The Sin of Boring Church

Earlier, a conversation happening at UNCO asked the question "Why can't we get as excited about church as we do about the new Star Wars movie?"

As someone who engages with the meeting places of faith and culture, I've thought about this question before.
As someone who leads worship and preaches, leading a congregation in faith formation, I've thought about this question before.
I knew my answer.

While I am prone to hyperbole (aren't all preachers?) I really believe this to be true.

My friend Tripp Hudgins called me out on this, and invited me to a deeper, more nuanced conversation about it.

Now, let me be clear - Tripp is one of the smartest people I know. He has spent years studying worship, and I learn a lot from him. We agree on much more than we disagree on - and in our disagreement I continue to learn from his wisdom.

(Read Tripp's counterpoint to this post - "In Praise of Boredom")

Now, to the point.

The church has been entrusted with one of the most exciting stories ever. A story filled with drama and intrigue, with humor and sadness, with celebration and sorrow.

Yes, the overarching story - the story of creation and redemption, of God and the world.
But also the stories within the story - stories of death and resurrection, of adventure and betrayal, or redemption and romance.

Most people experience our telling of this powerful story like Mr Bean:


The church has been handed this gift - these powerful, world-changing stories - and all too often we tell them as if they are as exciting as watching paint dry.

And that's a sin.

It is a disservice to and misuse of the gift that God has entrusted to us. 

Not all of our proclamation is needs to be "exciting" - it's not about turning the church nonstop into the adrenaline rush of watching Rey pilot the Millennium Falcon (although there are moments like that).
But our proclamation should always be engaging.

Proclaiming the story invites us to be a part of it. 
Their story then becomes my story now.

Some clarifications.

This is not about worship style - contemporary or traditional or postmodern or ancient-modern, they can all be boring, they can all be engaging.

It's not about preaching style - manuscript or not, behind a pulpit or perambulating - they can all be boring, they can all be engaging.

I agree with Tripp: boredom - that place of giving one's mind the unencumbered space to wander free - can be a beneficial part of the life of faith.

But the central act of proclamation, within the central gathering of the worshiping community, should not be boring.

We have gotten lazy with how we tell the story.

We (proclaimers) need to re-learn the power of inviting people into the drama of the story entrusted to us.
We need to let boring church die, and engaging church be reborn.

Our task, our calling, is to invite people into the most exciting and amazing story of all time and give them the tools to make it their own story.

And there is nothing boring about that.

Living Together

The central element of the Christian life is baptism - the waters that unite us to the death and resurrection of Jesus. I offer you this little devotion, as a way of rooting your day in the gift God has given in baptism.


What we have is two problems


  1. An Identity problem
  2. An Identification problem

My Identity
We have many things asking to be a part of our identity. Profession, family, politics, friendships, ideologies. Some of these are good things, some or not. But our problems start when those identities become more important than our baptismal identity. Before I am anything else, I am God's beloved child. That supersedes everything else. Child of God.

My Identification of Others
Our many identities affect how we view others, and how we define them and interact with them. Are they the opponent, the other side, wrong, sinful, hateful, etc, etc. Disagreement is a part of life, and a part of the life of faith. But when we look at others, we are called to primarily to see their baptismal identity. They may be many things, but in our eyes they are first God's beloved child. And that should shape every word we say to and about them.

You are God's beloved child.
They are God's beloved child.

Now then, children of God, how shall we live together?

Joy Jar

For the last month at Spirit of Joy! Lutheran Church, we have been talking about joy - what joy means, where it comes from, and how we experience.

Last Sunday, we talked there are times when it is hard to find joy - times when life is hard, or maybe we just have a bad day.

As a part of Growing In Faith Together (our intergenerational education hour) we made "Joy Jars" for just such days. This is a great project for any age group - our group ranged from 6 months old to 80+ years old.

Supplies:

  • A jar (we used plastic storage containers from a discount store, but anything will work that has an opening large enough to reach into)
  • Squares of paper in 3 different colors
  • Supplies for writing and decorating 
And that's it! 




On the three colored pieces of paper, we wrote things that give us joy
  1. On one color piece of paper, write memories that make you happy when you think about them.
  2. On a second color of paper, write Bible verses or stories that make you happy or give you strength.
  3. On a third color of paper, write activities that give you joy.
If you are doing this activity as a group, do one color at a time and discuss them around your table. What memories give you joy? What stories in the Bible give you strength? What activities give you joy? 

When you are done, take you joy jar home and put where you can find it quickly (perhaps a family devotional space, if you have one). 

When you have a hard day, when you are upset, worried, sad, or angry, reach into your joy jar. 

If you pull out a memory, spend some time savoring that memory.

If you pull out a Bible verse or story, look it up. Read it out loud. Pray the story. Make a sketch or a piece of art based on it. Share it online with friends. 

If you pull out an activity, go and do it. 

Be joy in the world.  


Hear more about our ministry at Spirit of Joy! - connect with us on facebook and sign up for my weekly email devotional

Want to learn more about Intergenerational (Cross+Gen) ministries? Check out this great retreat and learning event in Colorado this October

Pentecost Call to Worship

As we prepare for Pentecost this year, I couldn't find a piece of the liturgy that fit well with what we are doing at Spirit of Joy! Lutheran Church, so I wrote this call to worship. With the thought that perhaps it will be useful to others, I am sharing it here.


Welcome in the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Amen!

On that first Pentecost, God Spirit transformed the lives of the disciples and changed the world. As we gather, we pray for that same Spirit to be poured out on us.
Come, Holy Spirit!


The Holy Spirit is a fire, consuming our selfishness, our hatred, and our indifference – filling our lives with new life and the light of God.
Come, Holy Spirit!


Filled with the Holy Spirit, our lives bear fruit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and self-control. Like the beacon of a lighthouse, may the fruit of the Spirit shine in our lives.
Come, Holy Spirit!

The Holy Spirit never leaves us where we are – we are sent by the Spirit out into the world to be the salt of the earth, to show God’s love to all people, to bring God’s Spirit of joy to the world.
Come, Holy Spirit!


Gracious God, pour your Spirit into our hearts, that we would worship today with all our hearts, that our lives would be transformed by your power, and that we would carry your joy from this place into all the world.

To you we give our honor and praise, through Jesus Christ our Lord, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, now and forever.
Amen!

Church Bells: A Parable

Listen, and I will tell you a parable.  The modern church is like a church bell.

Once upon a time, the large church bell in the steeple played an important role in the community. They drew the community together, and provided vital service for everyone in the neighborhood.

On Saturday night the bell rang at sunset, to let everyone know that there would be worship in the morning.

Important news in the community? The church bell rang to alert everyone.

A death in the community? Listen for the church bell - you would even find out how old the person was.

Sunday morning - the bell rang a few hours before worship, reminding everyone to start gathering together.

Everyone in the neighborhood heard and depended on the church bell as a part of life together.

And then things changed.

Silent church bells on display. 
The world became noisier. Cars and planes, cell phones and televisions and radios. Better insulated homes. The church bell couldn't be heard as well.

And once the church bell couldn't be heard as well, it started to ring less often.

Many churches still have bells. Most often they are rung right as worship begins, so that those inside the church already know that worship is beginning.

Once upon a time, the church bell was an important source of news and information for everyone in the neighborhood.

Now the bell only rings for those who are inside the church when worship begins.