This Tuesday we are discussing Chapter 4 “The Megachurch Next Door” of Tim Sorens’s book, Everywhere You Look: Discovering the Church Right Where You Are.
Our Congregation’s Vision:
Sorens begins this chapter with his confession that when he started work as a pastor he wanted to be a “rock star pastor.” Who would not want a church with a thousand attendees on a Sunday and a large production budget, he thought. Sorens wanted a stereotypical, seeker-friendly, amazing, and inspiring Sunday morning service. If you have ever been to a megachurch (or as I call them a ____spring Church) they can be exciting.
Within our liturgical tradition, we (or at least I) look down on these types of churches. However, although we may not aspire to have a thousand people on a Sunday, I used to think that at least we could be in the neighborhood of the attendance at First Presbyterian or First Methodist. My parents’ Sunday school class at Trinity Methodist in Conway has more people on a Sunday than the Church of the Messiah. What congregation doesn’t want more people in the pews (or the chairs as the case may be)?
As Sorens writes, for most churches the goal is to get more people in the doors on a Sunday morning and that requires that a particular congregation be built around a great Sunday performance. A successful church must have a charismatic preacher, great music (guitars or choir), and really cool programs. Too often, when we evaluate the strength of a congregation, we look at what type of performance are they best at.
As we discussed in Chapter 2, a congregation’s vision is too often built around the Church as the Why, and the metrics that we too often use to judge the success of a church – attendance, budget, etc. When the church is equated with an event on Sunday morning, then the message is that we are consumers. If the church is just another optional consumer choice – a spiritual or inspiring event – then, as Sorens writes, the church becomes too small. p.57. When I was a teenager, I attended really great, emotionally charged, spiritually uplifting youth events. Then I realized I could get the same high at Williams-Brice stadium on a Saturday attending South Carolina football. No church can compete with the pre-game liturgy of 80,000 people.
When we look back at the early church, however, it generally lacked those things that are too often considered necessary for growth, particularly performative speakers. Peter was an uneducated and ordinary man. Acts 4:13. Paul also lacked dynamic speaking skills. 1 Cor. 2:4, 2 Cor. 10:10. In fact, Paul’s sermons literally bored someone to death. Acts 20:9.
Rather, Sorens points out, the early church oriented their lives around a set of shared practices as they tried to figure out what it meant to be the church in everyday life. p.54. Historically, the church was (i) a community of people, (ii) joining in God’s dream, (iii) in a particular place, and (iv) with their everyday lives. p.56. The church was not consumer-driven, but Christ-driven. God’s vision was the Why, God’s Spirit was the How, and the church was simply the What.
If God’s vision is one of reconciliation and healing (2 Cor. 5:11-21), and if this purpose is carried out by and through the Holy Spirit, then the What of the Church should flow from there. As Sorens tells us, the What is not a great cool service (or in our case, a well-done proper liturgy with appropriate music). Rather, the What of the church should come from “an integrative vision that points to how we can live together. We need a vision that addresses the unraveling of society and the injustices that we see playing out all around us.” p.57. The question is whether the church is about a performance or about a community.
Dinner is at 6. The menu is sloppy joes. Discussion about 6:45. Compline at 8. Hope to see you here.
I, therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace: there is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.Ephesians 4:1-6