Originally posted April 15, 2012, at Reluctant Xtian. Republished with permission of the author.
Spare me the hip.
You do not do church “differently” just because you meet in someone’s home. Or because you meet at a time other than Sunday morning. Or because you sing songs that aren’t considered hymns.
You do not do church differently because you wear hipster glasses, or you wear a T-shirt and jeans.
In fact, you do church just as church has always been done. Churches have always met in people’s homes — and that eventually grew into meeting in cathedrals and large buildings because, well, your living room isn’t super comfortable with more than nine in it, let alone 25.
Churches have always worshiped on different days: sometimes Saturday evenings, sometimes Wednesday evenings, sometimes three times a day, sometimes nine times a day! It’s not new; it’s ancient.
Churches have always sung a variety of songs, some contextual and some more reflective of their ancestors. Ancient Christians sang new songs, ancient Jewish songs and then some new Christian songs to ancient Jewish music. You could say the same of any church you go in today. “Amazing Grace” done on an electric guitar comes to mind.
I would argue, however, that this trend of church songs having only one theme (some variation of “Jesus loves me personally” or “God is awesome”) is fairly recent (within the last 70 years). That newness, though, doesn’t make it different, I think it should invite us to evaluative questions like, “Is this really the best we can do in expressing our thoughts about God in song” or “Is God other than awesome? Is Jesus more than just for me?”
It’s clear those questions aren’t being asked in many circles. Please, someone, ask those questions. Mumford and Sons is writing songs with more theological depth than most anyone in the world of Christian Community Music. (Gungor is creating some good stuff, but they often rely quite heavily on male stereotypes in their depiction of God.)
And churches have always sought people “where they are.” I’ll admit I’m guilty of using that line, mostly because I think it’s true.
I don’t think it’s different, though. And it certainly isn’t hip.
It’s just that, well, can you actually be anywhere where you aren’t? Do you really know of a church that thinks you have to change to walk in the door? If you do, I wouldn’t argue that they’re doing church “the same old way.” If you have to change to walk in the door, they’re just doing church badly.
And if you think that just because you don’t wear robes you’re “doing church differently,” I’d ask you to read a Christian liturgy book. Robes, the clothes of a servant, were meant to give a “replaceable” quality to the leader of worship — much, I think, like the T-shirt and jeans of many of today’s preachers who think they’re doing something different. The “See, I’m no different than you” of the T-shirt and jeans is not a far cry from the, “See, you too can do this. I’m totally replaceable” of the robe.
Along those same lines, the mass-media approach of projectors, screens, TVs, and made-for-worship movies are no different than candles and incense. Engaged senses? Yes. Ordinary objects? I bet you’d find candles in the ancient home just as often as you’d find a TV/computer in the homes of today.
The rock-arena stage setting of many “doing church differently” churches reflects a contemporary concert experience. J.S. Bach and Barenaked Ladies, a contemporary rock group, are not so far apart.
So, my question is this: Why do you feel the need to say that you “do church differently”?
Spare me the hip.
Do you try to connect people to God? Do you try to tell the story of a world in desperate need of Divine intervention in the person of Jesus? Do you try to help people see how God is active in the world?
If you do, then you don’t do church differently; you do it in the way it has always been done. And there’s nothing wrong with that. I’m a reluctant Christian at times because, well, church branding has become a business taking its cues from contemporary advertising. In the need to feel relevant, so many places just end up fading into the same mélange of commercials bombarding people daily.
What I think Christians and churches should be asking themselves is: Are the symbols and mediums we use deep in meaning? Do they reflect a fullness that exemplifies the fullness of God?
How about we spend our time on that rather than spend time trying to convince people that we “do church differently.”
Don’t do church differently. Tell the story. Invite people into a relationship with the God shown through the Christ.
And turn off the advertising machine. It’s not different. And although it tries to be hip, it is not.
Find a link to Tim Brown’s blog Reluctant Xtian at Lutheran Blogs.