This is an excerpt of my newest book, Free Range Faith. What’s different about this book book is that I am writing it piece-by-piece here on the blog and I am asking for your comments along the way, so it will be a better book. So please share your thoughts and experiences.
Section 1 – Transitions
People who have left the institutional church need to find new avenues of spiritual expression and that can be rather challenging when you are used to having everything dictated to you.
Those who have little experience with or use for the church need to see the clear difference between the brilliant ideal and tainted institutional expression so they don’t disregard the core truth as the react to way it has been expressed.
So, in this section, I take us on a walk through the Christian Hall of Fame of those time worn practices like the worship service, the collection, Bible study, prayer, and missions work. With each of these I will attempt to chisel away the centuries of corrosion to see if there something valuable at the core. Not everything that has built up over the centuries of Christian tradition is corrosive to that core, but, unfortunately, a lot of it is. Lastly, I will try to discern if there are practical ways to implement that core truth into real life today.
Chapter 1 – Sundays: Refresh!
The more traditional church schedules seem to have in been designed to exhaust people on what was supposed to be their appointed day of rest. Sunday church schedules used to include Sunday School, followed by a church service, followed by another church service in the evening. Those involved in leadership roles would often find themselves in committee and board meetings also squeezed into their “day of rest.”
For pastors, it is even worse. Since I was one for over twenty years, I know what it was like to get up hours before my church members on a day when everyone else was sleeping in. There was so much on my shoulders. I had to review the sermon to see if I had it more of less memorized so I could have a natural, spontaneous-seeming delivery. Some busy weeks caused to put off way too much of the preparation process to the last minute. On those Sunday mornings I was in panic mode and had to get up even earlier. I also had to make sure everyone on the platform knew their role in the service. I prayed with them and tried to keep them calm and encouraged as we all approached the hour of our public presentation, not unlike actors performing in a live theater production.
Since I pastored booth a new church and a church that sold its building and re-started in rented facilities, I was also involved in setting up. There was all of the stuff for the nursery and the children’s area that had to be put in place as we tried to make a theater or school look well-appointed and comfortable. In the latter years, there was tons of tech gear, guitars, keyboards, amps, drum sets, mikes, a soundboard, cables, lots of cables, computers, projection equipment, and large speakers to be temporarily installed in rented quarters. I was usually sweaty before the service ever began.
Preaching was one of my greatest joys and biggest stresses. I love creative communication and connecting with people. But being “God’s spokesman” was a weighty task. I had to interpret the text right, communicate it with power and conviction, hold people’s attention, and move them to a desired goal (repentance, hopefulness, a sense of personal responsibility, taking a next step, etc.).
I also had to be available to everyone before and after the service and was always the last man out of the building on Sunday. By lunch time, I could hardly finish the meal and remain conscious.
Such is the charmed life of the pastor!
For the average church member Sundays are less exhausting, but still very strenuous. You have to get up early on a day when your natural biological rhythm tells you to sleep in. Then you dress nicely and put on your happy face, regardless of how you really feel. Eventually, you go sit with other people who have drug themselves out of bed and put on their happy faces, as you hold out a faint hope for inspiration, or at least, consciousness through the service and the sermon.
Family preparation for the Sunday morning service qualifies as comedy (or tragedy) depending on your frame of mind at the time. As a parent, you have the awesome responsibility of not only preparing yourself for the momentous occasion, but each of your children as well. On the day when you would dearly love to take a break from the morning rush, you, once again, have the duty of badgering obstinate people out of their slumber. From there, you herd them through your limited bathroom facilities, make sure they are suitably attired so as not to create a bad impression of your parenting skills, feed them something that takes almost no time to prepare or consume, and strap them in the car.
Usually something spills at the last minute or someone can only find one shoe. Your day of rest is already a day of stress. Invariably, at least one person in the family is in a bad mood which infects the others at a rate that would alarm the Center for Disease Control. But after vicious threats and raised voices, you pull into the parking lot and blackmail the little human beings into being nice and looking happy.
Such a joyous family occasion! Patty and I did it for years. I am sure our kids could tell some stories!