A different kind of service

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.

Service (B)

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.

service-no

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2 thoughts on “A different kind of service

  1. John Eoff 03/14/2015 / 7:19 am

    Brian, I went to “worship” for sixty years of my life, probably forty-five years of which was voluntarily, and prior to that it was by compulsion. There can be no doubt that there was not a single instance among those sixty years that what I went to was not a “service”. It was a prescribed set of rituals performed as a service to a God who was surely in need of such service from those he had created. It was a prescribed periodic performance of those rituals, though the prescription which demanded it was rather vague; limited to Hebrews 10:24 or where ever that exact verse lies. We had to have a prescription for it, for without such a prescription it would be illegal and everybody knew that being a Christian meant going to church, even if church was never heard of in the formative years (except for the four condemned factions referred to by Paul in his first extant letter to the Corinthians.) It is amazing how some of the facts contained within the new testament writings comes to light in a new and obvious manner when freed from the constant re-enforcing liturgy of a particular segment of churchanity. What a relief it has been to be content to be in Jesus rather than in some sect which claims to be a part of him.
    jde

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    • Brian Casey 03/14/2015 / 7:37 am

      For my part, I think probably 95% of the Christian gatherings I’ve gone to have been little more than “services” when considered on the whole, but maybe 25-33% of those same ones have had something more contained. Growing up in the Mid-Atlantic, I was blessed to have had a lot of benefit of frequently thoughtful, devoted people in leadership as models, rather than mere puppets or ritual-keepers. Many “Bible Belt” churches tend to be a bit more shallow, narrow, and ritualistic, in CofC (and possibly Baptist and other similar) traditions. Presumed prescriptions are damaging to our concepts and practices, to say the least. Some of the best Christian gatherings have been those in which spontaneity surfaced. This includes a few gatherings in buildings, but a lot more at retreats and in living rooms and kitchens!

      bc

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