There were two articles I read recently that were intriguing.
First was "I'm a 'church leader' who doesn't really go to church," by Adam J. Copeland, and printed in The Christian Century, March 8, 2019. Copeland is director of the Center for Stewardship Leaders at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, MN. He was ordained in the Presbyterian Church (USA).
The second was "Some Pro-tips for Church Leaders Who Don't Go to Church | Adam Copeland I'm Looking At You" by Clint Schnekloth and published on his blog. Schnekloth is pastor of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Fayetteville, AK; founder and chairman of Canopy NWA, a refugee resettlement agency; and author.
Copeland relates that he and other "up-and-coming movers and shakers" don't go to church. There were several reasons presented. In the early part of his marriage they were moving frequently. While they would attend church, they couldn't commit to a church when they'd be moving in a year. Now that they've settled down, they find church shopping to be frustrating.
He shares some of their experiences:
"Visit one: We were given gold “visitor” stars to wear, and then the pastor invited us to stand and be recognized. I am a shy person, so the congregation got to welcome me as I blushed. Visit two: I knew it wasn’t a fit at the first words, “Good morning!” shouted into a microphone with put-on happiness. My wife and I exchanged glances, knowing we were trapped for the next hour and 15 minutes. Visit five: We should like this one; it’s progressive and relatively diverse. But it’s also small, and we felt so intensely seen. People had that “Please stay, we need young couples” stare. Visit eight: This one revealed nothing annoying — and nothing inspiring. On the one hand, the church offered several convenient service times. On the other hand, it would take a lot of gumption for me to leave my NY Times app for any of them."
Copeland relates that they do give financially to a church they were initially hopeful about. "We haven't been there in a few months now, and nobody seems to have noticed."
He knows what he's looking for. It doesn't need to be perfect, just enough: "just enough community, just enough worshipful spirit, just enough truth."
But in order to find that, he acknowledges that he needs to look inward. He needs to grieve the churches of his past and recognize that the churches of the future will be different. Those churches will be struggling, experimenting, and they may feel uncomfortable.
When I first read the article I had problems getting over the idea that a church leader, someone teaching future church leaders, doesn't go to church. How can you teach others to deal with what happens in church if you don't actually experience it?
Pastor Schnekloth had a somewhat similar reaction. He offers several options for church leaders who don't do church.
First: Offer support to the wider parish. Volunteer to preach at a nursing home, jail or shelter. It "contrbutes to the lives of people otherwise excluded by their situation from corporate worship."
Second: Realize that church isn't about the special things, it's about the central things, like the sacraments.
Third: Stop the concept of church shopping. The "right" church isn't about finding the church that already fits you, it's about finding the church that you can contribute to with your gifts.
"I’m thinking in particular of Luke 10, where Jesus encourages those he sends out to stay wherever they are welcomed, and share gifts there. This could be a difficult assignment, because what if the ‘first’ one isn’t the ‘best’ one. We could always be tempted by the fancy pool in the back yard of the house next door.
"But if you consider the gifts you bring, church changes. For example, I know many people who go weekly to a prison to worship. They don’t do it because the church has all the perfect fit for them. They go because they have love and peace to share with sisters and brothers in prison. They gather around Christ bringing the gifts of the Spirit present in their lives.
"If every single person when they went to church thought, “What gift am I bringing in the Spirit today?” church would be transformed and sizzle with life.”
Fourth: Nostaligia over your previous churches is real.
He comes back to the idea of “church shopping.”
"... I do know it won’t ultimately help either the church or those searching to keep coming to church as shoppers.
"What will help is a spiritual reversal where we consider what we are called to contribute through our presence in church rather than judge what is lacking from the church ‘experience.’ Shopping for an experience is a remarkably privileged posture. Considering what we might bring to Christian community, and then bringing it, might send us into radically new contexts, committed to serve for the long haul, and will open us to deep abiding in the life of Christ as little Christs in beloved community."
What a great way to approach church on Sunday mornings: What can I bring to church this morning?
- Ann Iona Warner