Saturday, January 13, 2007

Why Bother With Church?

No, this isn't a rant or some reflective piece on what I and my congregation do day to day. It's the working title for the series I'm putting together for our Wednesday soup suppers during Lent this year. And this is my trying to process what I'm doing out loud for others to see. The purpose of this series is actually fairly simple: encourage people to reflect on the effectiveness of the church in terms of what it is and what it's supposed to be. Hopefully, it gets people thinking about the church's mission and existence in ways other than as a thing to belong to and attend and support financially.

This is the tentative list of sessions, with some books that I'll pull from:

1. The Gospel According to the Simpsons: Church and Culture - The one Bible passage that frequently turns up in emerging/Emergent circles is Paul at the Areopagus (or in some translations, Mars Hill) in Acts 17, when he quotes their poets and philosophers to help them understand his point. He pulls from their culture to communicate his message. So this session will explore that text and ask about the parameters of how the church can best use and speak to the culture around us. I don't know if we'll actually watch The Simpsons or not...certain episodes come to mind that are relevant to this overall discussion, so maybe at least part of an episode will make it in.

2. Beyond the Machine: Human Institution vs. God's Instrument - After a hopefully lighter first session, we get into more of the meat and potatoes of the series. I found a blog post a while ago in which someone shared an anecdote where he had a group of people plan a new church. As they discussed together, they came up with things such as scouting land, budgets, zoning permits, and so on. Then he had them plan how best to share Jesus with the neighborhood, and they came up with things such as meeting people and building relationships. I'm thinking we'll start with this same exercise to point out the discrepancy, and then move into a yet-unnamed text...maybe 1 Corinthians where Paul advises the rich people to eat before they come to gatherings rather than eat in front of the poor without of the first instances where constituency becomes more important than community-building. I'm not sure.

3. Ice Cream and Horse Manure: Church and Politics - I got this from Tony Campolo, who suggests that mixing church and politics is like mixing ice cream and horse manure. This'll be a difficult one, I think. I'm thinking that I want to talk about just how political a book the Bible really is, as well as the church's place of power for so long...but I want to leave room for the positive and needed contribution that we as Christians can and should make that involve politics. Maybe the prophet Amos will make an appearance here. I'll need to brace myself for some axes to grind against UCC National, too.

4. "Jesus Ruined My Life:" Radical Christianity - I don't have much for this beyond using Shane Claiborne's The Irrisistible Revolution. It'll probably involve a few of Jesus' so-called "hard sayings." I thought the title was provocative, though.

5. The One Where We Argue About Worship - This is pretty self-explanatory. Everyone has an opinion about worship: music style, the attitude with which someone should approach, how long the sermon should be, whether you should clap/say "amen" or let an awkward unappreciative silence pass while the choir sits back down, etc. It won't really be an argument...I hope. The ultimate end of this session will be to acknowledge that people connect with different aspects and styles and we shouldn't proclaim our own favorites as the One True Worship, so long as people are worshipping in spirit and truth.

That's what I've got so far. Hopefully I'm able to flesh all this out in time. I've got a little over a month, so it shouldn't be too bad.