Friday, 1 August 2014

Changing it up: some quick thoughts on church life.

There is a great clip from 500 Days of Summer, in which Tom's expectations vs reality are played out simultaneously. I love it for so many reasons, mostly because you see that Tom is flawed and overthinks way too much.

This brings me to a completely different topic: the ever emerging church.

Whole sermons have been preached about the idea that the church is only one generation from extinction. Meetings are held about it, discussion papers written and pleading older people state the case that we get to get with it.

A teaching text book of mine refers to 'withit-ness' - being in the loop enough to be considered 'with it' by your students. What is with it? It reminds me of one of my friends from primary school saying 'get with the program' about twenty gazillion times. You need to catch up Church. Or... well... do you?

My generation, and the one before that make big distinctions between Christianity and religion. Oh no, Christianity can't possible be a religion. Wrong wrong wrong. Despite what we think we say we do, we are religious. Church on Sundays. Upholding the Law. Treating one another with grace. All these things make us religious. Saying we aren't religious is crazy and pretentious. And we can't be *stage whisper* traditional. Traditional implies religion. Religion implies being a slave to a by works-we-will-be-saved notion. Tradition implies we care more about our history and rituals than God. Also, well, not really true.

I could go on about all the things other people think the Church (Christian church as a whole) needs to change to get with it, but I don't have all day.

Here's some things I both think and know.

The Christian community as a whole know they need to change.
Here is a discussion paper by the Uniting Church of South Australia entitled Changing Landscapes. Yes, this may be a shameless plug for the UC, but it's one such instance where a church as a whole body has looked at themselves and their future and has suggested that maybe there are things we need to discuss as a whole. How can we ensure that the church stays around? How can we be more with it?

I question whether some denominations or mega churches go through such journeys. If not, good for them to not be in a position where they have be overly and overtly concerned about where they are going. That's okay, their withitness is not in question. For now anyway.

The Christian community is in for change anyway.
A while ago stories about churches held in pubs were great national headlines. Now it's a case of 'oh, so you meet in a pub, cafe, community hall, school... that's great!' I think that with access to social media a lot more information about the way church works is out there. People just seem to know about what churches around them offer.

What should we be aiming for?
I love that churches run community organisations. Anglicare, for example, run a Tenancy Information and Advocacy Service which got me through really difficult lease. I was on their books for almost a year and they looked after me so incredibly well. I've been offered different types of help through places I had never considered turning to. Places 'secular' organisations would point to and say 'here, they will help you out'. This, my friends, is how church should be. You will always have the poor with you.

I can't just leave it there, so this is what I think:

People will always leave churches over sore heads and bruised egos. They will find somewhere else to attend until they get over their issue, and then they come back. That's not finding the lost, that's just reshuffling the sheep.

There are lots of fringe kids out there. I talk about this a bit because I'm a fringe kid. We're the ones who love Jesus, who have a strong faith, but we don't have a regular church and or we don't attend out home church regularly. We're good at making the best of bad situations, attending church Friday night dinners and being part of the crowd without having a place to crowd into. We don't get recorded on the National Church Life Survey. But, hey, we can live with that. I predict that fringe kids will have more homes in the future, or at least, be accepted by their more religious, every Sunday peers, more readily.

Churches will be more like communities. My home church is very much a community. I have never felt more loved and accepted by a big group of people ever. What's drawn me to my church where no one there is with it, the only instrument is a guitar and they meet in a funeral home? The people. Church is the people. No, none of those people are with it. Yes, they might question my judgement sometimes and we may not always agree and theology. But there is love, and where there is love, there is always a spirit of community.

And, what I hope churches are like - I hope that we continue to improve the way we meet the needs of others. I have had extraordinary tales of people who have been helped through church ministries, and have heard stories of the complete opposite. I wish this didn't happen so frequently, but it is truth. We need to look after one another more.