Perhaps there was a time when the church needed to be flashy. Perhaps we, at one point, were right to create an emotionally stimulating environment out of our worship services. Indeed, it has been in such a context that I have encountered God time and again. But how often does our ecclesiological identity and energy in this area undercut that for which our culture is obviously hungry and that which should most obviously distinguish us?
Jesus said that the church would be known for its love. Not for its love for hip and contemporary music. Not its love for lights and eloquent sermons. Not its love for services... Jesus said, "By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." In other words, our identity as the Church is found in our unique community. Is not our culture hungry for community? We seek it everywhere! We seek it in romance, we seek it in anonymity (ironically) through social networking, we seek it in clubs, we even seek it in churches... sadly, we aren't finding it.
There is all this talk about why 20-somethings aren't going go church. I'm amazed at how often this conversation revolves around problems in "youth culture." We act as though it's their fault. But perhaps the fault belongs to the Church itself. The truth is, for all their faults, young adults are very sensitive to authenticity. They know when something feels fake. They don't always know what "real" looks like, but they're very impatient with the substitute. The reason they don't go to church is because they know when they're being duped. They go to church and instead of finding authentic community they find services.
The church has poured its energy and, even more tragically, its identity into church services and the stuff that happens in the sanctuary on Sunday mornings. We've put great bands and speakers on stage, but community doesn't happen from a stage. Talk all you want about the incarnation, but as long as your behavior communicates disconnectedness, it is just white noise. Those of us who've stayed in the church, for whatever reason, have connected so much with the worship that we have lost our passion for the worshippers.
I dream of the day when the word "church" prompts not thoughts of buildings or services but of authentic community--a people united in Christ, whose love for one another is simply and undeniably compelling. What if our worship came out of such a context? What if out of love for Christ, our worship was a reflection of our love for Christ's people? The Church, after all, is the very body of Christ.
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