Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Theaters of service

Our church is sharing sanctuary space with another local church. For our evening dinner church service we move the chairs out of the way and set up tables. Food is set up at our potluck table and drinks are on another table. We have been encouraging everyone to go green and bring in their own plates and silverware. After we eat people push back and our pastor brings out a wooden stool which she sits on to read Scripture and speak. Dressed casually in a white cotton top and black capris she brings us the message interspersed with questions to which we respond. One night recently she ran into some trouble opening a bottle of Cherry Sprite which exploded all over her when she took the cap off. So now she sat before us with a pink stained white cotton top. She took it in stride. After all it was just another night at church.

There are usually 20 to 25 of us congregating. Some times more and some times as few as a dozen -a number with good Biblical precedent. Often small children play off to the side and the older ones go to another room in the church for youth group. People come and go, get up to refill their drink glasses, or help with the children. Our pastor is not easily distracted although she might pause before finishing her point. We conclude with communion and prayer. We do some singing led by a person who plays the guitar. The words show up on a screen and people do sing unlike some churches we have visited which seem to have outsourced singing to a worship band.

It is not much of a worship performance with everything carefully scripted and looking very professional. Like you were in a theater watching a concert or a play. This has not been rehearsed. Anything is likely to happen. And does regularly. But, people are engaged. They are a part of the service, actually serving. I like that.

This week I was reading some harsh words of Jesus to the Pharisees recorded in Matthew 23. Scott Hoezee on the Calvin Seminary preaching website says it seems like Jesus was finally fed up with the Pharisees trying to lure him into a verbal trap. So, he lets them have it. In verse 5 he says the Pharisees live their lives in order to be noticed by others. It was not that they lived spiritually undisciplined lives. They were very pious and religiously devout. Nearly perfect. The problem was their motive. They were doing it to be seen, to make theater, literally (F.D. Bruner's commentary on Matthew).

Many churches resemble state of the art theaters from the seating to the audio/visual technology to the well crafted preaching, and delivery by the entertaining speaker (you should come to our church some one told me recently, oh really, I said, why. Our pastor is funny, i.e. entertaining). A case can be made for proclaiming the gospel in the best way possible. But, we have to be careful that the performance of proclaiming the gospel does not crowd out the gospel. In fact, can a nearly flawless performance do justice to the gospel which is for flawed people. Some times in a beautiful sanctuary filled with beautiful people listening to a concert quality worship band, don't you wonder who is this gospel for? Or, is this what the gospel does for you? Or what is the gospel, anyway?

Church may not be much different from the entertainment venue we were at the night before. Church is a highly scripted performance and we leave feeling good if our needs were met.

What is the Church? One answer is it is the people. The community of people following Jesus in a particular place. There is no need to perform. We want people to notice Jesus and follow him, not us.

At a recent church meeting a person challenged us to take Jesus out to the streets. We could be doing Vacation Bible School for kids on city street corners. We have had church at a local park where we included kids who were there in games and fed them hot dogs. We have had church at the local laundromat where we served people with food, money for doing laundry and conversation. Why not out on the street?

Do Jesus and his kingdom values get lost in the performances at some of our theaters? How can our "theaters" of service better reflect Jesus, who he is, and his kingdom values?