Sunday mornings.
Maybe the church could live more fully and intentionally into the dream of Gospel community.
And maybe there won’t be so many of us giving up on the church altogether?