A Dream of One Disenchanted

I have become very disenchanted of late with traditional church: The hierarchies, the beauracracy, the pews, the offering plate, the worship up on stage (whether it’s traditional or contemporary), the classes and clubs and groups… somewhere we’ve lost our way. We’ve bought into a model that segregates by gender, by age and by style. Family units are fragmented, and family schedules are increasingly packed with programs and events. We’re hardly ever present in our neighborhoods, or present with our children. Worship has become more of a performance than an act of participation. Leadership allows and disallows certain practices based on theology. Worship leading has become elitist and perfectionistic (and this is from a former worship leader). Pews only add to the performance aspect of worship. We can’t even see each other’s faces. Microphones are reserved for those who have been granted permission to speak or sing. The offering is more about putting money in the plate, than it is about offering our whole selves to the Living God. Sunday School classes are exclusivist… and too bad if you don’t feel like you fit with your particular age group…

I’m more and more convinced that we have missed the mark. Leadership is not about permission-giving or permission-denying. Leadership is about defining who we are and why we’re here… it’s about process and discernment, not rules and regulations. Our exclusivist model of governing and leading makes very little room for creativity, innovation and full participation by all members.

After reading Joseph Myers’ book ORGANIC COMMUNITY and Margaret Wheatley’s book FINDING OUR WAY, I am draw to this idea of looking at nature to discover a more life-giving way of doing church. There are two overarching principles in nature: individual survival and communal survival. They are not mutually exclusive, but actually mutually dependent. The individual cannot survive without the community, and the community depends on each individual doing his/her part. Is there a way to do church more organically, so that people aren’t lost in the programs, and so that the structures don’t dictate how we can contribute to the mission? Is there a way we can celebrate and nurture family units (not to the exclusion of those who find themselves without family)? How can we encourage participation in our neighborhoods, instead of hanging out in our “club house”? Is there a way to encourage each member to bring something to worship, so that it is truly a communal event, instead of a performace by an exclusive few?

I have a dream of organic church, of simplicity and participation and innovation that honors risk-taking and creativity… where the leaders support the members, instead of regulating and policing the members, where teaching and preaching are conversational, while also instructive, where diversity and unity are held together under the Lordship of Christ Jesus.

I know this will sound dangerous to some… but I am discovering that hierarchy and control are also dangerous… and not very helpful in fulfilling our great mission. Jesus is the Lord of the Church, not us. It’s the Holy Spirit’s job to guide us into truth… sometimes he speaks through the least of these, instead of from the top down.

Another thought that might help to clarify where I’m coming from:We (Christians) SHOULD ourselves to death, and sometimes SHOULD NOT ourselves to death:
-volunteer wherever we can
-give, give, give
-say yes to service
-don’t divorce (but many do anyway)
-don’t lie (um, yeah)
-don’t have an abortion (I wonder how many times this has happened in secret because of guilt and shame)
-don’t dance or drink (we don’t all agree on this one)
-don’t steal (but again, many of us do this anyway when we take supplies from school, work or church… when we cheat on our taxes)
-do this, don’t do this, etc., etc., etc.
What I’m NOT saying is that we should not talk about how our faith effects our behavior and lifestyle choices. What I AM saying is that things are much more complex than we sometimes make them with our “church rules and regulations.” Life is exceedingly difficult and there are no easy answers (or at least, there are very few). Our system is broken. The church is broken– we need to address these fundamental problems.

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