Mars and the Way we “do” Church

We are at the point where our hypothetical first church on Mars, and our metaphorical naked before God intersect. This meeting place is found when we must ask ourselves what role personal preferences should play in community, specifically in the context of the Sunday worship assembly. I’d like to illustrate this intersection with a little story from my past.

Once upon a time, I was brought in to help a floundering congregation back to health. This group had once numbered in the 75-80 range, depending upon who was speaking, but when I came on the scene there were 9 active members. Sadly, those 9 thought they had 25-30 members, the others were just so busy, or struggling with this or that issue…

I observed their Sunday services for a time, got their membership list, interviewed everyone present, and most of the missing on their list. Through other sources, I also was able to speak with several people not on the list. It’s always quite incredible to compare the observations of the ones who remain and the ones who do not.

It was very easy to figure out who was in charge of this congregation, which hadn’t had a “permanent” pastor for a number of years, and I spoke to those individuals about their thoughts on worship, community and what a church should “do” and not do. What I discovered was that a church should be reverent above all. It should reach out to the community in reverence, its services should be reverent, worshipful and silent.

The ones who were not in charge said they were on the verge of leaving unless I could turn the place around, but they didn’t see how that was possible if I went against the ones who were in charge, because anybody who does that is shown the door. In speaking with the ones who were no longer there, they reported that they hadn’t simply left because they were too busy, or had problems, although they might have said that was the reason to avoid an argument. Rather they left because the church was run by a small group of people who insisted that everyone go along with whatever they wanted: Reverence, silence, formality. I came to understand that this had taken all of the joy out of following Jesus Christ and replaced it with a rigid system of duty and obligation that simply did not ring true to the rest of the people. No, they were not going back, for each and every one of them were happy members of other congregations.

In short, the church I was studying had a terrible reputation in the community, and the leading people had no idea that was the case.

Former “interim” pastors gave the same report.

Needless to say, my report was not well received by the leaders.

I’ve told you this story because it happens all too often in our day and age, because we all have opinions and ideas about what worship should and shouldn’t be, and because we all have our personal likes and dislikes. If we seek to impose our preferences on a congregation, the result is nearly always disaster, and we will not be standing naked before God in community, for we will be garbed in the costume of a Pharisee.

You might think that last statement was a tad harsh, and maybe you’re right, but I see it more as passionate. Yes, I am passionate on this subject because when this sort of thing happens, we damage our brother and sister in Christ, we put a stumbling block in their path and we cause them to question their faith and often, to turn their backs entirely on the Body of Christ, and I do not know how to explain that to the Lord when I meet Him face-to-face, do you?

Whew; I finally told you what I think about all of this, what do you think?

Here, let me pose a better question:

If we have gotten to the place where we can really be naked and unashamed before God, will we actually continue to think that our personal preferences about corporate worship have any particular significance, as long as the worship remains faithful to Scripture?

It’s your turn, what say you?

About Don Merritt

A long time teacher and writer, Don hopes to share his varied life's experiences in a different way with a Christian perspective.
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17 Responses to Mars and the Way we “do” Church

  1. Judith Q. Suhr says:

    Very well said. This is a modern day tragedy at best. Thank you.

  2. I would like to say, no, our personal preferences will yield to the desire for joint worship. Human nature being what it is, and egos as fragile as they are, at some point, probably before hitting the “50” number, our community will split on meaningless issues.

    • Don Merritt says:

      When this happens, the church either splits or withers away. This one withered, sad to say. Yet those egos are precisely the point, for if we reach the point in our relationship with God where we can truly be naked and unashamed before Him, and in community, pride, self, ego, selfishness… have been dealt with. Obviously then, this is the whole point of our exercise 😊

      • I would like to think it possible, but putting them aside is not possible, even the Apostles had internal conflicts. The solution is not to put them aside but to learn how to accept that the differences exist.

        I don’t believe our current society allows for acceptance of differences. Rather than my accepting that western christians have different views and accept them, our current society states that western christians must modify what they do so as not to offend me. I don’t know that this society, even transplanted to Mars, can overcome current societal norms.

  3. paulfg says:

    “as long as the worship remains faithful to Scripture”

    This morning in a comment conversation on my blog I got this: “Seems you agree then” (with what the commenter had been saying about religion). I am not sure I do or did agree. But in that moment got a flash from GSHJ and replied: “Isn’t that how religion got started?”

    There was a time I would have needed to know what you mean by “faithful to Scripture”. But no longer. Because if we come naked to worship – then whatever “being faithful to Scripture” means to each of us individually – “coming naked to worship” is being faithful to Scripture for us all.

    So yes – if gathering together we gather naked before God – it is more than possible – it will be.

    • Don Merritt says:

      You’re exactly right Paul. I put that little clause in there to avoid off-topic arguments. For instance, you like to say that “love is always the answer- now what’s the question?” I say, “well actually Paul, it isn’t always the answer.” Then you tell me why it is, and I ask what time it is in the UK right now so that when you tell me, I can say “Gottcha!”.

      If we have arrived at the point where we can be naked and unashamed in the presence of God and in community together, we may have a disagreement or two on some doctrinal point, but I’m fairly certain that we’re good on everything that’s actually important. 😊

  4. Let’s just check our egos at the door and enjoy the presence of the Lord and each other. Afterall, we will need both for survival.

  5. Tom says:

    If we are loving God and others first and above ourselves, we will not have quarrels with others. We will do whatever it takes to build someone up. In turn they will do what it takes to build me up. Only in love (Christ) is this possible.
    We have to put aside differences to worship in true spirit and truth as Jesus said they would do one day.
    Sadly, most people in today’s churches cannot or won’t do this.

  6. Reblogged this on Cynthia Hilston – Author & Blogger and commented:
    The elements of a worship service have value, certainly, but if not done in love, what good are they? Bible studies, prayer groups, coffee fellowship…all may be well and good, but again, without love, what good are they? I am remained of Paul in 1 Corinthians 13: “If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.” God bless.

    http://www.cynthiahilston.com

  7. Pingback: Today’s Thought:How we do Church…. – bbcgatewayblog

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