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new ways of doing church 2

September 30, 2017

Have you ever wanted to get involved with Church, gone along on a Sunday morning and, at first, found people really lovely and welcoming; only to find after a while that actually these people are quietly judging each other – and have no time for the other church down the road, and are likely to refuse to get involved with other groups.

If you have – and sadly I have from time to time – you will know why many people just don’t do church – at least, not the way we do it!

I have explained that Church should be a place of absolute acceptance and welcome in “Why I love the Church”, more often than we would like it isn’t anything like that “rainbow” place of welcome and there are actually a number of reasons that make this likely: here are three of them –

  1. We really just don’t get Grace
  2. We act as if our cultural and theological preferences are actually absolutes
  3. we don’t make room for the creatives and challengers in our church structures

first and most difficult for us is that we don’t really get grace: OK, I am more than willing to accept that we understand it, we know that the perfect Jesus took our wrongdoing and faults in a way we could never deserve – and that we are given new life! But I think we fail to actually get grace in how we live:

Let me give you an example, a working class man comes into church and gets involved, we are welcoming and make room for him – but over time we gradually put our expectations on him. As a new Christian he should be reading his bible (despite never having learnt to read), he should now be able to concentrate for the whole of the sermon – up till now he has never listened to anyone talking for more than 10 minutes. As he gradually disappoints our expectations of him we begin to think of him, and treat him, as someone on the edge of the church – not in our clique… We just don’t get grace.

Or we start working with young people in the neighbourhood, and because it takes time and effort we begin to think of ourselves as the ones who do the work, which becomes we are the core of the Church, which gradually morphs into we are the real Christians, cos everyone else is simply not committed… We just don’t get grace.

The truth is that nothing we do makes us any more loved by God – not more prayer, or being at more meetings, or reading our bibles more, NOTHING!

when we finally begin to understand that we are as messed up, and as uncommitted as everyone else, but God still loves us – then we begin to get grace. When that happens we suddenly find ourselves giving people allowances, understanding their reasons, giving them a break!

2. we love to do church with people like us. When we have invested so much into church – meeting these same people every Sunday morning and through the week. Of course we “naturally” like people that we have loads in common with, so our church end up monocultural. We allow this to happen rather than choosing it, but the result is the same, we have young (student) churches, we have black churches, we have working class churches (occasionally), we have churches that have hymns played on organs and chants sung by choirs, and we have churches where worship is led by a band, but mostly we have middle class churches.

The sad thing about this is that the average person just doesn’t understand why we have so many churches – many struggling to survive – instead of simply coming together as one rainbow people!

the last reason I want to highlight is that even within our mono-cultural church institutions we edge out those who will disturb the status quo. Mostly in church structures we don’t like change, so we quietly ignore and sideline those who suggest different ways of doing things. Ironically it is these very people; the prophets, evangelists and apostles who could help us most to recover what we have lost by being tied into our church structures. These people are often just outside what we think of as “real” church in “para-church” organisations, doing mission, or campaigning on important issues, or doing good in the world.

Yes I know it is uncomfortable to admit we need grace and forgiveness, that our preferences are not actually as important as welcoming and serving the people we find difficult, and that real church has to be a place where change is happening. But if we are really to be the church that God designed we have to make room.

As ever, I am hoping to prompt your thinking and debate – so please use the comments box to share your thoughts.

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