When I was a pastor, the Sunday morning service was the thing. We brainstormed, planned, practiced, studied, rehearsed, and critiqued, trying to get it just right. It consumed huge blocks of time every week. We wanted to create an impression and elicit a specific response. It was theater.
There are parts of this approach that I really enjoyed. The challenge of creative communication and using the arts was a lot of fun, but it was still premeditated theater.
People don’t live in an imaginary land. They live in reality.
A happy song, followed by a deeper one, followed by a meditative one, followed by a celebratory one is not going to change most people’s lives. A dramatic sketch that sets up the topic followed by a sermon that delves in a bit deeper, ending with the opportunity for a “life-changing” commitment probably isn’t going to do much either.
A beautiful auditorium full of beautiful people, all of whom who are “fine” is really a little creepy. What if we are not doing fine and who, by the way, really is doing fine every Sunday?
My chief grievance with the church is it just isn’t real. Therefore, it is not meaningful or effective. After a while, participation becomes either an addiction to our little emotional high experience, a social event to see our friends, a responsibility to our little church job, or an exercise in shear duty.
That’s why mentoring relationships and small group discussions have a greater potential for being meaningful. We feel freer to be ourselves in those types of settings.
Large group services have limitations, but if they were a little more real, it would be a huge improvement. There has to be freedom to be honest from the platform, not in voyeuristic way, where people try to out shock each other. People need to be given permission and encouragement to be honest. It means people other than the pastors need to be allowed to speak and to tell their story. It means every Sunday service does not follow the same pattern. It means there are avenues for people who want to take a next step. It means walking away from the church building feeling like someone else understands and you are not all alone.
Honesty heals and it celebrates grace. When we are honest, God does awesome things.
This is an excerpt from my forthcoming book, An Irreligious Faith.