Everybody comes to a church service on Sunday, looking for something. For some, that something is inspiring worship and engaging preaching. For others, it’s a sacramental experience and a sense of authenticity. For still others, it’s to feel something – and still others, it’s cultural relevance. In some ways, I guess, the list for what people expect on Sunday is as long as the list of people who come on Sunday.
We’re told that millennials are leaving the church in droves. And this rise of the “Nones” – who claim no connection to Church or organized religion – is a cause for concern that has churches responding different ways. Some seek to be on the cutting edge of church – with cool music, the right ambiance, and a hip preacher. Others seek to be authentic, and focus on a spiritual experience. Both, it seems to me, can work – and are working.
But it causes me to wonder: in both cases, is the focus on the wrong place? In both cases, are we trying to figure out what millennials want – instead of what they need? For that matter, do we try to do that with every generation and group within the Church?
It’s so easy to do what I mentioned in last week’s blog – divide people up by voting bloc. And while it’s no surprise that political candidates do this, should we do this in the Church? Should we be asking: What do millennials want? Or seniors? Or single people?
Instead, should we be asking: What do they NEED?
In strikes me that Church will always be one step behind culture when it comes to trying to figure out how to appeal to people’s wishes, wants, and desires. How would we ever think we could beat Madison Avenue and Hollywood at their own game? For that matter, why would we want to?
Our job isn’t to meet wants or felt-needs, but to point people to Jesus. To lead them into His presence, where they are changed. This doesn’t mean we ignore methods, or opportunities. It doesn’t mean church should look like it did in the Golden Age (whenever that was). In fact, churches often think they are standing on principle when they choose to resist change – when, in fact, often they are standing on traditionalism. This is when we confuse method with message. Tradition is the truth handed down through the Church through the ages. Traditionalism is the way WE feel most comfortable handing down that truth. And frankly, in too many churches, traditionalism trumps the tradition.
All of this is to say: There are plenty of ways to get church wrong, and only one way to be sure we get it right. Focus on Jesus. Trust the Spirit to guide. Lead people into the presence of God. And all of this is done with the goal of changed lives – lives changed by encountering the very real presence of a Living God.
If this is our goal, and our direction, how we do worship quickly fades behind the more important issue: Who we worship.
So, give me a cool band, or no instruments at all. Give me a preacher who is 28 and hip, or 78 and needing a hip replacement. Turn off the lights and light the candles, or turn up the lights and pull out the hymnal. Sit in a pew in a grand cathedral, on a folding chair in a “big-box” church, or grab a patch of dry ground under an olive tree. Share communion in little cups filled with Welch’s, or in a chalice filled with wine. Pray the Lord’s Prayer, or a prayer from the heart.
None of these are the point. The point is simply: what helps bring us into the presence of God, where we can be changed? What matters most is not what we see and feel, but what is and what becomes. And what is, is God. Among us. With us. Leading us to become more like Jesus. And that’s worship where every one can find their place.
And that’s it. Unless you, dear reader, are a part of the church I serve – Fern Creek Christian. If so, read on. Sunday, the sanctuary will look a little different. With renovations nearing completion, we are beginning to use the new lights we have installed. This means that, beginning this Sunday, the sanctuary might feel different to you. Some will like it. Some, I’m sure, will not.
I only ask that you remember what matters most: now how we feel, but what we become. So, while I am very grateful for all that we have accomplished in our building renovations, I am most excited about what God is accomplishing in our lives.