I went on my first cruise in 1991. It was just getting more popular as people discovered that they could go on all-inclusive vacations affordably. I remember boarding the ship, the wind in my hair, the excitement that was building. Everything sparkled. Everything shined. And the smiles flowed freely from the staff who genuinely seemed glad to serve me and to have me on board. As the days progressed, this level of service increase. I was never without a drink or a towel or food. The cleaning that went on was also remarkable. There was never a spot of dirt. Everything was constantly being cleaned and made ready for the guests.
Several years later, I again went on a cruise (same Cruise line). My how things had changed. Staff rarely looked you in the eye. It was as if they knew that you would need something so they just avoided you. The biggest change for me however, was that the constant cleaning had stopped. There was no one scrubbing the stair banisters. There was no one making sure the spilled food on the buffet line was being swept immediately. The level of service had also been lowered. It was if they knew they had my money and were proclaiming, “Here is what you get, and have fun!”
As I study the state of the church, I have started to wonder if many churches have adopted this same type of thinking. Let me explain….
Thirty years ago, many churches figured out that in order to “reach/attract” people, they needed to make some changes. Enter here the beginnings of “contemporary” music, of praise choruses, of screens and projectors, of night-club like atmospheres, and more. (I laugh as I remember that Bill and Gloria Gaither were considered “contemporary” in the 70’s!) The changes were often dramatic and would also cause much contention among church-goers as some “banned” guitars and drums from the sanctuary as a statement of sticking to “tradition.” In my own church, the changes were often slow to catch on and allowed for discussion and openness to new ideas – for the most part. Honestly however, we pretty much stayed the same.
I do have to admit that I often wanted what the “bigger” churches had. Screens! Cool music and bands! Whenever I attended a church with these “new” things, I would leave uplifted and excited about my faith. It was nice going into the sparkle and shine of “newness.” It was cool that everyone seemed so happy and glad you were there. It was great to really feel that others cared that you chose to worship with them. It also seemed that everything done was being done for ME.
Enter back into 2013. Return to one of those churches that touted the “newness” factor 20 or 30 years ago. What’s going on now? Seriously, the Christian church does not have such a good record of continuing to evolve in service to God and others. (I say this as I include myself in the mix!) If you are reading this, you KNOW of churches that are stuck in the 1880’s. Some that are stuck in the 1910’s, or the 1950’s, or wherever.The point is we all tend to get stuck!
What concerns me is that like the Cruise ship industry, when the church gets stuck, or begins to think only ONE way (our way), everything begins to stagnate. The focus becomes on maintaining rather than being transformed into the future that God is always leading us into. The focus begins to turn inward and we make everything about us. We begin to be vessels with no power, stranded in the middle of an ocean of need.
“Here is what we offer, enjoy!” “These tunes were good enough for my grandparents, they are good enough for me.” “Those bands are nice but just too loud for my church.” And my personal favorite – “Our doors are always open, we are friendly and welcoming, so why should we make such a fuss about being in the community? They will come if they want to.”
Did you notice the extensive use of personal pronouns in all of these “quotations?” When will the Church begin to understand that it isn’t about us, but it IS all about, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and love others as yourself.”? Church is not a place to BE FED, but a place TO FEED. Church is not a place to GATHER, but a place to BE GATHERED AND EQUIPPED to serve. Church is not a place for IF WE DO IT/BUILD IT/SING IT/TEACH IT THEY WILL COME but a place where WE MUST GO AND DO/BUILD/SING/TEACH as God’s love, mercy, grace, forgiveness, and hope are offered to the culture/community/world we are placed in.The Church would do good to remember that being countercultural, being radical, does not mean singing praise songs vs. traditional songs. It does mean that we step into current culture in radical ways that are not promoted by the world. It does mean that we live in such a way that we are often uncomfortable according to worldly standards. It does mean that we selflessly give – of our time, our talents, our gifts, our service, and our witness – even when unpopular.
Like recent Cruise Ship Mentality, the Church can NEVER put service last. When Christians stop looking people in the eye, when we stop being in service joyfully, when we fail to clean up the “spills” and move forward, then we are adopting a modern Cruise ship mentality. When Christ-followers make “Church” about how many are attending, or how many are giving, or about what we can “get” out of worship, or about the sparkle of a building, we again adopt the Cruise ship mentality. Can we have the screens and projectors and follow Jesus? Yes. Can we sing traditional hymns? Yes. Can we use numbers to help us move forward? Yes! Can we have a clean building? Absolutely! But our FOCUS must be on loving God and others. Period.