I was talking with some friends last night, and I realized how incredibly fortunate I am. God has placed a wonderful opportunity in my hands. How many people receive a call from God and a blessing from their local church to go and explore a new way of being the church? I feel like I get to wear a white lab coat as I examine, imagine and explore a new reality for church.
My imagination is working in overtime right now. Here’s what I’m thinking so far: I used to work for a Japanese Christian Church. Occasionally, I had the opportunity of attending a Buddhist funeral. I know those services held incredible meaning to the Buddhists who lived in that story, but for me it was completely foreign to my life. I would sit in the pews (yes, pews) and listen to the chanting, gong ringing and prayers without a clue to what it was all about. Then I would leave the service and enter my “real” life untouched by what I just experienced.
My experience in a Buddhist funeral service is similar to others who visit our churches. They have to enter a culture completely foreign from their “real” lives. They get up early on their only day off and come to a building where everyone is dressed nice and smiling. They think, “Boy, everyone around seems to have their lives together.” Immediately, they feel like an outsider.
Then comes the worship time. Granted, some people who are seeking God are deeply touched by moments of intimate worship. Yet, this isn’t the norm. Instead, most guests at a local contemporary church feel uncomfortable singing songs that communicate deep intimacy to someone they don’t know or contain foreign and mysterious metaphors (blood of the lamb, etc) or convey truths they don’t necessarily believe.
(Now don’t misunderstand me at this point. I’m not down on what most churches do for worship. I love intimate worship. But as I said before, I’ve been given a chance to explore something different. So keep imagining me in my white lab coat as I try to analyze the situation in order to explore something different. This isn’t an issue of right or wrong.)
After the worship time, guests then to listen to a 35 to 45 minute lecture from a 2000 year old book by a guy who seems to live and work outside of the dog-eat-dog, everyone-look-out-for-yourself world that the rest of the audience lives in. What’s worse, guests never get to engage in any kind of meaningful question-answer discussion so that their viewpoint is heard or the pastor’s viewpoint is questioned.
After the worship service, guests then re-emerge back to their “real” lives, carrying very little with them that relevantly pertains to where or how they live.
What I’ve just painted is a common critique made against the average church. The seeker-sensitive movement attempted to address this issue with some level of success by redesigning the worship event to be more “contemporary.” The music style became more pop-oriented. The sermons became more like “how-to” seminars. The buildings became more like offices and conference rooms than sanctuaries.
But, a whole new generation of people have grown up either within or around this form of church and have still not met Jesus in a life-changing way.
As a person who has been given a chance to dream outside of the box, I can’t help but ask, “So, what if we eliminate the event altogether?” Rather than trying to tweak the system, what if we design a brand new one? And what if this system introduces the church (God’s sent missional people) into the “real” world where everyone else lives? In other words, what would happen if rather than making church an event that one has to leave their normal life to attend, we re-capture the biblical idea of church being the people of God wherever they live. And what happens if we BE the church (incarnating the presence and fullness of God) in our normal daily communities — in the lunchroom at work, at home with our kids, at the park with our friends, in the bar with our co-workers?
In other words, what if we have to actually enter other people’s stories in order to transform their story and re-integrate them into God’s larger story? Isn’t that what Jesus did? He entered people’s story where they lived (the Samaritan woman at the well, the tax-collectors at Levi’s dinner party, etc) and painted a transformative vision of a larger, superior story in God. And that story he offered was big enough to hold everyone’s individual stories, but also confronted them with the necessary changes to enter God’s story.
If this becomes the primary focus of the church, it revolutionizes when we get together, where we get together and what we do when we get together. If the primary focus of the church is BEING the church (incarnating the fullness of God) in our daily lives, then everyone must view themselves as full-time missionaries where they live and work. If that is the case, then everything we do together is geared toward training the community members to fully incarnate Christ where they live.
What would our worship look like? What would our teaching look like? What would our community look like? What would our benevolence and social justice look like? How would we interact with our other Christian brothers and sisters in more established churches? What would our prayer lives look like? What would our leadership look like?
In other words, what should we be doing together so that we actually become the fullness of God — the kind of people who are capable of carrying out Jesus’ mission just like he did (John 20:21)?