Tag Archives: olympics

Why people are looking for “Church” in places other than Church

Figuring out what non-churched people are looking for is an agonizing endeavour for most church leaders. Churches everywhere are trying things that will draw in new people. Yet, in some of my more cynical moments, I wonder if churches actually offer anything that most people are looking for.

You have to be pretty deep into the weeds of spiritual exploration to be looking for what a Lutheran church is offering. You have to be interested in a rich tradition, heavy with its history, theology and ritual. You have be interested in the structure, patterns and rhythms of liturgy. You have be interested in a biblical understanding that goes deeper than the Sunday School idea of “good people go to heaven and all the people I don’t like go to hell.”

I have had the sinking feeling for years that in our world of reality TV, streaming music, mindless Facebook scrolling and other intense yet mind numbing forms of media, most people don’t even give a thought to the idea that church, being part of a Christian faith community (especially a declining mainline one), is something that they need in their lives. 

But then the other day I heard something curious on the radio. It was an interview on The Candy Palmater Show on CBC Radio. She was interviewing a superfan of the Tragically Hip (for those that don’t know, the tragically hip concluded their last tour in the summer of 2016 after lead singer God Downie announced that he has terminal brain cancer). Candy asked this superfan what his emotions were going to be like when he attended his last (21st) live concert and he said,

“This is church for me, and this is the last time I get to go.”

I was half listening to the interview at the time and this woke me  up and started my mind racing.

My first thought was, why isn’t church “church” for this man?

But my next more important thought was that maybe people are looking for what church has to offer.

You don’t have to look very far to see that people all around us are flocking to things that bind them together. The Tragically Hip for many Canadians is an example. Sports, politics, music fans, etc… people are gathering around shared interests – no, things they believe in – all over the place.

People want to be part of groups that come together around a common belief or common cause. People want to be a part of something bigger than they are, with others who feel and think the same way. People are looking for places to be church all around us.

So why aren’t people finding “church” at church?

American Christians have this expression that I have noticed becoming increasingly common lately. I have seen it on social media, in videos, and while travelling to the US.

When church people experience a group coming together around a common experience (around terrorist attacks or police shootings, for example), and there is an emotional and moving aspect of being together, people will say, “That’s church!” (said with a southern drawl).

This is almost never in reference to actual church.

It is almost as if our desire and need for “church” isn’t found at church.

The world around us (church people) is increasingly not seeing church as a place that does what church is supposed to do. Churches have stopped being places where people can come together under a common cause, a common belief or creed. Churches are less and less places where people are tied together simply because they believe in the same thing.

How did that happen?

Well, I have a theory.

A few months back I wrote about how many churches have become like soccer teams who no longer play soccer, but who simply gather for coffee and donuts. And as members decline, the chief concern has become who is going to make the coffee and buy the donuts. So when people are looking to join a soccer team come to us, and we ask them to be in charge of the coffee and donuts, they don’t stick around.

Being focused on coffee and donuts goes deeper than just not playing soccer anymore (or not having that Jesus guy be the centre of our faith communities).

My theory is that the reason so many un-churched, de-churched and even church people are no longer finding “church” at church is that we have made the focus of church ourselves. 

Worrying about who is going to make the coffee and buy the donuts, is really a worry about ourselves. What we are really worrying about is who is going to take care of us. Who is going to worry about us. How are we going to keep being us when us is declining.

The problem with worrying about us is that there is no room for people who aren’t us.

Put another way, Tragically Hip fans always have room for more Hip fans. There is always room for more people to cheer on athletes or sports teams, to support politicians and political parties, to be fans of something together. There is room for the whole world to gather around the Olympics.

There SHOULD always be room for another person who wants to follow Jesus with us. But so often churches are looking for people to care about the survival of us instead of following Jesus. And  when us is defined by who is already here rather than the common larger-than-us thing that draws people together, there isn’t room for more us. There isn’t room for more church members when our biggest concern the survival of group that is already exists here.

People are looking for “church” all around us. Faith leaders, church leadership and church people should take more notice. People are looking for experiences and communities that are gathering around something in common, whether it be a band, sports team or political party. They are looking for church as it is supposed to be, being tied together by a common belief in something or someone bigger than us.

But people looking for “church” will not find it in communities whose chief concern is the people who are already there. In fact, you will never find “church” in a group that has already decided that you aren’t part of the group before you even arrive.

Perhaps it is time it for congregations and faith communities to do some soul searching and decide, are we going to be church or are going to be “Church?” Are we going to gather around the group of people that we already are, or around Jesus who calls us to make room for more?

Where do you find “church” in your life? How can churches do “church” better? Share in the comments, or on the Facebook Page: The Millennial Pastor or on Twitter: @ParkerErik

Who said it? Jesus or Donald Trump: Olympics Edition

Luke 12:49-56

Jesus said, “…Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! From now on five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three; they will be divided: (Read the whole passage)

Wow… Jesus is on a roll today. We have been making our way through the teachings, parables and ministry of Jesus for a number of weeks now, and so far we have heard familiar stories like Mary and Martha, the Lord’s Prayer, the Good Samaritan.

