Just when it had gone quiet around here… I was doing some thinking today so here’s a small hand grenade to lob into the conversation…
It was 9 years ago that I wrote my first ever blog post and this was the title – a short reflection on our obsession (as the church) with the weekly Sunday gathering. It seemed we had a belief that if we could just get Sunday ‘working’ with a happening worship experience and some great teaching then that would be the catalyst for everything else in the life of a church community to fall into place.
People would love, give, serve others before themselves, stop sinning and generally morph into disciples because they had been part of such a gathering.
Perhaps those words are too gentle and ‘absurd’ is more appropriate, but such is the weight of the Sunday meeting in the psyche of the average evangelical Christian that my words are already starting to sound heretical or dangerous to some of you. If nothing else, it sure puts a lot of pressure on one event to shape the lives of those people.
I really cannot imagine Jesus and the apostles ever sitting around during the week and asking the question ‘ok – how are we going to do sabbath this week?’ I don’t see from the NT that their lives revolved around the planning and execution of one major weekly event.
Surely they would have told us about it if it was that important?…
But I do see that their lives revolved around tight relationships with each other and around questions of how they lived out their radical devotion to Christ in the world they were a part of. I see them very focused on living and demonstrating the kingdom of God in many different ways thru everyday life. And of course there was a need for structure and order (ala appointment of deacons in Acts) but it was as needed rather than prescribed.
That things have formed up as they are is no great surprise because as human beings we like systems, predictability and order, but that things have formed up in their current manner is also a great concern on a couple of fronts. Now anyone can simply attend church on Sunday and feel like they have fulfilled the obligations of discipleship – or for those who don’t get there each week, they can feel like failures because they haven’t made the all important meeting. Contributing to the Sunday event can be seen as the primary form of Christian service with everything else desirable but optional. In this mode it is more desirable to let mission suffer than the Sunday event…
In fact I’d suggest that the more we focus on Sunday the further we stray from the main point of what Jesus was saying.
Jesus called us to a life – a life in community – and that will inevitably involve meeting, but I would forgive anyone who interpreted Christianity to be a weekly commitment to a Sunday event – because so much of what is communicated (often unconsciously) is exactly that.
I was sharing with some friends today that stepping back into a mainstream church has not been a way of me renouncing the views that have shaped this blog over the last 8 years.
But it’s a place where I sit uneasily because I believe I am there to transform rather than conform and on many occasions I have felt myself slipping into the cogs of the machine. When you are tired from another job, when you are already weary from conflict it is tempting to just ‘shut up and go with it’ and when your existing skill set fits the situation fairly well then it is even more tempting.
But at core, gut level there is an unrelenting conviction that for the church to actually be true to its calling as a sign and foretaste of the kingdom we must have some higher priorities than really good Sunday services with as many in attendance as possible.
At times I hold great hope for reform and refreshing and other days I fear I am losing my own soul in the machine. There are days when I want to call people out and challenge them to more and days when I just want out myself.
It’s not that running a church is hard. I actually think that for anyone with basic leadership skills, ‘running a church’ is pretty straight forward if you are prepared to follow the formulas and play the game.
However shifting people’s deeply entrenched understandings of church, mission and the kingdom is something I baulk at because it inevitably involves pain and conflict. It inevitably involves being misunderstood and maybe even cast in the light of a villain who just wants to screw things up. And very few people are intentionally obstructive – its just how we have been trained to think…
So some days I sit and wonder. Is it worth it?
I know that getting Sunday right is not the answer but the primary platform to speak to this expression of church is… you guessed it… Sunday…
Is the solution part of the problem?…
I like the post Andrew, there’s a rich mine of wisdom to be found in questioning our assumptions about Sunday’s I think – particularly for those of us who they don’t really work for.
I gave Sunday services up six or seven years ago and really haven’t missed them. For me I came to the point of realising that everyone else there really wanted the whole Sunday “game”, but that I didn’t – so why bang my head against the wall any longer, or try and change them.
Last year I started doing Sunday visits again – once a month or so. But I aim to be there for the Coffee and chat and maybe some singing, that’s about all.
It’s been a nice way to connect with some Evangelical people again and setup dinner parties etc without getting roped into giving to or setting up the Sunday service.
