Sunday Bloody Sunday.
Just had one of those rare Sundays where I found myself ‘in fellowship’ both morning and evening. Had been invited to share in two different places, one here in the Rhondda valleys, the other over in the Aberdare valley. Some may ask why I still do this when I seem to be so against organised church and even at times question the validity of preaching, having the focus at the front? To me I go for the people, it is all about people. And it is all about serving them, just as David did in the household of Saul and Jesus did within the synagogue system. I feel so out of place, like a fish out of water, but love sharing words of life that can hopefully bring some sense of freedom or hope into someone’s heart. One thing I can honestly say is that I do not miss the running around and I hate losing the rest of a Sunday with nothing programmed. I would much rather meet with one person face to face over coffee and talk about the whole of life, but that is another theme for another time. For this week I want to challenge something that I witnessed in both places. Something that is sadly common and has always made me wonder why we allow ourselves to be moulded to think we have to do things this way, the doing church bit. Why when there are so few of us do we insist on having those rows of chairs? Why do we think we need to put so many out? 90% of them were empty last week, what makes us think they will be full this week? Do we think this is the shape of a church? Do we think taking some out is a lack of faith or lack of vision? For goodness sake let’s at least use some common sense if we insist on gathering in such an unbiblical way.
View from the Bridge.
The place I went to in the morning was not so bad because the room was not so big, a rented school room. The welcome was wonderful, nice cup of tea and a chat and laughter, relaxed about the starting time. But then that was a problem, there had to be a start. A start of what? What was so important that it had to break in on the time of fellowship and being ekklesia that we were having? It was church time. Time for the meeting to start. Time to find our chairs set out in lovely rows all looking towards the front. There was no music but somebody became DJ for the morning and played CD’s that we sang along to. All well and good but do we have to do this? If there is no musician do we have to have a sing a long? This was called the time of worship. Did we really have to break into our chatting around tea for this? What about just sharing life together and drinking tea together and praying with and for one another? What makes us think the rows make church happen all of a sudden? Not even ten people but we sit in rows, all different ones at that. All focused on a leader or preacher when we are small enough to all contribute. They break bread around a little table instead of sharing communion around a meal. Then listen to a sermon instead of sharing the words of life from the week. I found this sad. Am I the only one who thinks like that? The meeting then ends and we start having real conversation again. This place will then put themselves through that again in the evening. Why? Because it is good to be together, have fellowship, get grounded in the word. The real answers are too close to home; tradition, religion, habit. They have nothing at all to do with being ekklesia. It is time to throw the rows. It is all about the silence of the lambs, control, hierarchy. And we are dull enough to just go along with it for year after year after year.
In the evening went to a place that bought an old cinema. The main hall is quite big and has lots of chairs and lots of rows. Which is fine if there are hundreds of you but there were about twelve people in the building. All dotted around the place, not even sitting near each other. In fact one side only had one person sitting there. The other had a group at the front and then a group at the back. What is that all about? Do they really go home convinced they have been to fellowship? The CD player is out again. They do the announcements, the time of worship, the offering, the sermon all in a regimental fashion week after week. Why when they could just talk to each other about what was going on? When they could all just fit in a living room and share the words of life and share together? Why spend money on a building that is a nightmare to heat and upkeep and smells of being old? Why do they feel they have to do this to be a legitimate expression of worship? Every time apologising for the lack of people and empty chairs. I’m not bothered if only one other person is there, what does bother me is these rows. Come on guys throw the rows. Stop spending cash on buildings and visiting preachers and just do life together. Or is that too scary, too intimate, too real?
When is a Church not a Church?
Had a friend who started a ‘church plant’ in a local hotel. He had some good things going on. They as a family had great relationships with the staff of the venue and their gym. They would be asked every year to hold a carol service at Christmas and this was very well attended and was very open plan to the public. They did football on a Friday night for a group of kids and had about twenty to thirty going along, which included my own kids, they loved it. They had a men’s evening once a month in the bar area where we would just meet and share life and do men’s stuff like golf and karting. They would have barbecues and go sit on the beach in the summer on a Sunday and go to the cinema. But they had one problem, they wanted to be a church. They wanted to do church on Sundays. There was only a handful of them out on a Sunday morning but the rows of chairs came out and they tried to do the expected church thing. The five of them would all look forward to the worship leader, and then forward to the preacher. And sadly this was their reason for doing all the other good stuff, to fill these rows of chairs. When that did not happen they grew frustrated and after a while stopped all the good things and gave it all up. All those relationships in the hotel and gym, the men’s time, the kids, all thrown out of the plans because Sunday church was not happening. The sad thing is I think my friend, like many like him, were blind to what was there all the time because of those bloody rows. Ekklesia was all around him but church just wasn’t happening. This is heartbreaking, when stuff of life is missed because we are so blind and moulded to what church should be. It is time to throw the rows. I’m beginning to think that the moment we sit in rows is the moment the church ceases to be church. It is the moment when something sinister takes over. It is the moment we give in to temptation and tradition and forms of man made systems, and the reality of true relationships and fellowship goes out of the window. It is tragic. It is an act. It is throwing away reality and walking into a fantasy world where the principalities and powers hold us hostage without us even realising it. We become assimilated to just doing the motions because we are convinced it will make us better Christians. The rows actually have the opposite effect. They take away our humanity and our freedom and we become the Machine itself. It is only after the final amen that life kicks in again. Some fear this moment and like to hide in the back row. Others love to get the front seats and look enthusiastic. Others take ownership of a place and will not be moved and there will be murder if anyone dares sit in my seat. Sitting around a table or in a living room is a fear factor for some, but surely that is where relationships will truly be made. Some will never want that sense of being exposed or want to engage with others, but then they were not doing that on Sundays anyway. They are the one’s who slip out of the door quicker than a cheetah when it comes to the chat after the meeting. When real church takes place they are not really a part of it anyway, or have we pushed them out and not really embraced them? It is time for the rows to go. Time for the pretence to end. Time to see what we really have without the false scaffolding holding up the building. If all that remains is two of us, great let’s at least eat together, talk together, share together. But please let us not sit in rows!