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Friday, October 02, 2009

The Business of Church

I'm a little concerned. It is now about 3 months since I gave up on attending church. The sky hasn't fallen in, my kids are happy and I am close to securing a better job so I can reduce the taxi driving to one shift a week. Having ceased attendance at a local church I have had time to reflect on the health and status of my spiritual journey and also to reflect on some of the reasons why I have left church.

I guess one of the biggest concerns is that the Church, whether we like it or not, big and small, needs to make money to function. This, in itself, is a fact of life; pastors need to be paid, utility payments need to be met, resources need to be purchased etc. The problem for me is that these things seem to become the main event. I am speaking from the position of the Baptist church in Australia. A Baptist pastor can rarely raise questions, take radical positions or defend causes unless those views are held by the majority of the local church or else that pastor could find themselves looking for a new job.

If a pastor is locked into a good superannuation scheme, has a car loan through the Baptist Union, maybe has their kids subsidised to attend the local Christian school and a nice house with rent paid by the church what incentive do they have to encourage the local congregation to be radical in their discipleship.

The issue of money and security goes much deeper than this. I have been in many, many churches and have observed people who are just like their neighbours except for one thing only - they attend church on a Sunday and maybe, if they are devout, a mid-week Bible study but their lives, to all intents and purposes, are just like their neighbours. I am not claiming to be any different because I had fallen into this humdrum, numbness of getting through the business of living.

How do we change this and, realistically, does anyone really care. I guess my ultimate question is - what is church for? If it simply a nice middle-class social club where parents can find safe friends for the children, families can meet like-minded people for bbqs and dinners and people can enjoy some nice songs and a soothing motivational talk on a Sunday morning then church needs to be recognised as this.

In Australia there is a campaign called "Jesus. All about Life". I drive a taxi, I meet with quite a few Muslim students from Saudi Arabia who I am doing proof-reading work for and I observe society generally and all I can see is that there are nice posters outside church buildings but, really, no-one cares too much.

I am not part of the evangelistic scene anymore because I am moving towards a more universalist perspective. I am trying not to sound bitter but I think that church needs to be named for what it is so people can make a choice between the local lawn bowls club, the local pub or church as the basis of their social network. If churches claim to be a part of the Kingdom of God then a lot of work needs to be done in terms of impacting society because, from what I can see, a lot of the language is simply pompous rhetoric.

A final thought that is nagging at me. What if the structures of the church, even those that emerged from the New Testament letters, were simply convenient power structures for people to maintain control. What if there is little point in maintaining paid pastoral positions and weekly gatherings in church buildings. What would happen if church buildings were sold and people met in homes to seek ways to positively influence their local communities and we stopped believing the lie that the person preaching has all the answers?


Andrea said...

Thanks, Les. In the USA, I'M troubled by just the same things. . . and just I've tried not going to church. The one thing that I miss is the community praise of God is music and liturgy and the stimulation of a really good sermon -- and there are some!
Another thing I have come to see in the USA is what it is like for children to be raised without the teachings of Christ. Ideally, of course, parents would do this at home. That's what Martin Luther wanted to happen with his Small Catechism. But in fact, for most parents, this just will not happen. As an example, a teenager had a friend who was going to do something == I can't remember what -- and the teenager told her friend that's against the Ten Commandments. The reply was "what in the world is that?"
As a campus minister, I also encountered students whose parents had never gone to church, who on their own got themselves dressed on Sunday morning and went to church. . . and kept this up in college. The visibility of the church makes this possible for those people whom God calls and they hear the call.
Of course, these things can happen in home churches, which I think is the original Christian formation -- and is a good one. More power to you. However, I think that God also finds ways of working through our failed institutions. Inerrantly, God is there, with the Holy Spirit, in with and under the church politics and the money issues. There are individuals who hear him and obey. There is beautiful music that inspires. And God's word does not come back to him empty.
I admire your faith journey. God's blessings.

goliaff said...
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