Rob Borley on the excellent three days blog wrote the following in response to my stuff on church membership:
Are we supposed to move from demanding everything, to expecting nothing, finally maturing to finding strength in the discipline of the whole experience?
To think I wasted so many words saying the same thing that Rob captures so concisely!
I guess what I’m reacting against in this is the tendency to make choosing a church something similar to choosing a car, or a breakfast cereal or a perfume. But it can never be about what this membership says about me or my personality, nor about the benefits it delivers, nor an extension to my self-image.
Here in Belfast there is so much choice in relation to churches that people can, and do, choose on the basis of the marketing of the congregation (nobody calls it marketing but that’s essentially what it is). Church membership becomes a sociological phenomenon and an extension of my life-choices. And people are prepared to travel vast distances (in Irish terms) to get to the church of their choice, passing countless churches on the way.
In the workshop that sparked the conversation the young woman in question wasn’t prepared to settle for a church with anything less than excellent preaching and stirring worship. Fine. Important even. But what happens when our Church experience doesn’t have that. When you are committed to a local neighbourhood congregation.
When, for want of a better word, the mission of the church in the world is more important to you than the ministry of the church to its members.
One young man interjected. He remarked that he had just returned from a year in Nepal, where the church he ‘joined’ was the only community of Christians in the whole city. There was no choice there, only the joy of gathering with fellow believers at the beginning of each week. In such a situation of scarcity one recovers, I think, the importance of community which is less about what the membership delivers to me; less consumeristic, and more about what we are, together.
This is membership as a spiritual discipline, or practice. This is at least a part of what I mean when I say that sometimes my church membership is about bearing the cross, or experiencing exile. In such circumstances as my friends experience in Nepal, his connection with the body was more important than the quality of worship or preaching.
Where I might want to push Rob a little is on the danger of placing too great an burden on individual practice to make up for what we perceive the church may lack. Now here’s another interesting thread opening….