A parishioner handed me a book and told me to read a chapter thinking that I’d like it and that it may stir up my heart and thoughts.
It’s 4 pages, and so I figured, why not?
Chapter 21 of What Difference Do It Make? opened with this sentence:
One day, I asked Mr. Ron, “Mr. Ron, all these white folks be invitin us to their Bible studies. How come none of ’ems invitin us to their Bible doins?”
It did stir my heart and my thoughts. It reminded me of this video from Francis Chan (who probably got the story/inspiration from Kierkegaard):
I like what Francis Chan ended with: Why do you call me Lord when you don’t do what I say?
I’m a talker. I love telling stories. I have a strong desire — an urge– to tell a great story rather than live a great story. I reminded of Eugene Cho’s words of Don’t just tell a good story, live a good story.
The storytellers (read: preachers) that I admire — I realize that a lot of their fantastic and captivating stories comes from their life experience, not from just sitting in their study and, well, studying.
I was then reminded of the Calvin and Hobbes comic strip at the top of this post. Calvin is told to clean his room and instead of cleaning his room he spends all day trying to build a robot to clean his room.
2 sins that the church often commits — Okay fine. There are two sins that I tend to make as a pastor. The first I mentioned above: talking a good talk but not really walking the good walk; spending more time studying the Bible than practicing the words of Jesus Christ. (Man, we talkin bout practice.)
The other is spending too much time (and resources) on finding a hook — a gimmick– to get people to come. I’m not saying that that’s wrong. We need ways (and creative ways) to captivate people’s imagination and attention; ways to let them know that God is relevant and alive, and that God can and will use the Church and God’s people to make lasting impacts in our community and beyond. Especially in today’s time.
But often, we put too much focus and emphasis on the gimmick; the package; the marketing. We put too much emphasis on the music; the light/laser show; the multi-media; the look and style of the leaders; the overall production of the “show” and because we put all of our efforts and emphasis on the “production” we neglect the substance. Shiny and new aren’t better if they don’t offer substance behind it. That shiny, new car with the modern and state of the art design isn’t going to be great if it doesn’t come with a reliable engine.
Some of us have become cautious and scared of promoting and encouraging community living.
I don’t think I and my UMC colleagues encourage small groups enough. I know this goes back to Bible studying vs. Bible doing, as I opened up in the post. But man, we sure as heck push our committee meetings and make sure they happen, rain or shine.
What ever happened to the good ole fashioned community living — where two or more gather in the name of Christ and have life-giving discussions about faith, culture, discipleship, life, and who we are in the light of followers of Christ? The one where Wesley encouraged, required even? Where we hold one another accountable in love and grace; Where we encourage one another to actually be the light and salt of the world; where we have open, honest, and safe discussions about faith and then push one another to imitate Jesus in our workplace; our neighborhood; our community; our world…
But what about the light shows?
What about the special effects and the abstract videos that display scripture that really has nothing to do with the theme of the service?
What about the worship leader with a hipster beard, skinny jeans, and scarf?
Those outside, production things will get real old, real fast. People will catch on and realize that we’re a one trick pony — a one hit wonder. They’ll walk away thinking that all God has to offer is warm fuzzy feel good things that make us feel good about ourselves (which is important, but never enough). Some will feel duped by the bait and switch we pulled on them. And believe me, we churches are really good at the bait and switch. I remember in college, a campus ministry that I accidentally joined (a long story in of itself) promised a day of basketball. I wanted to play. Turned out, it was like 80% bible study and 20% of Bible study. They rented the gym for an hour. We spent 40 minutes of that hour doing a pointless bible study (pointless because if they said we’re doing Bible study, I would’ve found another pickup game to play). I came because I wanted to play basketball in an indoor gym — not a Bible study.
I’ll let Denver (one of the authors of *What Difference Do It Make?) close us out:
I ain’t sayin it ain’t all right to study the Bible. You got to study the Bible to know the rules of life. But I notice a lotta folks doin more lookin at the Bible than doin what it says. The book a’James says, don’t just listen to what God has to say, do what He says.
Let us not be timid and afraid to live out our faith.
Let us be relevant and bold in proclaiming the Good News not just with our words, but also with our actions.
You must be doers of the word and not only hearers who mislead themselves. Those who hear but don’t do the word are like those who look at their faces in a mirror. They look at themselves, walk away, and immediately forget what they were like. But there are those who study the perfect law, the law of freedom, and continue to do it. They don’t listen and then forget, but they put it into practice in their lives. They will be blessed in whatever they do. (James 1:22-25 CEB)