Most of us go to church for reasons God doesn’t approve of
A number of St Markers were at the National Cathedral when the Dean quipped, “most of us go to church for reasons God doesn’t approve of.” That brought a lot of laughter from the group at the time. But I’ve found myself increasingly drawn to wondering, “What,” from God’s point of view, “are the best reasons for coming to church?”
I’ve known people who felt superstitiously about church, like rubbing a rabbit’s foot or carrying a good luck charm. Others I’ve known felt church was some sort of quid pro quo: “God created and blessed us,” or “Jesus died for our sins on the cross,” so coming to church “is the least we should do.” Worse, I’ve actually heard people say, “the minister went to all that effort to prepare for Sunday, so we ought at least to come hear what s/he has to say.” Oh, please.
What’s very clear in the life of Jesus is that he participated in the synagogue every week, and in the temple liturgies during the 3 major feasts every year. But it’s also clear, both in the life of Jesus and even more so in his words, that compared to most of the people he knew, he had an entirely different point of view about why.
For Jesus, the gathering for corporate worship seems to have had three foci:
First, the gathering is essentially and astonishingly inclusive. Everyone is welcome -- especially those who have the least: the least status, power, knowledge, health, or wealth. The only ones not welcome were the judgmental, the joyless, or those who insisted on excluding or oppressing others.
Second, the gathering is essentially about experiencing and growing in the love of God. Everyone is to experience God, not just those who had reached some minimal standard of knowledge, wisdom, maturity, growth or behavior. The rain falls on the just and the unjust; the Spirit falls on all flesh. Moreover, nobody has arrived. The journey is never-endingly, infinitely long – and it’s all about the journey. There’s always more. Much more. Abundantly more.
Third, it is a gathering where everyone is needed and everyone participates. This is a society of ministers, not an audience watching a few professionals. Thus, our goal is always to increase and expand the participation of our members. At St Marks we don't seek volunteers to "stand-in" for, to "fill-in" for, nor to relieve or assist the staff. Rather -- and this may surprise you -- volunteers should be considered the normal leaders for nearly all worship functions. It is the primary purpose of the staff to support, encourage, enhance, and increase the active ministry of the volunteers. We don’t measure the quality of our gathering by the number of staff nor by what the staff do. We measure the quality of our gathering by how we include the world around us, by whether our members are experiencing and growing in the love of God, and by whether our members are actively engaged in volunteer ministries of some kind.
So the primary question, relative to staff, is not, “how can we get more volunteers to assist the staff?” Nor is it, “how can we increase our staff?” The primary question, relative to staff, is how can our staff help us include more of the world around us, help more of us experience and grow in the love of God, and help more of us become more actively engaged in ministry of some kind?
May the Peace of the Lord be with you!