I once saw a motivational poster that said “CONSULTING” in all caps underneath a picture of two men shaking hands. The sub-caption was something like, “If you can’t solve a problem, at least you can make money perpetuating it.” In many ways, most church consultants aren’t doing anybody any favors. Even those considered on the cutting edge tend to talk more about turning church buildings into multi-use centers not much different from community centers, and turning the focus of the church members from an inward focus based on concerns about paying the mortgage (a concern that nobody in scripture ever raised, interestingly enough) to serving our fellow human beings and luring them into the building in the hopes that they might decide to join our church. It’s almost as if they are hoping that the people will say, “What the hell? As long as I am there as many hours a week as I am, I may as well join the church.” They talk about removing pews and replacing them with chairs, or selling the chairs and going back to pews, and a host of other issues that are little more than distractions from the central issue: The message and the worship that accompanies it have become so perverted that people aren’t buying it any more.
It goes something like this, with variations on the theme: “God is really pissed off, and you had better do everything you can to assuage God’s anger or else God will send you to his eternal torture chamber where you and most of the people he allegedly created will burn for eternity. The best way to stay out of the torture chamber would be to show up every week, give the church at least ten percent of your gross income and respond to extra collections as requested, you vile, totally depraved piece of scum. Have a nice day!”
The only thing about this approach that I can’t understand is why any of us ever bought it! It’s not what the Bible says, unless you read the Bible very selectively and completely out of context. It is, however, deeply embedded in the languaging of our traditional hymns, which explains the popularity of contemporary Christian music – music that has taken popular love songs and made God the object of our love instead of some woman or man. While I confess that I like some contemporary Christian music, I can’t say that it’s particularly deep in terms of meaning or spiritual impact.
What we really need is to take some time off of and away from the performance based, religious approval system and ask ourselves what makes sense in light of the fact that we have come to a relatively new, yet very old, way of understanding God as a God of love and grace. After all, if God loves us and we are inseperably connected to God, not only do traditional hymns fail to resonate with anyone, traditional worship language seems insulting to God! We may even ask ourselves how God feels about humankind continuing to beg forgiveness and a fire retardant suit even after we have realized God doesn’t work that way! It’s probably at least as annoying as a girlfriend I used to have years ago who asked me about every thirty seconds if I loved her! After answering affirmatively for tens of thousands of times, I started answering by say, “yes, but I’m beginning to regret it!”
It seems to me that the task for followers of Jesus is that we might take our time to discover what works, what feels appropriate when we gather in groups as church. There will be trial and error, we won’t always get things right on the first try, or the seventy-first try, but that’s perfectly fine. We are feeling our way along toward re-discovering authenticity as church, and that isn’t accomplished over night.
If you’d like help doing that, get in touch with me – I’d be happy to help!