The Church Impossible (Open 24 Hours)
June 15, 2012
What does The Church Impossible look like to you? This is the question that starts off the next installment of my musings on this topic. Ryan’s answer to this question was very simple, “If (church) started later on Sunday or had a day and night service.” Different times and, possibly, different days might make it easier for him to attend a “traditional” church service.
This answer speaks to me personally because, as I’ve mentioned before, I spent many years working in retail. There were times in my life where I would be in church on Sunday morning, engaged in some type of ministry, and then immediately have to leave after worship so that I could go to work. In fact, the first charge I served in The United Methodist Church consisted of three churches. (For those of you who don’t know what a charge is, it is the designated area to which a United Methodist minister is sent. A charge may range in size from one church to as many as six congregations with only one minister serving all of them.)
My schedule on those Sundays had me speaking at 9AM, 10AM, 11AM and then immediately driving 70 miles back to the house to drop my family off so that I could be at work by 1PM. (Needless to say, I wasn’t always at work on time but I was very fortunate to have a manager who understood my situation and was very gracious. It did not hurt that he was Youth Director in his own church.)
In this type of situation, it is awfully hard to build community and forge relationships with others. You end up becoming a glorified public speaker if you don’t watch out. Thankfully, there were times during the week I was able to spend with some of the church members and this helped a great deal. I also made sure I arrived at the first service well before it started so I might visit with members who arrived early.
However, this hasn’t always been the case. I’ve also had a number of jobs that kept me out of church on Sundays and it was often difficult to find time to spend with other Christians in worship and good, theological discussion. Yeah, in the South we call it “Bible Study” but it always goes beyond just looking at a passage of Scripture. Real experiences enter in and people end up sharing a great deal more about what is going on in their lives while asking tough questions about God, the universe, faith, and doubt.
So, how does The Church Impossible handle this situation? I can easily hear Chef Irvine telling restaurant owners that aren’t serving dinner to remain open later so that they might increase their customer base. Now, don’t misunderstand me. Some of the marketing activities that the church has acquired bother me but this is something we seriously need to reexamine. It all boils down to this simple principle Christians should have learned from Jesus: Meet people at their point of need. Just as a restaurant might cater to a crowd that works strange hours (Waffle House has made this model work for over fifty years) so should the church. We live in a world that has people going 90 different ways from Sunday and the old times and programs do not reach them.
The church, sadly, has forgotten history. This is one of our biggest mistakes. Most people don’t realize that many of the early Christians worshipped two days a week. Since most of these early believers were still very Jewish in their practices, they observed Sabbath from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday. They also spent time worshipping in synagogues during those days. However, as followers of Christ they would rise up early on the first day of the week and gather in honor of Jesus’ resurrection. Then they would head off to work.
We even see this in Scripture by looking at the book of 1 Corinthians. Paul has a go at the wealthy people who have eaten a meal meant to help build community and they have left nothing but scraps for the poor laborers who could only make it after they’d finished working. Heck, some of them even drank the good wine to the point they were drunk before the others arrived. What fun is there in doing that? (Don’t answer that question, okay?)
So, if this is a problem that has been faced by the church down through the ages why are we so unwilling to change how we do things in the modern world? Is it because we have become less flexible? Are we so ingrained in the way we have done things in the past that they have taken upon themselves some type of divine authority?
The Church Impossible is only going to exist if we are willing to reach out to people and change the way we do business. We must, out of compassion, step out of our comfort zone and see about having alternate service times and different ways of being the church. We may even need to examine how we do these services so that we are able to help those who find themselves working extended hours. Are we willing to take the time and gather for a community meal? Would we, unlike the Corinthians, leave the buffet line open for those who might come in late? Are we willing to hang around a bit longer so we can spend time with those who have questions or just need to spend time with someone?
What would it take for The Church Impossible to make these changes? Would we roll with it or would we ignore a potential “customer base” and keep doing things the way we have always done it? Chef Irvine and any other good business person will quickly tell you that is a sure fire way to go out of business very quickly.
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