Really, this is random thoughts based on this post from Michael Frost.
The 2 years I lived back in Asheville, just after completing seminary, I tried out many churches, trying to find one not only to belong to, but one to serve in. In that search I went to an “up and coming” church plant a few times. The pastor preached a sermon and said “that God wrote the book of Numbers which means God cares about numbers in the church.” He was serious! I couldn’t believe my ears. This man asked me to help his church grow. I never returned.
Often I’ll see posts on FB, an email, or marketing hype. It will say something like look how many people showed up for this event! Look at how many people attended this program that we “successfully” implemented. Oh, and the church will display a picture with their building packed with people. They might even get featured in a newspaper. We might have a program, a method that packs the place so thoroughly that people can’t find a seat. Now I’m not saying that this is always a bad thing. Also as away to thank volunteers, these posts are beautiful, but I’m questioning this culture of measurement for numbers, because as Michael Frost points out on his brilliant post “as long as we focus on numbers, we’re not focusing on what we’re meant to be doing as the people of God.”
At these numbers oriented churches, I then watch the people hurry up and leave as soon as the programs are over. I try to talk to people and never get beyond surface level. My initial response is how many disciples are we producing? How many lives are be transforming by the unmerited grace of Jesus? How are peoples lives changed at work, at school, in their homes, etc? Oh, and are we caring for the the elderly, especially those who have lost their spouses or who are alone? Does the church follow business / marketing principles to the point that it doesn’t even have elderly people? That’s a sad place with a gaping whole. 😦 How are we engaging in racial reconciliation? Oh! We won’t even talk about it!!? Why? I’ll ask how do we concretely live out our faith in Christ on the slopes (my context), while driving, in the business meeting, with our spouses, and I don’t get an answer. I have asked, why don’t I see a culture of discipleship modeled from the pulpit? Oh, that’s a great idea Tom. I like it so much, I’ll take it to the denomination. I don’t want it taken to the denom, but embraced locally. Yes, I want to help too, but not if you won’t model it or become a cheerleader for it, pastor. This is NOT a book study where the group leaves each other after the book is completed. That’s not community. That’s a program, one without spiritual friendship in mind. How are we engaged in discipleship? Do we even know what this word means? 😦 Once again, This goes way beyond reading a book or attending a bible study the pastor leads. I may formulate some posts about this that I’ve been thinking about, thoughts inspired by James K. A. Smith, Jesus, peacemaking as integral to discipleship, and looking back to the early church to see how they were formed in heart, soul, mind, and action, yet I digress.
How is the church culture growing spiritually? If a homeless person walks in, how will he or she be treated? If a veiled Muslim walks in, will she and her kids be loved? Will you hear whispering? Can a former inmate come clean and be accepted? Or does the culture have an unwritten rule saying that “these people” don’t belong here. 😦 If somebody is moving or if a refugee needs help, does the culture readily offer that help or are we all too busy. Or is it taboo or even too exotic to help a refugee? Can a doctor or lawyer, or someone who is financially successful take off his or her mask and be real or is there a culture of perfection where they want to wear the mask and not let people in? As a person in this demographic told me recently, people of status, those who are highly educated and the like, they don’t want to hear that they are sinful or broken. Can we all be broken and messed up together, with no strings or expectations? Y’all we are all equal at the foot of the cross and at the Lord’s table. Can we not be perfectionist oriented, but can we be a culture where we can be meek, failures, broken, and authentic? Is leadership something that is spoken about often? What about servanthood. How is that modeled?
I can think of amazing servants in church who never preach, but who are walking sermons pointing us to Christ. People potentially reading this right now.
How are we measuring what matters in church? Not only that, but what matters most in church? And if we are considering this, let us remember that Sunday morning can be understood as the main event, but the church, the called out ones, our lives in Christ are 24/7/365, not just an hour or 2 or 3 per week.
Now don’t get me wrong. Especially as a sacramental-oriented Jesus follower, I can talk about the importance, the necessity of the Lord’s Supper / Eucharist, yet I’m getting at something different.
Even at Salt Lake Theological seminary, we had a worship class and I remember trying to discuss the majority of our life, yet in every class, if I remember correctly, the primary focus was on Sunday’s main event or preparing for it. 😦
So what will we count, what mattes, when measuring the church? How and what we count and prioritize will determine the lives of many?