10 February 2009

A rant on "active" church (with fitness club analogy)

My friend Kate wrote a blog post in which she asked some excellent questions about the nature of "church" and what being a part of this thing called "church" looks like. Among her questions:
But then I began to think a bit - what if I’m the one who needs to be served? What if I’m not in a position to serve yet - not in a place to work? Am I part of the church too? And if I am, what does that mean? And if I’m not, then is that really such a bad thing?
Something in there got me fired up, and I wrote a long comment in reply. Since I ended up with so dang many words, I figured I'd post them here too. Here's me:

I think it depends what you mean by “not in a position to serve.” Here’s what *I* mean. :-) (Note that I’m talking ideals here - specifically *my* ideals, FWIW.)

I don’t think churches should be places in which “just show up and be served (or taught or inspired or whatever)” is an option that would even make sense - on an ongoing basis. We all have periods in our lives when we need to just lean on others - when we’re suffering or overwhelmed or grieving or in crisis. This applies to pastors too, though y’all rarely have the freedom to go into that mode. Of course churches should be communities where we support each other in those times, and don’t ask much of the struggling person - this loving support should be a hallmark of Christian communities. (Though I’d also mention that I’ve received *huge* gifts through coming alongside folks who are struggling - so it’s not as if you’re not “serving” when you’re in a place of needing others to serve/help/support you, IMHO.)

But this should be in the context of a clear cultural context within the church community: it should be obvious to the newcomer walking in that this is a community of people who *all* work to serve and bless each other and the world. Yes, on any given day, not every single person will be able, or even needed, to work/serve. But it should simply be a given fact of the community culture that every single person in the community is encouraged and challenged (by the the people around them, not just the “leaders”) to discern the gifts they have for service, and to serve. This shouldn’t be something people just talk about, or that only some people do - it should be part of the nature of the community.

Walking into a church community should be like walking into a gym/health club. It should be blatantly obvious that everybody is there to actively participate. Sure, I *guess* you could just hang out and watch everybody else exercise, but that’s pretty obviously an odd thing to do. If you’re injured or sick, then you might need to work out *much* less strenuously and/or with a lot of help, or not work out at all for a while. But still, the nature of the place is immediately apparent. If you don’t want to exercise, you’ll probably go somewhere else.

I honestly think churches should be like that. Jesus calls followers, not fans. “Show up and be appreciative” should really not be a long-term option. *Everybody* has gifts, *everybody* can serve (I recall a story of an elderly woman who became frail, deaf, and blind - and found a new calling as a powerful intercessory prayer warrior), and our church communities should be places where *everybody* is actively invited to do so - from day one - not just with words but by the very nature of the community. Everybody else is serving, so it would be kinda weird not to.

And I do mean “from day one”. You’re new? Welcome! Can you help me put these books away? You’ve got doubts? Me too. What’s your take on today’s Scripture passage? Etc. But I *don’t* believe in the “We’ll start you out with just sitting back and being served/taught/inspired, then maybe you’ll eventually graduate to participation.” That’s rubbish. That’s how people go their whole lives as fans, not followers, of Jesus.

OK, sorry for the big rant. Whew. I got going there. Anyway, obviously something I feel strongly about. :-)

Head on over to Kate's blog for the whole conversation - it's much better with all her words there too.

image by The Killer Biscuit (rights)


P3T3RK3Y5 said...

good sports club analogy.

so when i've joined a gym before, i always got a couple sessions with a personal trainer... there's no sitting on the sidelines there!

spankey said...

Thank Mike - I like what you are saying. There is something very Anglican in what you are saying; as the greatest strength of common prayer is that my neighbor can offer the prayers that I just can't say today. We have a person who recently re-joined our community. She holds a master's degree in Christian education, is a talented musician, and a prayer warrior, but came in making it clear that she was in a tough spot right now and needed some time to breathe before she could reach out. Two things strike me; a) she knew she had to serve (it wasn't an option) and b) she was willing to admit she needed space first.

Anyway, like this a lot. Thank you.