In the last blog entry, I spotlighted a few groups of community servants in a “rutabaga” which, on this blog, signifies unexpected delights. Truly, many groups go largely unrecognized for the service they provide to others in the course of living this life.
And then there’s the weekly assembly — which is nearly universally given the ill-begotten label “service.” This kind of “service” is part and parcel of most of my readers’ Sunday lives.
I imagine that many good churchmen and churchwomen entertain “thank you for the service” thoughts as they leave the hallowed (he articulates “hallowed” with gargantuan scare quotes and sarcasm collecting in pools at his feet) halls each week. Those thoughts, while nicely churchy, are likely misbegotten. If we think those how thankful we are for the “service” thoughts, we might be . . .
√ compartmentalizing the stuff that goes on within those walls
√ considering that last hour in terms of perceived aesthetic niceness instead of content, meaning, and effect
√ overestimating the place of the Christian assembly in the grand scheme
√ participating in the idolization of staff ministers
√ separating me from them (those who are in charge), as though I am any less a part of the gathering than they are
This is not to say we shouldn’t appreciate those who bring worthwhile, thoughtful, and/or impassioned elements into the time Christians spend together. Truly, those offerings can rightly be seen as “service” to a Christian group. (And, just as truly, I myself used to expend great mental and spiritual efforts in planning and carrying out assembly activities. These days, my efforts are more modest and sporadic.) I am regularly encouraged when deeply devoted people plan and share and offer their hearts.
Neither am I denigrating the idea of the well-conceived (notice I didn’t say “well-planned,” because things don’t have to be thoroughly planned to be effective and meaningful) assembly activities. But, to think of the assembly activities as an amalgamated collective that somehow satisfies requirements that we’ve dreamed up is to give them an identity that doesn’t appear, as such, in NC scripture.
Should Christians gather? Yes. Should Christians worship God together (as they do privately)? Yes. A thousand times yes to both questions. Yet, in NC scripture, those activities do not appear ever to constitute a “thing” called a service.
A view of Christian gatherings that sees the activities as ceremonies specified by a higher power—more than as believers interacting with God and with one another—does more harm than good.
“Thank you for serving in such a meaningful way today”—sure, that’s a nice thing to think and say.
“Thank you for ‘that beautiful service'”
“What a wonderful ‘service’ (i.e., the activities that you were in charge of as a clergyperson)”—nah, these are probably misdirected feelings/comments.