Community, Church, and Reasons for Distaste

There is a lot of blogs on community and individualism right now – at least in my current readings of the blog-a-sphere. Wondering what will make a cohesive religious (church) community and how to establish something ‘loving and cohesive’. Problem is…we are talking about the church here. 

Why is the church the actual problem? They have a variety of teachings on love, compassion, acceptance, forgiveness, and community – and about establishing something meaningful for the faith. That’s not the actual problem – the real problem is systemic. 

What we have here is battle between ‘doing the best thing’ versus doing the ‘routine, systematic thing’. The system is not set up for community building but for a worship service – a ‘show for God’ if you will. The central focus of church is not community – but focus on the worship of God and the ‘rules’ of how this works. 

There is a systematic way this thing actually works: opening prayer, some songs, offerings, some more songs, maybe a meet n greet, maybe some testimonies, children go to Sunday school, the sermon, an altar call (with more songs), and a closing prayer. Then next week we hit the merry go round one more time.

Not much happens in that service that does more to promote community than it does individualism. Same example can be seen in a movie theatre – God may not be the centre of attention at this time – but the actual service is quite similar. There is some money exchanged, everyone looks forward, their attention is ‘not on one another’, there is clapping, sometimes music, laughter, and even tears…then it ends and they all leave (to do it again at a later time). Meanwhile, they are all there for the same purpose – but they are very individual in their moments spent there.

Church actually functions the same way when you consider it. Granted the focus is much different – but the feeling of individualism isn’t. Community is not being captured in most church services – a look of community is – but in certainty community is actually quite overlooked.  Everyone is singular in their focus on God and worship – all the while doing this in front of a bunch of others who are in the ‘same zone’. Parts of it not much more than a rock concert for God and parts are not much more than a classroom setting.

Community is so much bigger than any of that – it’s meeting together to share with one another and get to know each other (and who we really are – concerns to fears to comforts). It’s about respect for elders, honouring those around us, sharing our stories and lives, giving to one another, finding our role/meaning in the communal house, giving children a supportive environment, and learning to love ourselves in the light of others and God. It’s just about making meaningful connections to a body of people.

I don’t like church when I know what community is meant to be and looks like – church is just another rock show or movie to me – I like the show – I have fun – I spend my time – but how many people do I truly bond with? God wants me to ‘love my neighbours’ and it can be argued Jesus, James, and Paul all state this as an emphasis of ‘fulfilling the whole law’ – yet it appears very little in church services. I wonder why?

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11 thoughts on “Community, Church, and Reasons for Distaste

  1. “The central focus of church is not community – but focus on the worship of God and the ‘rules’ of how this works”

    this is true. i initially was like “NO!” but you’re right. but why can’t the church be a community? it seems the most successful churchs (in my denomination of UCC) are the ones that have community investment. the church is SUPPOSED to be, in my mind at least, of the community, for the community, and by the community to focus on God’s presence amongst us. if we’re putting on a rock show for God, all we’re doing is patting ourselves on the back. but if we focus on social justice and loving our neighbor, the church becomes active, vibrant and relevent. that’s what i hope to bring to my future congregation.

  2. Thanks Jim and good luck Luke – I think that is a great vision for the community to strive for.

    My sentiments are based on my church experience and the focus I see in most churches I have visited – community seems to happen around te edges of the church service – usually before and after. So it kind of throws me for a loop – asking the obvious – what is the focus of church about?

  3. “community seems to happen around te edges of the church service – usually before and after.”

    Jesus’ whole ministry was “from the edges” of the tax collectors, sinners, and prostitutes. even the mustard seed parable states this as the “birds of the air” are unwanted by the farmer, yet the seed gives refuge to these unwanted creatures. i think the church should do the same, not keep the status quo.

    “what is the focus of church about?”
    the focus for my future congregation and how i see it SHOULD be (not how it is, or do i think other people other than myself and my wife believe this) is that the focus of the church is reminding people of God in our midst. even if we don’t agree with so and so or this dude runs his lawn mower too early/late, it’s about coming together and recognizing our similarities because the rest of the week we’re focused on the differences. i’m guilt of this esp. i’m all calm and cool on sunday and then on the ride from church i’m complaining about those who don’t drive like i do. church should leave us with the mindset of connectedness that lasts throughout the week.

    it’s not a rawk concert for God because God doesn’t need it. This shocking fact hit a lot of the “save me!” Christians like a ton of bricks. If the human race were wiped out today, God would still go on. Sure God would be sad, but God really doesn’t need us. God chooses to be in covenent with us just as we choose to be in covenent with God. we can reject this as well. that’s the crazy thing about free will.

    hope this sets up and answers your question.

