Recently, I have been in a career transition that has allowed me some time to catch my breath. During this time, I made a decision to prioritize church and community activities over business appointments. I have been extremely frustrated with my inability to connect with people at church, so I wanted to see if this change would help. What I have learned during this experiment has been life-changing. More importantly, I have come face-to-face with the reality that church service, as we currently practice it, is truly broken and outdated.
Sunday morning service is not serving the needs of Christians in our present time. Because of this, passionate and committed Christians are working to make up for this shortcoming in their “spare time.” This is simply inappropriate and wrong, and the only reason this is still happening is because church service has become a “sacred cow” no one is allowed to touch. Here are eight good reasons to rethink Sunday morning service.
1. Church service, as it is practiced today, was designed before we had the printed word.
Think back to before the middle ages. To a time where a vast majority of the population could not read, and even of those who could read, even less could read at a high-school level or have the background education to put the Bible in context. The church was still growing, and educated trained leaders were few and far between. It made perfect sense to pack as many people as you could in one room, read the Bible to them, and explain it. It was perfect for THEIR time, and was a great ministry.
Today we can read, many of us are capable and have habits of self-education. Even colleges are struggling to keep up with the pace of education now possible by our connected world. We can learn more now from each other than any one person. Why should we persist in structuring church for peasants?
2. Why have a one-hour advertisement for only 10 minutes of relationships in the lobby?
When I say “advertisement” I mean a promotion which intends on changing someone’s behavior. I am not saying that sermons are “commercials.” However, I am saying that it does us little good to listen to a preacher or pastor read from Scripture saying “love thy neighbor” and “lift up one another” when I will only see my neighbor for a brief moment on the way back to the car. Why not have 20 minutes of message and then give us an hour to talk with each other about it? You know… “share with and encourage one another?” (Hebrews 10:25, Romans 12:8, 1 Thessalonians 5:11)
3. Some of us work for a living, church in our “spare time” is an oppressive practice.
Many churches are recognizing the need for relationship building. However, they are addressing this need with small groups, adjunct ministries, and other things we are asked to attend in our “spare time.” This is simply absurd. God gave us one day of rest, and more obviously, so does society. We live in a wonderful country where many businesses actually close on Sunday. We should be using THAT TIME for building relationships. I am so frustrated that as soon as I go back to work, I will not be able to continue building the relationships I have been able to start during this break. Please! Please! Please! Some of us work for a living and have families, we need relationships too!
4. You know what we CAN do in our “spare time?” Listen to sermons.
Church service was also designed before radio, TV, and the Internet. If we have one solid day a week to get together, why spend it doing something we can do any time we want? I can listen to a sermon on the drive to work, the drive home from work, or often while I am working. If it is so important for people to hear “good teaching” every week then we can listen to it during the week and then use it for ice-breaking conversation on Sunday.
5. If you love people, you are never lonelier than when you are at church.
Here I am sitting in a room full of brothers and sisters who love Christ, and all I get to do is sit and stare at the back of their heads. It is like being really hungry and then staring at a juicy steak through a clear pane of glass. I would rather just not be reminded. Some people like the anonymity of modern church service, but I am not sure that is supposed to be the point of church. Do you really think Christ called us to “gather together” so we could be invisible to each other?
6. Corruption hides in the darkness.
We are all familiar with the stories of sexual abuse and other “surprise” issues coming from people we thought of as leaders in the church. Pomp and circumstance is the veil of the sociopath. Predators and psychopaths LOVE social institutions where they can hide behind trite phrases and external rituals. Sanctimony is the fortress of the corrupt. Only by forming healthy relationships with our brothers and sisters can we bring light to our communities.
7. There is no “right way” to have church, but there is a wrong way.
Scripture gives us very little instruction for church. We are told to “gather together” (Hebrews 10:24), we have the example of the Eucharist set by Christ (Luke 22:19), and we have a command to address the needs around us (Acts 4:32-35, 20:35, Hebrews 13:16, James 1:27), we are told to be orderly and not chaotic (1 Cor 14:40), and we are told to recognize and use the gift and talents of one another (Romans 12:3-13). That’s it, everything else is left to our own discernment. We should be free to change and adapt church to needs, times, and places. In fact, we are being foolish and obstinate not to.
8. Many gifted, talented, and loving people are not being allowed to serve.
In any given church congregation there are amazing people who would love to use their gifts to serve. However, we have created a spirit of corporate competition. Instead of identifying, training, and lifting up people to minister, we hold people down. If someone has a passion for a ministry, they have to hit their head against a wall until someone listens. Often, they have to go out on their own. Oh, don’t get me wrong, you can “volunteer” anywhere. Just don’t ask for any responsibility.
Delegation is the always the key to handling great need. If clergy spent more time training and raising up leaders, than trying to lead everything themselves, then we just might have the manpower to truly address the needs in our communities.
I am not advocating any particular replacement or alternative format. That’s because I don’t think there is a “perfect” format. The problem is that we are not even trying. We need to be creative, try new things, and do whatever it takes to push relationships forward. It is only so awkward for us because we haven’t been practicing. And once we figure out a new awesome approach to Sunday morning, we need to be ready for it to become outdated as well. God made us to be intelligent, adaptive, and growing people, let’s act like it!
I realize I am addressing what many people already feel and are working on. If your church is trying new creative ways to build relationships on Sunday morning, please share what is working for your community in the comments and let us know!