Community Questions

Okay, let’s suppose you invite some friends over for a potluck-style dinner. A few of the people you’ve known for years, and are very comfortable with, some are newer acquaintances, and a couple of people are friends of friends. You have plenty of food, and everyone seems to be enjoying themselves.

At some point between the meal and serving dessert and coffee, you get everyone’s attention, and begin to make a little speech. You thank everyone for coming, compliment the cooks on the wonderful food, then proceed to go down a list of things everyone could do to be better friends.

Our friendships, you say, aren’t good enough. We can all do a bit more, and try a bit harder to be better friends. Friendships require work, and people giving to one another. Our potlucks need some work, too.

First, too many people brought chips & salsa, and more attention needs to be given to main dishes. People came late, and didn’t help set up. It would also be wonderful and very good for the community if someone else would volunteer to host the next gatherings, and you’ll pass around sign-up sheets. We could use some better entertainment, so we’ll audition people for next time. And, would people please stay and help clean up.

Just how many people do you think would show up for your next party? Or, even want to be your friends?

However, this is common for our church gatherings. I don’t think we understand community at all. We call it community, but is community just a name we call the program? What is really driving our gathering together? Is it because we want to be together? Is it really because we have a common desire to gather and worship? Sometimes, wonderfully, it is. I’ve been a part of such groups, and it’s great. But, I don’t know if it’s the rule, or the exception.

Certainly, community, and any relationship, requires effort. Even a potluck-style gathering requires work. But, can community be built by telling people they aren’t doing enough to be community? Or, are we just building an organization?

Perhaps it’s my cynical nature, but I wonder if church would change if the need for “tithing units” didn’t exist? If our churches were not hierarchical, pyramid-shaped structures, but were flatter structures, where a few leaders didn’t depend on the others for their incomes or position, would they be happier with smaller groups? Would we even want to be in relationship with all of the people we try to “disciple?”

This is not necessarily an indictment of any particular group(s) or person(s) or even program(s), and I truly mean that. I was just thinking about how many churches talk and talk about the need for community, and wondering if their paradigms even allow for true community to exist. Perhaps they wouldn’t even like community if it happened?

Sundays

Remember when Sunday was a day of rest?

I was sitting in church yesterday, thinking about this, when the time for announcements came, and coincidentally, a nice little talk about how it was everyone’s responsibility to serve on Sunday mornings, and in your bulletin’s a list of things you can do. I guess maybe the Hebrew word for rest really means serve. (After all, it’s called a worship service, isn’t it?)

Okay, I am being facetious, and a little bit obnoxious. I know about all of the things that need to be done on a Sunday morning, especially when you rent space in a middle school. It’s like washing dishes. No one really likes to do it, but it’s got to be done.

But, really what has to be done? Do we need a full band, and bookstore, and a gazillion sunday school classes? Take setting up chairs, for instance. Sure, we need chairs (although I understand the Russian Orthodox – the ones in Russia – stand for 2-3 hours every Sunday). What if we made a sign that says “please take as many chairs as you need, and put them away when you’re done?”

The problem, like most things, is not that a little service on Sundays is a bad thing. The problem is, how much is enough, and how much is too much? The problem is the escalation of things that need doing and the demands on our Sundays, that destroy a day of rest, and a day of worship.

We need to be doing a constant cost-benefit analysis, or else the escalation takes over, and soon we are not just serving, we are down-right working on Sundays. And, I should mention, most pastors take Monday off to compensate for their work on Sundays. I’ve spent years working my buns off for various churches, including Sundays, Saturdays, evenings, etc. Much of it I’ve enjoyed – it’s fellowship, it’s fulfilling, and so on. But, after a while, sometimes it just turns into work.

One thing I’ve learned from the escalation cycles in my own life – other people often don’t understand when you do a cost-benefit analysis, and see that it’s time to retrench.

Oh, well.