As a worship leader, I spend a considerable amount of time praying about and planning the weekend services for my church. I pray. I pick the songs. Print the charts. Gather all my gear. Pack the car.
Then, every single time I get to the end of my driveway to turn left for the 20 minute drive to my church I am struck by the realization that my neighbors will probably never go there with me.
This is a problem when the mission of the church is to get people to come to it.
Sociologists have been telling us for quite some time that the Christendom era is over. Christendom was the age that gave birth to all the forms that feel most natural to the church—and society—today. It was the age ushered in by Emperor Constantine in 325 AD when he nationalized Christianity in Rome, seriously impacting the development of Western civilization. He set the church up in the middle of town, and it became the center of everything and influenced everything. Church became something people went to. This was a differentiation from the early followers of Jesus, where the church was something that they were.
At first, in the book of Acts, we see an image of early Jewish Christianity. Immediately after Pentecost the early church met in the temple daily and also in one another's homes. That all changed abruptly as the church scattered under persecution from Jerusalem. From that time, until the inauguration of Christendom by Constantine, the early church met in sequestered, home-based churches that were highly defensive and on-guard from persecution. Still, the church grew by the millions. Worship was more than a meeting. It was costly, radically special, and supernatural in its essence.
In a contemporary sense, "Christendom" refers to countries or cultures in which Christianity is the dominant established religion; the worldview that dominates the systems and structures of that society.
Christendom in the West has been in decline for the last 150 years and America has been Christendom's last stand. Today we are feeling the effects of it as we see the signs of living in a post-Christian culture. "Post-Christian" simply means that cutural ideals in America are now determined by worldveiws other than the Judeo Christian worldview.
Our very good friend and neighbor, who tells us often that she's not religious, remarked about Christendom the other night over dinner by saying, "That whole thing (Christendom) took the teeth out of the tiger (the first century church) because people stopped actually following Jesus. They were just born into it. Faith by association."
"Faith by association."
It was an incredibly poignant observation.
Our friend would have no problem telling you she's over Christianity. She recently mentioned that her family would probably never visit our church 20 minutes away. I would bet the reason why (belief aside) is because it's "over there," and she's "here" living her life. That would be the practical reason. There's no intersection.
Secondly, and this is the bigger meta-issue, she's said she can't see any evidence that Jesus' church is following him today. All she sees is what she gets from another source, and the stuff that flows from those sources doesn't look at all like the Jesus she once heard of. Does she have all the information? No. There is some beautiful stuff going on out there, but she has enough information to be actually angry at a majority Christians for not following Jesus. She's irritated because she's heard of a compassion in Jesus that is utterly historic, but she has never felt that compassion on her street, in her life, or for her friends—the places where it would matter most to her. Jesus must be a myth; a story too good to be true.
Multiply that by millions, and that's an average person in the post-christian USA right now. They are over the "Christian" story, and in fact, they exude a vigilance against it. The Christian story and the Jesus story, to them, are different stories.
Alissa and I have lived in seven different places in Kansas City since we've been married. In all seven places, we've only welcomed one couple to our church, and they only came once (or at best a few times). Still, in all seven places we've known our neighbors well enough to share meals in one another's homes on a regular basis. Over many of those meals we've had a similar discussion: in many ways they have expressed that they don't want to make the drive to the church, but they honor and affirm what they know of Jesus. We have witnessed a hope in every one of them that he could maybe, just maybe, be true.
I'm tempted to say, "That's why the mission of the church is not to get people to come to it."
That would fall short.
The mission of the church is not to get people to come to it because that is not the New Testament mission of God.
The mission of God is to go love people.
Everything about Jesus says it's true.
Jesus came to us, and "moved into the neighborhood," and that is what he requires of us.
I believe this matters to the way we worship, and by "worship," I mean the stuff we do when we go to our churches far away from where we live.
I believe it's our misunderstanding of what we do there, what worship is for, that is actually hindering the Good News of Jesus flowing into our neighborhoods.
I'm not talking about style, or form, or any of that. I'm referencing something much, much deeper. That "something" will be the subject of my next post.
What's so hopeful to me is the fact that we are, for the first time in almost two thousand years, living in a post-Christian context where, through our weakness, the Good News of Jesus can be heard as new and good again.
The Good News BLOWS UP when it's the underdog. History says so.
I hope these posts, as they all add up, will become something of a fresh rethink of what worship is and how mission and justice are always the outgrowth of an encounter with the heart of God in worship. In fact, worship is not worship when there is no mission, when there is no giving away of the blessings of God.
More to come.
Let's chat. I'd love your thoughts.