So many things in life seem to have two sides, two angles. Double-edged swords, they might be called.
We are moving and are thinking of a few things we will miss. Funny thing is, these things go hand in hand with things we won’t miss. Double-edged swords . . . for instance,
Snowfall is pretty, but it can also be overwhelming.
The Amish that live near us are good neighbors and peaceful, charming influences, but their buggies create extra wear/ruts in the asphalt — dangerous for those on two wheels
The cheap auto mechanic rates here are one edge of a sword, but along with low-cost work comes the reality that some work is less than stellar.
Even the groundhogs in the backyard are quaint when they come out in the evenings on their little family picnics, but they can be nuisances in a garden.
As we prepare to leave this area, we feel mixed emotions as we consider double-edged swords. We are of two minds.
Things in church can be double-edged swords, too. Pretty much every time I’m in the assembly of a regular church, I emerge discouraged, to some degree. “How sad,” you might respond. Believe you me, I wish it weren’t this way, but it is, and I think I’ve hit on why.
It’s not that everything is negative — far from it — it’s that there are strong pulls in both the negative and positive directions. Many aspects that seem positive in one respect also have another side. If everything were negative in my experience of “church,” and if I deemed it all to be off-base according to God’s revealed will, I hope I would have the courage to jettison it all. But church is not all negative. It’s a mixed bag, resulting in stressful taffy-pulls of my heart.
The following are some alternating examples of church things that 1) repel me, and 2) (italicized, bold) draw me in (often another aspect or angle in the same basic arena):
- a perfunctory, time-filling, irreverent “hallelujah” used almost as a speech-crutch during an announcement
- the genuine, purposeful words of worship that may also heard in the same assemblies
- the punctuation, spelling, and formatting errors found on at least one PowerPoint slide in almost every assembly
- the use of contemporary technology (projection, blogging, podcasts, images, etc.) to speak timeless truths
- the rock idiom (light show, hip-sways and -swivels with the backbeat, strum patterns, cliché instrumentation, excessive volume, etc.) — often embarrassing to me because it is so commonplace, and also because of the questionable cultural associations
- the compelling rhythms and strong marriages of words and music, and the willingness to engage in a variety of styles
- the concert or lecture model (= most people auditing instead of worshipping, and clapping approvingly, yet mindlessly, in bringing closure to every activity [which is, by the way, sometimes spotlighted on stage while the “audience” sits in relative darkness])
- the come-as-you-are M.O. that is becoming more the norm than the exception
- cheap relevance — and the use of only the cool, charismatic people to deliver ostensibly applicable announcements and other messages (see this video, starting at about 40″ in — you’ll love it)
- the realization that someone could be led toward God by such contemporary, relevant expressions
- the lack of much socio-economic variety in the pews
- the appealing young professionals and families all around (well, at least that makes some of us more comfortable, on a shallow level)
- large congregation size (many lost in the crowd)
- the comfy seats (yes! we shoulda banned pews decades ago!)
- the “positive” prominence of “celebration” and feel-good living¹ [don’t miss the footnote!]
- more emphasis on God and His worship than was seen in the past
Although I frequently criticize the status quo and effectively lambaste the human systems that have become “church” in the minds of the masses — it seems good to mention a few good things about churches these days. So, please note especially the italicized items above, even as we all acknowledge the shortcomings here and there. And rejoice with me in the following three major areas. At least inasmuch as I’m observing accurately, these days,
- Voluntarism and solid church programs (= esprit de corps!) are on the rise; more people seem willing to give time and talents for the sake of good causes.
- People seem to care for one another — perhaps a) more often and b) more heartfully than meets the eye.
- Jesus appears more and more at the center of congregational intent.
These are good things!
¹In a church brochure I picked up in Hays, Kansas, a church’s slogan is — get this — “Helping you enjoy life” … yes, shallow emphasis on positive factors becomes a negative factor!