I've only been to church a handful of times since quitting my job as a minister four and a half years ago. It s not because I was so pained or traumatized by a lifetime of both attending and professionally serving churches- after all, I had chosen to serve in difficult places and be employed by difficult people. No, I left because Christendom had become irrelevant to my discipleship.
Perhaps I'll elaborate more on that in a blog post of its own. Back to today....
I went to a "church" this morning. Admittedly, I'm a cynic and am all too quick to analyze all things "church" through the lens of my history, experience and faith. My cringe quotient was as high as ever and it was very responsive to the tsunami of stimuli that confronted it upon entry into the lobby- a large and trendy area where we easily gravitated like herds of livestock toward lines in which we could get coffee. Coffee, by the way, has become as much a part of church liturgy as the offering and sermon. No self respectin church who wants people to attend would dare open it's doors on a Sunday morning without some version of coffee available- and FREE.
Coffee in hand,I was ready to find my seat in the darkened three-tiered auditorium (they are not allowed by cultural convention to call it a sanctuary) and prepare myself for what church goers now affectionately term "worship": a live band presenting their adaptations of popular Christian music. The congregation- or if you prefer, consumer- was diverse in age and gender and the dress code was equally varied. I was back again in the arena of Americana called "mega church".
It was comfortable and it did what it was supposed to do: make me think I was not only in A church, but that I was part of THE Church.
So, my meditation during this scripted and controlled "Spirit-led" event, was focusing on what was really happening and what I had actively engaged in as an attender and as a minister for my entire life. My honest and open assessment of Christian living allows for such meditation and I find it to be both disturbing and rewarding. Honesty about what I was experiencing in this energetic environment led me to the following definition of the church culture in America:
"Churches are businesses that promote their version of the product called Christianity by providing presentations, practices and programs for religious American consumers."
This need not be interpreted negatively- just honestly. It's probably just fine to have places that provide Chrisitan consumers places to be together and enjoy the version of discipleship that is offered by a particular leader and his organization (yes, too few women at these levels to be more inclusive in my use of pronouns). It is not different in this sense from consumers of chicken wings who go to places that offer wings in ways that are preferred by them. It doesn't mean they can't get them somewhere else, it just means they like them best there. (And as it's colloquially said, going to chicken wing places and consuming chicken wings will not make the consumer a chicken wing, let alone a chicken!)
I would be much more comfortable if we could just honestly call a spade a spade. Let a church be defined as I have articulated but don't let it be more lest it confuse and misdirect it's consumer into believing that a church service equates with Spirit-filled living. (Going to a church and consuming its presentation and product will not make them the Church.)