Saturday, May 23, 2009

Is the Church that Bad 5

George, your comments on church seating arrangement has set me off on another tangent.

The early church started in the homes of people and they sat around in big lounges (atriums) and shared. In the old Roman houses there was also a central area for reclining around a table, this was probably where they broke bread eating meals and sharing the Lord's Supper. Initially I think they were like big home groups. 1 Cor 14:26 represents one example of this; a giant sharing time. We have to remember though that the reason that they did this was not so much choice, but because they were forced to through persecution. If they had been able to, they would have met in larger gatherings I am sure. So we have to be careful not to deify such gatherings as if they are the only way to do church. On the other hand, such church gatherings had strengths over ours. Two come to mind in particular. First, the whole body participated with the gifts more evenly (e.g. 1 Cor 14:26). Secondly, they could get a much richer sense of community.

Then after Constantine the cathedral and the big crowds and the priesthood took over. They gathered in large rectangular buildings in rows (pews) facing the front. The priest preached, led the communion, and they sang. In those days there was no instrumentation so even though there was a priest there, God was still very much the audience. With the advent of choirs and organs they were not on a podium facing the congregation, so this sense of God as audience remained. The preaching of the Word tended to be more like the sense of school, as the preacher expounded to the people, who listened.

Since the mid 20th century we have moved into the pop generation. Now the front of our churches is covered with musicians. It tends to feel on the one hand, like a rock concert, with the congregation as the audience listening to the band. This is tragic, because the audience for the worship is God! It is all about feel, beat and the latest song. The preaching of the Word is now difficult, I can say this from experience. On the one hand you are wanting to preach the Word in depth and really draw the people into it, yet they want to be entertained. We are in an age of instant gratification and hedonism. It is the age of the TV presenter who is dynamic and charismatic. So preachers are in a no win situation.

Churches have gravitated to this model because they have simply been forced to. Those that remained traditional in their worship and with solid preaching have had to shift models or die. Take the NZ pres church; those churches that moved with the shifts in music style and got really dynamic good preachers are the ones that are stronger today. The others are in big trouble with heaps of oldies, few kids and youth, cold empty buildings; or they are already closed.

The problem with the model though is that, like all 'pop culture', pop church is shallow and people move on. That is the nature of pop life, we move on as consumers looking for the next best thing. So in these churches, as worshipers mature, they find it is empty. Many intuitively feel that there is something missing and can't name it, and many move on. There is a distinct lack of community in many of these churches. The home group movement has helped alleviate this, but the very nature of the church structure mitigates community, particularly the larger churches.

The emerging church for me is a positive development. In some instances it is driven by a liberal agenda. In others however, it is motivated by a desire for deeper community so eating and sharing are encouraged. It seeks to make the proclamation of the Word more relational, interactive, rather than 'one man' (usually a man), preaching to the masses who are passive. In some cases it is very mission orientated, hoping to draw people into the community and taking church to the people.

The problem for a pastor in the main model we are locked in is, how to move the church on from it. You simply can't take a bunch of worshipers and overnight change their whole culture of worship, it won't work. You will tear the church apart (like wineskins). There are generational issues. I remember at one church we are at, Emma my wife, moved the big cumbersome lecturn off the stage of the church. One old guy flipped his lid. He couldn't handle it. He left the church. It led to a real set of problems. For him, it was sacred and church. Renewing a church is a long term project and takes real patience, love, gentleness and processing. It doesn't happen easily. Most church goers don't understand the nuances of mission and sociology. Please please please be fair to church leaders. They are trapped in a model and the getting out of it is very very difficult. I know one pastor right now who has completely fallen apart as he has smashed his head against a church that simply won't change. He is off to another church a bit of a broken man. Please realise that it is not easy.

Then we have people coming along, usually from an American mega-church telling us all how to run church. So the pastors read their stories and try to implement their ideas. Again, this works sometimes but not other times, because every situation is unique. It is hard going.

I think that we are in a time of transition. The old model will go on. Many will continue to do this and do it well. The challenge for them is to find ways to ensure there is participation, there is community and there is interaction with the Word. Pop churches are unavoidable for we are a pop culture. The challenge for them is to find good songs with good theology, deenthrone the band, preach in such a way that has depth but is not boring and bland, and to deepen fellowship and relationships. The old trad churches will either allow themselves to renewed or die. We are and will continue to see the development of new ways of church, in homes, with creative worship etc. (By the way, a note here. A lot of the ideals of worship expressed by emerging churchers are simply unattainable because of the work involved week by week, they are too resource and labour intensive. The church tends to gravitate to one style in any situation because it is impossible to maintain the resources to be dynamic and creative all the time!) The emerging church will continue to express itself. Hopefully then there will cross pollination. Change always brings resistance as well, so there will some good old scraps and arguments as people defend their narrow minded approaches! But hopefully, over time, a new way or ways of doing church will arise by the Spirit and we will again be able to reflect better the ideals of church in the Scriptures.

On the other hand, maybe not, because the church has never had it together has it? That is the point of my original blogs!

So what about us. We are the church so let's get in there and be the solution. Rather than put it down lets become constructive in connecting in with a local congregation and helping it on its journey in Christ; in building community, deepening worship, etc etc. Or perhaps we can't bring ourselves to do that; lets gather in new ways, trying new models of church in homes etc. And all the time, knowing that as we do, we delight God despite our failings. And as we do, let's continue to go out into the world and witnessing and then bringing them into the family of God. Let's renew our love for his people his church. Let's find a struggling pastor and help them. He/she might be suspicious of us for a while, but if we are committed over time, we will win their trust and be able to help them in the very very difficult task of bringing God's church into renewal. It always comes back to love to me. Love perserveres!


Anonymous said...

Good stuff mate, seems my purpose in life is to send you off on tangents :D

Alastair said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Alastair said...

I've been thinking...maybe it's not so much the 'audience' of postmodernity that is demanding this entertainment. Let's look to see if something happened in the 50's and 60's that bred a shallow, un-dynamic, dull group of presenters who are now the church leaders. I mean really, my grandparents all seem to have been tough old boots who didn't take any crap from my parents. In fact they were really hard on them. I wonder if the 'need to please' has become such a dominating characteristic of that generation perhaps due to rejection or lack of love and care by their own parents that all they aim to do is please and not offend anyone as a generalisation (enter the PC world center stage), as a result we now have a generation of demanding give it to me now X and Y'ers because our parents generation they dance baby they dance!
I think if the mom's and dad's would suck it up and get on with the business of leading properly then maybe the generation today would be more involved in the church cause it actually offered some backbone, depth and conviction...on that I ponder..

Dr Mark K said...

I think you are right. The desire for entertainment has always been there for sure. But the revolution after the hardship of the Depression and WWII in the 50's on saw the development of rock, the sexual revolution, TV and the rise of the prosperous middle class. It is now basic to our culture to be entertained. Now we have the PC, cell phone, play stations etc to keep this moving. Your comment on parents sound great and I do agree. But the problem is, so many kids only have one parent or they have a multitude of parents interlinked thorugh relationships. I have a nephew who has a single mum, a dad who is onto his fourth relationship, and a whole range of 'grandparents' and 'siblings'. His like is a mess and one can feel his lostness. Yes to your comments. But on family, we need a societal transformation that runs deep or we are up the creek with the paddle at the dock.