Bored: Part 2

I recently gathered in my home with a few young adults to discuss this question: Why are we so bored at church?  This is part 2 in a 3 part series that reflects on that discussion.  You can access part 1 here.

bored_in_church

Here’s the reason that I don’t consider “Why are we so bored at church?” to be a good question.

Almost every Christian I know, myself included, suffers from the regular usage of a theological misconception.  We use the word “Church” to talk about a particular building, a particular type of 501c3 or a particular event, rather than as the community of God’s people.  We know without question that the Greek word ecclesia does not refer to a building or a geographic location; though we can understand why that usage has developed over time.  We also know that the word, though it connotes the assembly or gathering of believers, is not limited to the once a week event that is often being referred to.  The Ecclesia, as we are, can gather anytime, anywhere and for a variety of purposes.

When we say that we’re “bored at church”, what we might really be saying is that we’re bored with the particular corporate worship service put on by a particular ecclesia.  It’s the public space gathering of a local church body.  You can access why we’d get bored with those gatherings in part 1 of this series.  It may in fact be true that the worship service you attend (or that you put on), is boring; but I think that this is still different than being bored with the ecclesia.

Ecclesia is relationships and if relationships are healthy, life giving and valuable, how do we get bored with that?  We all get bored in worship services from time to time; that’s inevitable. It seems though, that if people are finding value in these relationships they’ll be willing to put up with boring worship services from time to time.

When we hear, “bored at church”, we may also be hearing “bored with my faith”.  This of course is a discipleship issue.  Following Jesus certainly has high points and low points, but I don’t know that any true follower of Christ would describe this life as boring.  When we examine the book of Acts, the last thing we’d suggest is that they were bored.  Challenged, uncomfortable, successful, confused, empowered, missional; these might be some words I’d use to describe the infant church, but I certainly wouldn’t call them bored.

So when we ask, “Why are we so bored at church”, we may actually be dealing with multiple issues that go far beyond just a worship service.  Being bored in faith and/or not experiencing the value of relationships in Ecclesia both point to at least one common issue: that our churches need to be more dynamic than the one event, once a week, in one location.  According to Acts, the vision of what it means to participate in Ecclesia is much larger than just a worship service on Sunday.  When we make church small enough to fit into that box, it will, I think, always inevitably get boring.  

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Bored: Part 1

Last night I gathered in my home with a few young adults to discuss this question: Why are we so bored at church?  It’s a weird question, and honestly not a good one in my opinion; but it did lead to some great conversations.  We discussed all kinds of things like why we might be bored, who might be to blame and what we might do to address these issues.  I think my friends found some encouragement and sharpening from the our time together, but if not, at least it served to produce some good blogging material!  Over the next couple of weeks, I’m going to attempt to distill our conversation.

bored_in_churchWe started with the proposed question: Why?  Immediately we brainstormed a list of possibilities: things like repetition, attitude of heart, length of service, “song fatigue” (to which one girl responded: “I love singing!”), life distractions and more.  It definitely stimulated some honest, critical thinking and what I appreciated the most; they didn’t just outright lambaste the pastors and church leadership.

In response I proposed four categorical reasons why we might get bored with a particular Christian community.  This morning, as I reflected on our conversation, I decided to add one more which I think I missed the night before.

Culture-  We harp a lot about the differences of culture between the generations.  When one generational culture dominates leadership, other generations (especially younger) will feel left out.

Consumerism- Let’s face it, we love to consume and that mentality has infiltrated the western church in an ugly way.  Furthermore it’s no secret that we have raised our kids in a consumer culture and so they speak this language fluently.  When people of any age show up to a church with the expectation to only consume, they will eventually grow bored.  After all, the nature of consumerism is to consume one thing until you get enough and move on to something else!

Contribution- The question is whether or not people have a chance to contribute to the needs of the community.  If not, it only makes sense that they will get bored.  This is really connected to the ideas of consumerism, but slightly different in my opinion.  A young person may not be coming with the expectations of a consumer, but is your church prepared to give them a place at the table where they can contribute regularly and feel like a member of the body?  simpsonschurchwide

Connectedness- This is about people’s connections to God and to each other.  If people aren’t interacting with God, hearing him and experiencing him, then I don’t know how they would stay encouraged.  Of course we can’t control this, but it doesn’t cease to be true.  What we can have a greater influence on however is whether or not people are connected to others.  Relationships have and will always stand out as primary reasons that people connect with a church.

Commission- Without blowing the “missional” horn too loud, we do have to remember that to be a church is to be a community of Christ followers with a mission in the world.  In my opinion, church will inevitably become uninteresting without this being held up as a constant priority in some way.

The Leadership Mirror

Nothing has caused me or allowed me to see my own shortcomings like trying to lead others.  The longer I do it, the more I see the pitfalls of my personality, my history and my brokenness.

Note- this is not meant to be self-deprecating.

man-looking-in-mirrorI’d guess, and guess that I’m right, that this is true for most leaders.  Leadership is like a giant mirror that constantly reflects back on us.  Interestingly enough, when things go well, we (I), in our (my) abhorrent self-absorption, are (am) often tempted to believe that it is simply a reflection of our (my) gifts and talents.  When we look good, we want to see that in ourselves.  What also happens however, is that we also have the opportunity, if we’re willing to look long enough, to see our own stupidity.  We might see ourselves how others have seen us.  We might even see things that make us uncomfortable, the side of our fallenness that we’d tried to cover up with the gifts and talents God has given us.