I’m still trying to work out how to be an Evangelical Christian without a Sunday service – any tips let me know.
For someone who’s not going to blog much you’re going to make up with enormity of the posts!
We’re working on having different foci through the month on Sunday mornings with this week being community service. We’re working on developing community and at the moment the Sunday service is important. As we develop it will hopefully grow less important.
Good post! I feel the same as you, you’ve written what I often feel. And there is a paradox in all this…that Sundays do give us the platform to bring change to people. Lose Sundays = lose people (a lot of the time). I do think maybe we have a responsibility to the stubborn non-changers in our church to love them faithfully for a long time into a new understanding of following Jesus. Its just not glamorous or ‘successful’ to do this. much easier to say “get with me or get off the boat!” Sometimes I wonder if those of us in ministry now, working to transform the current church situation are in the ‘in-between’ era…maybe our kids and those who follow us in leading God’s church will reap the rewards of us living in the struggle of change. Or maybe I tell myself that so I feel better on bad days!
Hope all is well!
Yeah that’s good Caro.
I love the people I am leading at the moment, but the inbuilt defaults that come with this system of church occasionally make me mad.
i don’t see an easy answer other than to either keep going and lead graciously, or… well there isn’t really an or!
What you wrote speaks to my heart. “Jesus called us to a life – a life in community”. The institutional church, on the average, just does not create the environment where intimate, community life grows. In my experience, the Sunday Bible study group sometimes comes close, but the institution’s hierarchy and structure get in the way of the organic connections between people.
The modern Sunday morning worship hour is unable to create a community life environment. Community life requires intimate, two way interaction. The Sunday service is performance and one way. There’s no back and forth. People would be asked to leave if they stood up to ask a question. I’ve yet to be at a church that practices 1 Corinthians 14:30, “And if a revelation comes to someone who is sitting down, the first speaker should stop.” Pastors don’t like to give up the pulpit.
The model we have from the New Testament is Acts 2:42-47. Fellowship was just as important as the apostles’ teaching. 42: “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” We have to be together, eat together and pray together. 46: “Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts”. We need to meet publicly (our church buildings are not public space like the temple courts) and in our homes, often. They meet everyday.
Try meeting in a more organic way, use I Corinthians 14:26 as a model with an emphasis on “each of you”. “What then shall we say, brothers and sisters? When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. Everything must be done so that the church may be built up.” Let each and every person bring something to the meeting and throw in Acts 2:42, meet around the dinner table in each others homes.
My family and some others have been meeting this way for a couple of years. It’s been wonderful and some not wonderful. One of our members was a pastor. Him and his wife remarked at how great it was to not have to prepare for each Sunday. They could now read the Bible and spend time with God during the week for its own sake. Just to be with Jesus. His pastoral gift/role did not diminished within our group, but it did change.
Perhaps the problem can also be part of the problem!
Good thought provoking stuff Hamo … we’ve be out of the Sunday-mode-circuit for 5 years, and have thoroughly enjoyed the way God has brought us into connection with people who would not have walked through the doors of a church.
The danger is that we can view Sunday-church as a bad thing, it isn’t. It is often the way people view it and act within it. Surely we have to recognise that for some people the Sunday worship service is a vital part of their Christian experience.
You are right though, for those in the Sunday-based environment, is to bring the Jesus-based community focus right there, to make it part of the Sunday, so that it moves from programme to people.
Keep up the posts!
Fantastic post Hamo.
I can feel the tension in your article and admire you for wanting to work through it –
Our journey has been to diss the institutional church (not the people) and seek God’s leading to find a better (for us!) model to work within. It’s the whole “new wine into old wineskins” deal for us and I guess we’re happier to leave the old wineskins to BE old wineskins.
Trying to put a square peg in a round hole is always going to bring tension and it’s a tension that I’m happy to leave for others who enjoy being tense!!
Our new found freedom without Sunday church has allowed us to explore so many more avenues. I salute you pioneers who challenged the status quo and showed that “church” could actually be New Testament.
Please forgive all my cliches. 🙂
I was looking around various Coolangatta websites and came across your blog. Found it very insightful. Our 24 yr old daughter just moved to Aus and asked us to help her find a church. Looking for a community of believers where she can connect. Do you have a website that describes your church or can you recommend a local church in Coolangatta