[“This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.”]
“Bob” has reached the point in life where he wants to start trying out churches. He wants to sample a spectrum and he picks out three to attend.
Church # 1…
This church is beautiful. When walking in the door Bob is struck by the ornate decorative items in the sanctuary. Many things are painted gold and there is a sense of tradition in the images and carvings throughout the church. The service is a ritual. The emphasis is on a perfect performance by all who participate. The preacher is kind and seems loving but there is a distance too as he dons ornate clothing to conduct the service, clothing that sets him apart from the congregation. After the service is over, Bob does not know what to think but the service seems a bit cold and the feeling is that there are people in charge and they know what they are doing but he is not sure about the people in the pews.
Church # 2…
This church is less ornate. It is warm and “open.” The people are welcoming and the pastor is super friendly. As the worship service begins, someone makes announcements and this church has a long list of things it is involved with, feeding hungry people, working with Habitat, supporting an anti-racism rally, promoting aid to struggling third-world countries. Wow, there is a lot going on and lots of places to pitch in. The pastor preaches a sermon of social injustice and Bob leaves the church after several very friendly church members and the pastor tell him to come back. Bob has a definite feeling that to be here, he has to work to make the world a better place.
Church # 3
This church is warm and friendly too. The church members greet Bob and seem to care about him being there. The pastor is nice and friendly too. The church is not ornate. It is functional. The music is upbeat and the people are really “getting into it.” They all seem to know the words and don’t really have to use hymnbooks. The worship music repeats a lot until everyone seems to feel “connected”. The pastor takes the pulpit and immediately leaves it, opting for a more personal presentation out and among the congregation. He is preaching “God’s word” and he is doing it with gusto. Encouraging words are erupting from several church members as they punctuate his sermons with “amen” and “all right brother”. As the long service draws to a close the pastor calls for people who need prayer to step forward. Several do and church members gather round the people who have stepped forward and the church prays over the people. Unusual sounds are emitted from the church members as their prayers begin to move away from English. The service ends and Bob leaves the church with more admonitions to come back: “We would love for you to worship here.”
Let’s stop and let me be clear. A critique of worship style is not where this little story is going. Let’s say Bob is looking for real reasons to worship at a church, reasons beyond the warm, fuzzy feelings the church members are giving him.
What he wants to know is why the three churches are the way they are.
Church # 1…Why do they have a sanctuary like they have? Why is the worship experience like it is? Maybe church members could not say but where is the leadership in the church? Is it with the congregation? Not at all. It is centered on the church itself and the pastor. The pastor knows best and the congregation is just to follow the ritual. What is the danger of this? The ritual is too ritualistic. The church can be too distant. Bob may be feeling that there is not much intelligent worship in this context especially if ritual is overemphasized.
Church # 2 Why are they trying to change the world so much? Digging around a bit, Bob learns that this church has not been very happy with “theological discussion.” The intellectual pursuit of God has been very boring in the past and they have had too many preachers who did not want to do anything; they just wanted to talk about doing things. In a revolt against inactivity, this church is out in the world, making the world better. Why are they doing this? Bob is not sure that they should be bypassing their learning about God entirely. Activity for the sake of activity, with no mental guidance seems a bit counterproductive.
Church # 3 This church is all about a feeling worship experience. The focus is on emotional response above the intellectual pursuit of God. Why has this come about? The leaders in this church have stated that the end of the worship experience is not doctrine but experience. Remember those unusual sounds? Bob finds out that this church believes that God is causing them to talk like that so they can bypass their intellect and express their feeling directly to God. What does Bob think about the third church? Excitement is great but where does it lead? Do these people mentally process their feelings about God?
In this little allegory, Bob is confused. He is an intelligent seeker and he wants a mix of feeling and mind. He takes the scripture from Matthew 22:37 seriously when “Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’” He is looking for a mix in his worship experience.
Don’t get Bob wrong, he is not a “hyper-intellectual” seeking out some dry, humorless, academic environment to worship in. But he is also not looking for a ritual that can be thoughtless, a non-stop action oriented church that does not pause and ask “why” or some emotion-laden church that wants to bypass the mind in order to go directly to some subjective experience of God.
Bob wants what John Stott calls a “warm devotion set on fire by truth.” He wants a balance and an avoidance of extremes. Stott says the “remedy for an exaggerated view of the intellect is neither to disparage it, nor to neglect if, but to keep it in its God-appointed role.”
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.”
Keep seeking Bob…you have not found what you want yet…