Inside out, up-side down | Perspectives from no-man’s land
David Whyte, 34, has warm memories of the Baptist churches he attended in childhood. Then his parents became involved in an independent Pentecostal church that “morphed into an abusive church-cult.” David says it was painful for the whole family when they left. He was in a student group at university, then became involved in home churches and tried unsuccessfully to fit in at “normal” churches.
He has studied worldviews and recently graduated from Business Leadership School with a biblical outlook on business. He has been involved in an emergent experiment in Hamilton that included activities such as “Stations of the Cross” – a public art project reinterpreting the biblical narrative into today’s context. About 3000 people attended in the week before Easter.
David is married to Tiffany and has three daughters: Victoria (9), Trinity (7) and Yasmin (5). The girls attend a small-town Baptist church. David does not attend church; he “plays loud music and has man-time” instead. He says he is on the fringe of Christianity, seeking a deeper relationship with the Father.
Why doesn’t he attend church? Over the next few issues, he will give us his perspectives from no-man’s land.
A couple of years ago we regularly saw a couple who were professional marriage counsellors and attended church with Tiffany. We taxed their abilities to the limit! Over the long haul our loving marriage was restored. Once, when I was alone with Brent, he asked me: “So why don’t you go to church?”
Without thinking, I blurted out, “It’s boring and irrelevant.” In this moment of raw truth I discovered the real reason; clearly the next few paragraphs can’t solve all the issues. However let’s look at de-boring church.
It’s likely you are already thinking about how to make it more entertaining – flasher band, better video projections, more slick and articulate preaching, better this and that. These things might be great, but they wouldn’t motivate me to go to church.
You don’t have to purchase expensive stuff, nor do you need to become a swish entertainer. You actually have to do something much harder: Challenge your basic assumptions about a church service.
What I find fundamentally boring is standing up in pews and singing love songs to Jesus for half an hour to an hour, then sitting in a seat for half an hour to an hour while someone talks at me. The only time I can remember being subjected to this level of boringness and passivity was at school. Believe me, I don’t have pleasant memories of school.
You may find it surprising that, if I was forced to attend a church, I would attend an Anglican church. Yep, the church that people normally associate with boring! The reason is their variety. You stand, kneel, speak, sing, listen, walk around, all in a rather random way. You are an active participant throughout the service. It also has the advantage of being heavily marinated in scriptural truth.
So, at a practical level, what are some solutions to this vexing problem?
Answer the question for yourself: What can you do to engage people in a physical and mental way? Or put another way, how could we do church without corporate praise and without the preaching!
Freed from traditions that say church must have singing followed by preaching, taking one to two hours in total, the creative options are endless.
• You could replace either the praise or the preaching (or preferably both).
• Write your sins on paper, then shred them in a shredder.
• Write a prayer request then burn it, watching the smoke rise up to Heaven.
• Have a five-minute contemplation time with a slide show of relevant images, preferably with music, maybe with names of people in your congregation worked into the images.
• Hand out a seed to each person, have them plant it in your church gardens. Many biblical analogies can be drawn into this.
• Fire is wonderful. Soak some pumice balls in meths overnight then light them. Have people contemplate the burning bush or fire from Heaven. (Mind the sprinklers!)
• Read words, refrains, poems, scriptures out loud as a congregation.
• Make paper airplanes, one per person, and then discuss the gospel taking flight.
• Have an outdoor adventure. Have a trail that people follow to various rest points where an activity or contemplation occurs.
• Climb to a local hilltop, pray and bless the visible area.
• Draw a message to God with chalk on the church parking lot.
• Put newsprint along one side of church wall. Draw, paint, crayon prayers, thanks, requests, answers and issues.
• Cut out images from magazines that signify meaning and paste them to a shape that has meaning in the church.
The key is engagement – physical, mental and spiritual. It is the courage to change, risk failure and innovate that is the hard part.
Clearly there are those for whom a traditional church service is a weekly highlight. An alternative church might experiment one night a month. I also recommend a neutral space – one that is not emotionally tied into traditional “church” activities, e.g. a home, cafe, business or sports club.
Whatever you take from this, I hope that it will help to de-bore church.
by David Murrow; photos from Ex-ile / Stations events at http://picasaweb.google.com/davidwhyte.5th