A few weeks back I had written about what being a pastor means to me and I was moved by the responses I received. Folks seemed relieved to read a description so simple and “authoritiless.” It was especially moving to be approached by other pastors who felt freed by the description. That was so significant to me because I realize how weighty the typical pastoral expectations and labels can be, and to help alleviate that in any way is the greatest affirmation I could ever seek. I also know that it felt good for me to write it out.
Since having written that article, the role of “Sunday church” has come up a lot in conversation. The community we’re now a part of in Santa Clara is unlike any other formal Christian community I’ve encountered. There is an incredible lack of pretentiousness and demand on people to “serve the service.” I can’t begin to describe how being in this environment has freed me to really believe and see the things that were only ever trapped in thought and opinion in the past.
What “serve the service” means is, most of Christianity centers around an hour and a half partly-musical production we call “a church service” that happens (usually) on Sundays. We tell people to invite their friends to these “services.” We pour a ton of energy and money into these “services.” Once people show up consistently enough, we ask them to volunteer at the “service”: greet people, sing, pass out communion, receive tithe, watch the kids, or brew the coffee. The more that someone is involved with “serving the service” we (usually) consider them a more devoted Christian and think we’re doing our Christian duty well.
Have you ever realized that Jesus, the one whom we’re all gathering around on Sundays, never once invited anyone to church? He also never once told anyone to invite their friends to church. Yet this is how we’ve come to define how it looks to follow Jesus. Doesn’t that strike you as odd?
It’s always my fear that when I write honestly I may be hurting or angering someone. That’s really not my intention and I hope I’m not. My hope is to help propel a moment of reflection and refocus, for what it’s worth.
What centering on “serving the service” has done is created a faith that is dependent on a church, rather than a church that is dependent on a faith in Christ. So we puff up our churches! We celebrate big numbers and revere the pastors who gather them! We adopt whatever culture and media are doing to rally people and say it is for Christ, even though Jesus never once modeled this behavior.
The true Church is dependent on our relationship with God. The moment we get that turned around, by making our relationship with God dependent on the church, we step out of Christianity and into an idolatrous relationship with an organization rather than an eternal relationship with an abiding and loving God.
Someone I respect recently wrote, “The church exists because there is a mission.” That person is unfortunately incorrect. Wherever you find someone dependent on God, you find the Church. Not because it has been labeled that, because of what anyone does, or because of any service that has been put together, but because that’s how Jesus defined it. The Church is not defined by responsibility, but by unity with Christ and one another. This is why you can feel the Church is so often absent at churches.
The coming of the kingdom of God is not something that can be observed, nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is within you.
– Jesus, Luke 17.20/21
NOTE: I am not saying Sunday Church has no significance, but I am saying that it has to refocus, from serving the service to serving the servants.