This sucks, to say the least, but it is also a good thing.  I recognize that God has gifted me in certain ways and that the Spirit is empowering me for ministry.  However I have also observed, with a great, unfortunate clarity, on how terribly short I can fall.  I wonder if this too, isn’t a working of the Spirit.  I have recently had a couple of conversations in a somewhat short period of time; each with people that I have had the privilege of working with in ministry.  Both are gifted leaders and are able to challenge me in ways that I need to be challenged.  Both conversations left me with the reminder of my own shortcomings.

Again this isn’t self-deprecation.  These conversations didn’t drive me into depression or cause me any real emotional harm.  They simply served as a reminder; a good reminder.  Later on as I prayed the Lord brought this passage of scripture to mind:

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.  That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships,in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

2 Corinthians 12:9-10

Homogeneity

Though I may grow weary of it, I am glad that we regularly ask what Christian community should look like.  How is it that we, the called out church of Jesus Christ, should live? Furthermore, how is that impacted, if at all, by the cultural context in which we currently exist?  As I am informed by the Word, Christian authors/thinkers and my own hermeneutic of culture, I of course have my own opinions on this.  Maybe we can share those another day.  At this point I’d simply like to propose a question which is related to this conversation and impacts how generations live together in the church.

Recently I’ve become curious about how homogeneity in social groupings might be both a hindrance and possibly even a tool to community building. 

Homogeneity: the quality or state of being homogeneous; of the same or a similar kind or nature.  

-Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary

Like it or not; Birds of a feather do flock together and this sociological dynamic is always going to be a factor in how we live together as the church.  But how many potential categories of homogoneity/variation can exist in a given social environment?  I’m willing to offer the following six categories:

  • Ethnicity
  • Age
  • Nationality
  • Culture
  • Economics
  • Gender

I recognize that some of these overlap quite heavily and that there may even be more.  Still, for our purposes here I’m sticking with these six.  Then I’m asking, to what degree does a community need homogeneity in any of these categories to function?  What benefits would be afforded to community leaders if there were homogeneity in any percentage of these?  What benefit does diversity offer?  workplace_homogeneity

There is of course a tension in God’s Kingdom that we all live with.  Many of our communities are homogeneous in most of these categories and yet we know that the Kindom  is much larger.  At least I hope we know.  We are often entrenched in the ethnocentric circles which we’ve drawn around ourselves all the while knowing how the Church can and should be so much more diverse.

I wonder if there’s a magic number of these categories that must be homogeneous to allow for real community to take place.  Admittedly I’m playing this game with only human rules, acknowledging fully that the Father’s Kingdom can break through these categories and into our communities; homogeneity or not.  Still, if playing with this simply from a sociological perspective, would two homogeneous categories provide enough community to allow for the other four to remain diverse?  I’m sure someone out there has looked into this!

It seems to me that we have to deal with the diversity that is handed to us and/or is present in the larger social context where our churches exist.  For some churches, this means ethnic diversity, for many others it will most certainly include economic diversity.  Still, the diversity of age should exist in every one of our congregations; but sometimes doesn’t.  So as a pastor who cares deeply about the generational connections, what level of homogeneity is necessary (if any, remember this is still a question!) to make it easier for the church to step across the generational divide?

My only real thought on this is how culture may potentially be the strongest factor and most important indicator.  In social settings, we look for what we have in common; something that we mutually understand and can therefore share or discuss.  Cultural barriers can be and most likely are key factor in differences of age, nationality, ethnicity and economics.  If we as churches create common culture, one that is shared, then maybe these other factors become easier to bridge, possibly making homogeneity less of an issue.

BASS Conference 2013

For the last few years I’ve been blessed to share about college ministry at a locally hosted church workers/ministry leaders conference called BASS.  I’ve lead a couple of different seminars on this topic, but the one that I do every year is about how to develop a college and young adult ministry in the local church.

BASS_logoI shared for this year’s BASS conference yesterday, and once again I found myself walking away with the same encouragement and excitement that I’ve gotten every year when sharing.  Here’s a couple of reasons why I think this has been so fun for me:

  1. The folks that come are essentially dealing with the same problems I am.  For the most part we have average size churches and are dealing with the various implications of doing college ministry in normal church contexts.  This makes for great conversation!  
  2. The conference is wonderfully diverse and I’ve found that diversity represented well in the seminars I’ve shared in.  I’ve had lay people, senior pastors, youth pastors and  parents in addition to all kinds of nationalities and ethnicities.  It is really fun and interesting to connect with people doing college/young adult ministry in such diverse and different contexts.
  3. The main seminar I lead is literally packed every year that I do it.  This year there were actually people sitting on the floor in the back.  This is a testimony to how challenging this ministry continues to be for the majority of churches.  People are trying to care for this generation of young people and are looking for resources.
  4. Overall, I’d say that the whole experience is about encouragement.  I am encouraged, but I find that the participants are as well.  One of the reasons that I continue to participate in BASS is to be an encouragement to others serving in this arena, hopefully blessing them and adding some validity to their work.  This college ministry thing can be lonely and confusing.