  4. Great post! I was with a group of church goers last night at a book release party. The author read from his book, and the line that got the biggest laugh of recognition was a statement made by a character who was very interested in going to church for the first time. He unwittingly comments, “Church looks like a place you can go and say what’s really n your mind.” (That’s a paraphrase, but it captures the sentiment.

    Anyway, everyone knew that it just ain’t so. Church is usually the last place anyone can go to say what’s really n their mind. The fear grips us and reinforces the isolation. There’s almost no real sharing or community. And the people in the system are too afraid to do anything about it b/c they think they’re the only ones seeing the problem.

  5. Luke I rather admire your vision – now getting a congregation to step outside it’s usual boundaries will be the actual challenge to the vision.

    Kevin, I think you are right on the money with the comment – it’s an issue of silence on the parts of the rest of the body of the church – maybe there are changes that need to be made but everyone just stays quiet so as to not upset the applecart.

    I want to like church – you know? In some ways I admire it – in other ways it’s ‘distasteful’ to me…there is an uneasy balance going on. It’s rather funny – I have a lot of church-going friends who are awesome people – but get into theology and I almost wonder why they enjoy the disconnect of rationale and the conundrums. Basically, my best theological debates are done on-line with people to think through this stuff – and in person – I rarely hear any great commentary (maybe I should search harder?).

    I want church to be a wide open place – free for all to be free to be themselves in the partnership with others. I’ll find it – because I can dream it.

  6. “the real problem is systemic.” (SVS)

    You are so right about this. The problem is systemic. The “church” has been operating the same way for hundreds of years. “Sit down and shut up ministry” is what I used to call it. Because you, the congregation, basically had to sit down and be quiet, while I the pastor or song leader, the trained expert, put on the one to two hour infomercial for the church.

    I think the problem goes even deeper than the structure of the service, which is so inappropriate for creating community, and goes into the question of the purpose of the church. It is a sad reality that most “church” goers do not like to admit, but the church’s ultimate purpose is to look after itself. Everything a church does is about one thing, that being getting people into the chairs for the Sunday morning service

    Think about, or if you can, ask your pastor what happens with the weekly tithes and offerings. The answer usually is “the tithes/offerings go to pay for number 1 the building (the mortgage/rent, equipment, insurance, and the utility bills) and number 2 the staff.” If that is the kind of answer you get, you need to seriously think about the Christianity you are practicing.

    Christians put millions of dollars into what is essentially a useless building and they pay millions of dollars to the experts who basically only care about filling up the useless building for a one to two hour show.

    I’m a little bit jaded today, but honest. I guess I don’t like to watch people waste their hard earned money on useless things.

  7. You know its funny, because from what I understand, the church(ekklesia) is actually people. You know them. Its you and me. We wonder why people dont communicate very well what they are feeling, yet we dont have to look very far at why that is. Its ME and YOU…………………….we collectively suck at Communication, because if we were ALL good communicators we wouldnt have to be discussing this ad nauseam. We the People would find a way to figure out how to have true Community……………..hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm wonder if thats going to change any time soon.

  8. “wonder if thats going to change any time soon.” (John T)

    I think if we were able to step back and have a look at the current state of Christianity as a whole. I think we would see that a revolution, of sorts, is taking place and that a change is happening right before our very eyes. People are communicating their dissatisfaction with the “church”and for the most part are voting with their feet.

    It is those that have left the structure that are creating change and finding bettter avenues to express and live a spiritual life, however they are not seen because they do not go to church. In the church’s mind it is as though they do not exist, but there are thousands, possibly millions, out there. The blogging world, although not the best forum for change and community, does give exposure to some of these revolutionaries and their ideals.

  9. I think many of the problems with the dominant church worship service model come from a repetition of traditions that arose generations ago. There isn’t one root cause that can be pinpointed. Maybe the traditional model didn’t need to focus so much on community because there already was community. Then when community dissolved in our western culture, the model has been slow to react – if at all.

    When my church had 60 people, community was really a special thing. Now at 500, we feel lost, and community doesn’t reach everybody the same. At best, there are some sub-communities within individual bible studies, etc., but the people that attend those change from year to year. But we’re actually adding elements of community into the worship service model. Hopefully for the better.

  10. Thanks everyone for the input – I think we know sme changes need to be made – but that’s what generation after generation is for – to make those changes!

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