Earlier this week, Plato wrote about his recent experience in church, remarkably similar to my own. I try not to complaint about church, but like Joe Walsh, sometimes I still do. If you’ve been reading my recent series, My Own Personal Religion, you know that I have some issues with what I see in the current trend of worship and church services in general.
The main trend, which is somewhat unusual, given the direction of my life for the past 20 years or so, is away from the focus on the personal experience, and toward a corporate, theologically and historically sound expression of church.
For example, last Sunday in church, worship was “standard” for our style of church: worship choruses, led by a rock/pop worship band. I was noticing during one particular song, that many of the people were really “into” it; however, the only thing the song really said was something like “God you are awesome.” Wow. That’s profound, isn’t it? It was so profound, we sang that line about 25 times. This, by the way, is by one of the “premier” worship songwriters today, and you probably sing it in your church. It struck me that this songwriter really had nothing to say about God – no reasons why God is awesome, no concrete examples, not even a few scriptural quotes. Just, “God you are awesome.” Then, when the song was over, people clapped. ??? Carried away by the profundity? Or by the music (it is a catchy song)?
The sermon started out wonderfully. The guest preacher actually taught the Bible, not his perspective on life. He talked about how he never gave “practical” sermons (the “how to” kind), but teaches the Bible. Yay! I was so happy… until all of a sudden he left the Bible and took a left turn into a patch of non-Biblical perspectives. And, most of the people rejoiced. I was, suffice it to say, disappointed.
A few years ago, I wrote a great little piece entitled The Challenge of the New Church (which can still be found on a few different sites on the web), based on the story of the blind men and the elephant. Each man grabbed hold of a different part of the elephant, and so each had completely different descriptions for what an elephant looked like. The moral of the story obviously is to keep moving, exploring, and open to new ideas.
Since I wrote that article, I have gone through spiritual detox, deconstruction, and decompression (and ocasionally depression). I am now in the process of reconstruction, having found a firm foundation intact, only to find that reconstruction has its own challenges. But, that’s another story. As I sat in church last Sunday, wondering why I was feeling so disjointed from the rest of the people I was with, the thought popped into my head, “you’re just walking around the elephant.” I will credit God with that thought, as it had a ring of truth that went beyond my ability to make stuff up.
As I have been “walking around the elephant” I now am seeing a part of the elephant I haven’t seen or appreciated for over 20 years. It’s not that a personal experience of worship isn’t valid; it’s that it has, for the most part, been removed from the rest of the elephant. People are happy swinging from the elephant’s trunk, not realizing that the foundation lies elsewhere.
There is a need to bring the church around to see that there is a larger context than just the elephant’s trunk; to ignore it is to wind up with one-dimensional worship experiences and preaching that can’t tell when it departs from the Bible. I think it’s time now, to move beyond the “I’m so happy” choruses and “be more committed to the program” sermons and spend a little time finding out about this God that we claim we are following.
Anybody else feel like taking a little walk?