Saturday, November 27, 2010

Sunday Brunch or Sunday Worship

I recently came across an article by a woman who had been gone from Church for more than a decade.  She had filled her Sunday mornings with Sunday brunching, the newspaper, and TV and felt little guilt or loss for being out of the Church.  Then came a baby and she decided to start church shopping.  She traded in her jeans, flip flops, omelets, and paper for her Sunday best, a worship bulletin, and for potlucks.  What she found there was not what she had expected.

She and her 31 year old husband and baby found they were celebs – like Jessica Simpson – amid the sea of gray hair flowing from the pews and the empty nursery.  They were overwhelmed with emails, letters, phone calls, and visits to tell them they were welcome and they had come to the right place.  They were regaled with calendars of activities – a Bible study on the politics of the Iraqi War, volleyball on Wednesdays, yoga on Thursdays, a health food coop on Fridays, and a Super Bowl Party with your favorite snacks.

In the end she said they felt like she was being rushed by a nerdy sorority.  After spending years more comfortable with brunch than religion, she was inundated with things profoundly unreligious.  She was confused.

She had grown up without religion.  Her parents were anti-religious and raised their children with out benefit of even Christmas nor Easter worship, without Sunday school or even a prayer at meal times.  Her husband was a lapsed Baptist and his return to the pew was certainly easier than hers.  But she was still confused.

She followed the same outline with a number of visits from a number of different clergy.  The big question for her were the theological requirements to belonging.  She put it bluntly, “What is the absolute minimum I can believe and still belong.”  The most she got were three items.  Both her husband and the pastors look at her expectantly.  They were all thrilled to tell me how little I would need to believe and how easy it would be to belong.

Many in her generation are beginning to check out Church – after years of being away from Church or never having been at all.  They are looking to give up their lazy Sunday mornings for hymns and sermons because they want their children to have a moral compass, because they want them to know a benevolent and loving God, because they want them to be anchored amid the storms of change and challenge in life – they want them to be spiritually literate even if they choose not to believe for themselves.  But instead they are being told that Church is easy, that beliefs are minimal (optional), and that their lives really don’t need to change all that much.

This woman asked out loud, “If I am going to give up my old Sunday morning sleeping in, eating late, and lazily perusing the Sunday paper, it better be because of something more important and imperative than a religion where faith is optional.  It better be because of life and truth.”

It is too easy to join a Church?  Maybe we do spend too much time making Church accessible for people.  Maybe we do not expect enough of those who join (who have sat in the pews for ages!).  If Church is not worth much in terms of faith or life, why bother at all?  If all Church means is that the brunch will have to follow a service of optional prayer, belief, and devotion, why would anyone join.

Those who come looking are here because they want/need something profound and life changing.  They may not know it yet, but what draws them is the prospect of believing the unbelievable and shifting a whole life around because of such a faith.  They want a truth that does not change with every wind of trend and fad.  They expect they will have to give up some things.  They know they will have to learn many things.  So don’t try to hook them by telling them Church is easy and faith is easy.  That is a lie – or at least it is a fraud compared to the faith of Jesus!

Why do we offer new people a cheap and easy faith that returns very little to them – when we could offer them Jesus and the life-changing experience of grace!  It is something to think about!

1 comment:

Just Ducky said...

This sounds like my story nearly to a T. I walked away from our (Southern Baptist) family church my senior year of HS, and didn't set foot in a church for nearly 10 years. When I did return, it was to attend my husband's (United Methodist) childhood church, of which he was a member in name only. I found a social club, a thriving community outreach, a relatively active children's "program"...everything BUT a clear teaching of Christ, scripture, or even something I could identify as definitively Christian. Rather than looking for something modern, entertaining, or socially minded, I wanted a pastor who preached Christ not pop culture or psychology. Like the woman in your post, I saw no point in seeking a different kind of empty Sunday to replace the empty Sunday I already had. If I was going to put forth the effort to get myself and my family out the door on Sunday morning, it was going to be for something far more valuable than to be told that the status quo was good enough.

We ended up making what we were told later was a very unusual choice. Despite the plethora of churchly choices in our town, church attendance is still around 30% (I think). Most of those are Baptist, followed by various charismatic churches, non-denominational, and COC. We even have a thriving "Cowboy Church" . The trend among young and old is toward modern, fun, upbeat, entertaining, contemporary "church experiences", as evidenced, in part, by our former church's adoption of contemporary worship every other Sunday to appeal to a more diverse crowd. So, when we, a young family of 4, visited the very small, unapologetically confessional LCMS church with a noticeably aging congregation and then decided not only to return but to join, we were told more than once how unusual our choice was. It was counter-intuitive to go looking for something more "traditional" or "old-fashioned". Our families, though supportive, were baffled. "You mean, in order to join, you can't just walk to the front of the church and say, 'We would like to join?' You actually have to study, in a class, with a curriculum, before considered for membership?" This very fact is part of what brought us to Lutheranism. It wasn't cheap, nor was the Grace that was preached a cheap grace. We weren't shown a Buddy Jesus. Rather, we were given the "simple" weekly proclamation of both Law and Gospel every Sunday, Word and Sacrament faithfully administered, a people meeting together to receive the same bound together by a common Confession.