Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Let's Turn Our Backs "AWAY" from Church

How would that title flow for a sermon?

According to George Barna in his book Revolution, there are over 33 million people living in America who claim to be spiritual, practicing, loyal Christians, yet they refuse to be associated with a faith community (aka--the church). They have been turned off from "the church" as an institution. I want to hear this group out because some of them have legitimate concerns such as: abuse of authority, abuse of church finances, neglect of the poor, racism, having allowed tradition to become doctrine...and the list could go on. All of this to say that many have turned their back away from the church.

But there is another way to talk about turning our backs away from the church.
I want to move away from the language which says, "For the church to survive in the 21st century it must quit doing ________ and must start doing ________." This statement suggests that the church has been wrong and needs to be brought into the light. For people who have poured their lives into the church it is easy to see these statements as threats. I don't want that.

At the same time, we need a heavy dose of humility which will allow all of God's people to say, "These are things that get in the way of the gospel, and here is a way to re-envision what the good news of Jesus might look like when we allow the Holy Spirit to stir our imaginations."

For centuries, the church has been at its best when we are turning our backs away from church.
1) Instead of being driven by the question "how do we get more people into this church for a Sunday assembly?" we need to ask, "How can we send our people out of a Sunday morning worship service in a way that will urge them to enter into God's mission field with eyes open to see where God is at work in this world?"
When we are too inward-focused our energy, money, and prayers consist of how to better serve the insiders. In a way, with this mindset, we are turning our backs away from the world.
On the other hand, when we urge our people to step outside of the walls of the church and to love the surrounding neighborhood, to work for justice, to serve the lesser-of-these, and to befriend the stranger...then we will find ourselves turning our backs away from the church in order to turn our face towards the world which God deeply loves.
2) If anything, this means that we will love the church more. The worship time on Sunday morning will become more meaningful, formative, and Spirit-filled when we frame Christianity as a call to disciple in which God is inviting us into His world. After all, he did choose to enter into the problems and struggles of this world.
3) John 1:14 has impacted me more in my life and ministry than any other verse over the past few years--"The Word became flesh and moved into the neighborhood." To take this verse seriously means that we need fewer leadership meetings exploring potential target groups. Instead, we need leaders who will opt for moments when we stand on the front porches of our churches to claim what we see as the harvest that is plentiful.
For me, this is the Christianity that I have fallen in love with and want to give my life too.

I love these words from BBT:
I was daydreaming about moving the celebration (The Lord's Supper) to the front steps of the church, 30 feet from one of the busiest intersections in the city. The fantasy is compelling: sweeping the trash off the steps, picking the newspapers and brown-bagged vodka bottles out of the bushes, and setting up a table underneath the telephone and power lines—smoothing out the table cloth as someone asks for directions and setting the table as someone else asks for a quarter—celebrating with my back against the front doors of the church and my face toward the rapid transit terminal, the bank, the fire station, the street—giving thanks on behalf of all the pedestrians walking by, all the cars, buses, trucks, and ambulances competing for headway, honking their horns. It is not something I will do, but I wonder why not.


Rick Ross said...

Powerful stuff! A church that lives out what you wrote would be transformed, as well as transforming. If only those words could have a Joel Olsteen-like audience.

Jeff said...

My daughter's school says "Enter to learn, go forth to serve" above the front doors. I wonder if the church could change the word learn for worship and put it over our doors.

I hope for the day that the people who were hurt by the church find peace, that the people who see church as a place to "be" experience a body that serves and the people who come and don't find what they are looking for are called to action. I'm in that mix somewhere and hope for the day I am living out God's desire for me.

Josh Graves said...

Anything by BBT should be added to the New Testament.


Brandon Scott said...

I love Josh Ross. Get your butt to Tennessee.