Wednesday, July 24, 2013

So whom is church for?

We’re reaching the end of Andy Stanley’s The Grace of God, and I’m hitting my first area of disagreement.

Well, it’s not exactly disagreement. It’s more a case of I think he’s focused on half the picture.

Can I really say that about Andy Stanley? On I plunge.

This chapter, “Commissioned by Grace,” asks and answers the question, “Is church for everyone or is it just for church people?” Stanley doesn’t hesitate. It’s for everyone, he says, and he paraphrases St. James in that the church sometimes makes church too hard for people. “If the church is God’s primary vehicle for dispensing the message of grace, then the local church is clearly not for church people,” he writes. “It’s for everybody.”

And he’s right. We can slip into our “godly” insistence on form and procedure and “this is the way it’s always been done” and thus tell communicate to any newcomer that they’re welcome as long as they get with the program.

But that cuts both ways.

We can make our church services so “seeker-friendly” that they resemble little more than a toned-down rock concert, or sometimes even a toned-up rock concert. I’ve attended churches where the hymnals had disappeared, replaced by words projected on a screen that had a lot about I and me. And I’ve attended churches where singing anything but what was in the hymnal was considered the equivalent of heresy.

I’ve attended churches where the staff stifled any individual initiative from the congregation, and churches where the congregation expected the staff to do everything.

I’ve attended churches where no one greeted newcomers, and churches that replaced Bible teaching with popular books.

I’ve attended churches that were so focused on “seekers” that they forgot the need to make disciples.

All of these things are signs of something wrong. And the answer may not be a happy medium or compromise but something entirely different. And I don’t have an answer as to what that might be.

One clue might be how so many of us – young and old, disciple and seeker – are drawn to liturgy. So much changes every day in this virtual, 24-hour-news-cycle world that a church worship service, and a church, similar to the one from 2,000 years ago is not only welcome but stabilizing, an anchor in a world built upon transience. Or saying the Lord’s Prayer and the 23rd Psalm in the language of the King James Bible connects me to believers or 450 years ago, and believers scattered among a wide array of denominations today. (I will often pray the “Jesus prayer,” both aware of and appreciating the fact that the meaning of it, if not the exact words, connects me to Orthodox believers.)

But the church is more than a style of worship, or what words we use in a prayer. Stanley’s right – church is for everyone. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that everything relating to church members should be excluded.

Led by Jason Stasyszen and Sarah Salter, we’ve been reading Stanley’s The Grace of God. To see more posts on this chapter, “Commissioned for Grace,” please visit Sarah at Living Between the Lines.

Photograph by Junior Libby via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.


Mary Sayler said...

The healing of the churches has been a long-time theme for me, Glynn. I keep thinking if we Christians saw ourselves as WE the church, rather than "they the church," good things would surely happen! Thank you for this dialogue. God bless.

Anonymous said...

I find this to be a heart and mind opening kind of talk.

Sometimes i have considered that perhaps the making of new small groups that grow and spring from each larger, and older, one would be a good way of allowing for a more renewed and refreshed life.

Just as children grow and break away enough to allow for new family, which is still part of the one that they came from, only with a mindset in which only a smaller, more personal, and partly-renewed arrangement can manage or be open to.

Anonymous said...

I definitely understand where you're coming from, Glynn. Styles change, cultures change, and so much else changes, but it's the same Holy Spirit and same word that connects us. I too like to feel connected to generations ago whether near or far. It's a beautifully rich thing when we can feel and be a part of that connection. Thanks for the great thoughts.