Last week things took a turn for the less familiar, but at least Jesus seemed much nicer, ‘Have no fear little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the Kingdom.’

But today we get some of the harshest words Jesus has in the gospel of Luke.

And yes, they make us uncomfortable. Jesus isn’t supposed to speak this way, Jesus is about uniting and bringing people together right? Not about setting people against each other. Jesus sounds almost like Donald Trump with all these talk about division and doom. 

And the difficulty with this passage from Luke is that there isn’t some neat trick of context that explains what Jesus means. It isn’t like the verses before or after explain what Jesus is really talking about. This passage on division comes in a chapter where we are given quote after quote strung together will no real details or information connecting them to each other.

I don’t know about you, but when some gun toting christian on some cable news show quotes this passage as justification for hate, violence, intolerance, and yes, division, it makes me want to curl up and hide under a rock. It is one of those passages from the bible that you almost wish wasn’t there. But it is, and it get used as justification for some Christians to be jerks. “Do you think that I have to bring peace? No, but rather division.” And a lot of embarrassing blowhards claiming to speak on behalf of all Christians say this passage shows that Jesus would be an assault rifle carrying bigot were he to come to today.

And so the question becomes, what do we make of this divisive Jesus? Where does he fit with the loving, compassionate, and caring Jesus that we know?

Of all the places and people who could perhaps offer and explanation to these strong words from Jesus today, it was a late night talk show host talking about the opening ceremonies of the Olympic games that provided me some insight.

In HBO’s John Oliver’s recap of the opening ceremonies, he showed a portion of IOC president Thomas Bach’s speech where he said, ‘In this Olympic world, there is one universal law for everybody. In this Olympic world, we are all equal.”

Sounds like the usual lofty speeches that get made at Olympic games.

But John Oliver, who was having none of it, replied,

“Okay, that is simply not true. If that were the case, you wouldn’t need to have an olympics. The whole reason we do this is to find out, who is better than everyone else, so that we can make them stand higher [cue photo of athletes on a medal podium] than the other people who are not as good as them. Because the point of the games is not to celebrate equality, but individual’s excellence.”

(Language warning)

Cheeky, but he isn’t wrong.

As I have been watching my fair share of olympics this week, I haven’t been spending much time cheering on the athletes destined to come in last. It is the ones who win medals, who come in first, who defeat the rest of the competition who are the focus. Everyone knows who Penny Oleksiak is the week, but does anyone know the name of the Canadians who didn’t place in archery, or shooting, or judo, or race walking, or discus or other sports where our country isn’t competitive?

The Olympics in some measure are a safe way for nations to go to war with other nations without dropping bombs or sending soldiers, they are hardly about equality.

And this is where the Olympics and John Oliver gives us insight into what Jesus says today. 

Sometimes our rhetoric, the fancy words and ideals that people throw about in the name of unity and equality don’t really express or name reality.

The reality is that we are human beings are compelled by conflict. We live to fight, it is in our biology – the reptilian parts of our brains are primed to override rational thought in order to Fight, Flight or Freeze when the opportunity aries. And Jesus know this. Jesus knows that sunshine and roses is not what the world is about. Rather that our world is full to conflict and division and sin and suffering and death. And these things are what catch our attention, these are the things that are the foundation of our established orders, these are the things we use to categorize and understand ourselves and our world.

And so when Jesus, God in flesh, comes to meet humanity on our turf, it has to be in the midst of division, because that is where we live as human beings. You will notice that Jesus doesn’t say that he has come to CAUSE division, but simply that he BRINGS it. Division will follow Jesus wherever he goes, because Jesus is going into the human world.

And Jesus is coming into our world, with a message. A message about God, and God’s love for us, and how God is turning our world upside down.

And Jesus represents a threat. A threat to the established orders, to the conflict and division that we love so much, a threat to making people stand higher than those who are not as good as they are. Because in God’s world everyone is equal, and there wouldn’t be an olympics because the medals and podiums would be not be for the first, but for the last. And those in first would be about as interesting to us as those in last are in our world.

And so today Jesus brings division. And yes it sounds terrible and probably makes us uncomfortable… but it is also what we know. And we are uncomfortable because we realize that Jesus really does know us, and knows that conflict and division is where we live.

But Jesus’ words also make us uncomfortable because they aren’t plastering over our conflict and division, our olympic battles with lofty rhetoric about equality and unity. Jesus words instead tell us that  God is coming into our world, to find us, and this will cause real division. Because God is going to change everything. God is going to change us. Change us with love and compassion, with true equality and true unity. 

God is coming to change us with the good news of Jesus in our world, division and all.