Yesterday I was having coffee with another pastor and we were talking about forms of Church. This pastor leads a more progressive style of Church; almost Emerging in form(still fairly conservative in doctrine). I was challenged to express my vision for what Church looks like. What came to mind is more of what church is not.
Many churches say “we’re like a big family”; I’ve heard that a lot, from a lot of people in a lot of places. But when I look a churches, and then think of my family get-togethers, I realize either my family is even more nuts than I had previously thought, or the Church doesn’t see or misinterprets what’s actually there. It’s not that the people there don’t truly care for one another, but the form of the relationship is not the same as family. Family get-togethers are (for me at least) typically loud, informal, generally boisterous and fun (with an occasional fight out in the open). There’s usually a bit more wine than there should be, the carpet usually gets stained (may have something to do with the wine), one kid throws a tantrum, we don’t actually “accomplish” anything besides eating a lot and making a big mess, but we leave satisfied.
I haven’t seen any Church that’s like my family. We have an order of service to follow, kids are distracted with programs in another wing of the building, people are on their best behaviour, and wine is nowhere to be seen. Most people in the church like their church to be orderly, structured, programmed, etc. Our actual conversation is typically fairly shallow; weather, sports, the kids, home decor, etc. It typically feels more like office party than a family. We like each other, but there’s little sense of true connectedness. There’s bad coffee, awkward silences, polite smiles and handshakes. I don’t shake hands with my family.
A Church that’s like a family is messy.
There may be someone there who annoys you.
People may not “play nice” the whole time.
There’s at least fifteen conversations going on at the same time in one living room (even when there’s only twelve people there).
The house will not be as it was before people got there.
You may be tired when you leave.
You may be there longer than you planned to be.
Someone (at least one) doesn’t have it all together.
People talk about more than the weather; they tell embarrassing stories, argue about politics, critique the way the turkey is being cooked, and no conversation reaches its natural conclusion because someone inevitably interrupts with a semi-related embarrassing story.
But if we’re being truly honest, I would prefer that to a stiff and structured Sunday morning. Not because I love those people less, but because I want to be able to be real, to laugh, to participate, to “let my hair down”, to swap stories, to feel like I am a part (like I belong not because I agree, but simply because I am who I am), not a spectator or lecturer. It’s messy, but it’s beautiful. I’d love to have church like that. Where people can feel like they’re at home; where kids are not shuffled off to another room, but are the highlight (even when throwing a tantrum); where people converse about real things (not that the weather is “fake”, but it’s not something that weighs on our hearts); where the person who is struggling doesn’t feel uncomfortable or the object of pity, but can find their place alongside everyone else; where accomplishments are celebrated; where life is shared, not compartmentalized; where a pile of dirty dishes is not a burden, but a sign that people had a good time; where events aren’t ordered in advance by one or two people, but function as a calling together; and most importantly, the coffee is good. Big question is “how do we get there”? But that’s a whole other kettle of fish.
But I think that would be an awesome church- just like a family. But maybe it’s just because me and my family are nuts.