A trending journey

I’ve been seeing some posts recently on two related “church trends.” The most prominent is a conversation with Rachel Held Evans on Relevant Magazine’s web-site. This conversation springs out of her new book Searching for Sunday. The conversation is interesting, and makes me want to go out and get a copy of the book for my Summer reading.

This isn’t to say I don’t have any critiques of her thought. I tend to cringe whenever people speak about church not being the “only place I encounter God.” She does point out that what’s she’s responding to is the idea that “being in church” is seen as a duty through which believers must suffer. I agree this is a horrible understanding of worship. From what I know about the author’s upbringing, I can even understand why the push-back from worship being a “duty” is in her thoughts. I lament that anyone would ever be taught this, much less believe it. Worship is a mystical encounter with the Savior and all the saints in Heaven and on Earth. It’s not a duty, it’s a joy. Sadly, when people have been taught about worship poorly for generations, it’s hard to help them understand this reality. Rachel Held Evans actually had to take a break from attending worship to discover it, and the scars of the past obviously remain 1.

What makes me appreciate her thoughts so much, however, are statements like this quote,

I don’t think that the key to reaching millennials is to try and make Christianity look cooler, or make the church look cooler. I think it’s to keep the church weird. The church is weird. The sacraments are kind of weird. But there’s so much power, and as much relevance in them just as they are.

To which I can only say, “Amen.”

This might come as a shock to some of the folks who know me, and have seen how Central uses technology in our worship service, but I’m with Rachel when it comes to an understanding of worship. When I’m out of town I like to go to visit other churches and see what my brothers and sisters in Christ are up to. For years I would go to “not church as usual” congregations, and inevitably feel as lost and lonely as she describes in this conversation. These churches had large crowds, amazing light shows, large screens, and an endless supply of “life lessons.” 2 Yet for all these things I felt cut-off. Cut off from the way the people around me perceived the world, and cut off from the mystical connection which makes my heart sing. I went to “not church as usual,” and found something I could have gotten by paying $50 to attend a small-venue concert 3. Eventually, I began attending liturgical churches, and felt far more connected.

What makes Central unusual is that we’ve tried to make technology and style disappear 4. We use both technology and style in order to communicate, but try to keep them out of the way. Our band is good, but it’s off to the side, doesn’t play every week, and the singing is never referred to as “worship time” 5. The choir is excellent, and sings many styles of music, but it sits with the rest of the congregation. We project our lyrics, and I use the screen when I preach, but if the projector blows up 6 worship will continue. We’ve made a choice to minimize these things because they aren’t what matters, the mystical connection with the Triune God and all the saints is what matters. Through that connection, we are transformed, and God is glorified.

Central’s a Baptist church, so we’ve got centuries of unlearning to do in order to recapture some of the richness of theology our forebears abandoned during a reactionary upheaval. Yet, I see us tapping into the same type of longing Rachel Held Evans describes – a search for depth, truth, and meaning in Christ. I’m thankful for her journey, and glad to be on it myself 7.

  1. This does not mean I can’t critique the vestiges of the bad worship theology which leak through in the “not the only place” language. A critique is not mean, it’s just a way of saying, “Hey, you might want to ponder this some more.” We all have our blind spots. 
  2. I have never been to a church with a fog machine, though. 
  3. And for $50 there’d probably be a smaller number of sermonettes, which is an added bonus. 
  4. This is partly because I have absolutely no style whatsoever, I’m sure. 
  5. I spit venom whenever I hear the two equated. 
  6. Which has happened, by the way. 
  7. I would like to point out, however, that I’m not a Millennial but a Gen-Xer. I was on this journey before it was cool. 

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