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Jesus Calls Us to Action, Sunday Morning is a Call to Passive

My Observation

From 1994 to 2008 my life revolved around the platform. I was either preparing for being in full-time vocational ministry or in it. God had called me to teach and as a result I felt fulfilled in that mission when I stood on the platform teaching. But in 2008, all of that changed as I transitioned from up-front, vocational ministry to my current role training, encouraging, and resourcing those in vocational ministry.

From 1994 – 2008 I would tell you that one of my primary spiritual gifts was teaching. Now? Maybe I express it differently, but I rarely teach in a traditional setting anymore.

And that transition– from platform to pew– has put me in a unique spot. I know, quite well, what it’s like on the platform. I feel more native there than I do in the pews. So, while I am now a pew-sitter in church I strongly identify with those on the platform. And sometimes, sitting in those pews, I make observations that I feel like I need to share.

In this case, this observation has sat in my draft folder for more than 2 years! It’s my heart but I’ve been fearful of sharing it for fear of the backlash. I hope it’s somehow useful to you.

It is…

My Lament

As a guy sitting in the pews I can’t help but be stricken by the passive life you are calling me to.

Come to church and sit. Listen to the staff talk. Sing some songs. Listen to a 40 minute sermon. Sing some more songs. Go to Sunday school and listen some more. Every point of application is so simple, so packaged, and so…

Convenient.

I see how you did that. Your message pointed me to the cause of the week. Aw, shucks. You’ve made it so easy. Loving Jesus is so… easy, packaged, simple, and conveniently located near a camera so we can celebrate next week. 

And yet, when I open my Bible and read nearly any page I see this stark contrast: There is action from Genesis to Revelation. The entire book of Lamentations is an admonishment for sitting and doing nothing while the world is upside down with corruption.

We Like to Teach… You Like to Sit… The Disconnect

That seems to be the narrative. Come and get information. We don’t care if you ever live it out. Just come back next week for the next installment.

Yet, when I zoom out the lens on Jesus’ entire message for how to live He seems to point people away from a Temple lifestyle, one where you engage with God at a place in packaged ways, He admonishes over and over again— “This Temple thing ain’t it, friends. God’s at work in the neighborhoods all the time, not just for a couple hours on the Sabbath.

And so we have an inborn disconnect. I’ll go about my day, I’ll go to work this week… you know, with the sinners. And you’ll go to your work this week… you know, sit in the church and think about what life is like with the sinners. God’s called you to help me with my life but you don’t really have a clue what I even do day-to-day.

I look around and see blue collar types, people who get their coffee at 7-11. And you hang out at Starbucks.

It’s a disconnect which leads to two epic streams of bad assumptions. I know you truly care so I assume you really get me, but you don’t. And you seem to assume I don’t really want to do anything, that I’m too busy, but I’m not. 

I don’t just need the Good News to be true for me on Sunday’s. I need to see the Good News alive in my daily life. And my neighbors? Holy moley do they need Good News to be for real.

My Hope

What would happen if Sunday morning stopped being a passive call to come back next week or deeper levels of involvement with [insert whatever busy work your church has for me] and started being a call to action to live like Jesus?

I wonder what that would even look like? Actually, I dream about it. Please release me! Get me out of this passive spot.

I don’t like being counted. Why are you always counting? You preach and I get counted. I go to a meeting and I get counted. Come to a potluck and someone counts. When I teach Sunday School seemingly the most important thing to do is count.

What if we started counting things that mattered? Like, wouldn’t it be cool if you counted on me not being there? Isn’t that what it means to live out my faith? Shouldn’t what I do between your incessant counting actually matter? How about we count that?

Why don’t we do that?

Your fear

I’ll tell you what would happen. And why you shudder at the thought. People would get so busy living out their faith that they would stop coming to your Bible studies, your youth group, your choir rehearsals, and your clean-up Saturdays. You are afraid that if people really live out their faith your count will be effected.

Sometimes I worry that the whole reason we do this is not so that I’ll do something but so that you can teach.

Don’t worry. You won’t be useless if you start teaching people to be active. Quite the opposite, because I’m really going to need you then. And when we gather it’ll be a monster celebration of what God is doing. And if you think about it, this will make your teaching so much more important.

So please, count on me to do something more than sit on my hands.

Please.

Please.

Please.

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12 Responses to Jesus Calls Us to Action, Sunday Morning is a Call to Passive

  1. Ryan McRae October 16, 2012 at 6:48 am #

    Well done. It’s so hard. We are living a model that should be taken out and shot, but no one has the guts to head to the woodshed.

  2. Kurt J. October 16, 2012 at 7:53 am #

    “…but you don’t really have a clue what I even do day-to-day.I look around and see blue collar types, people who get their coffee at 7-11. And you hang out at Starbucks.”

    OUCH! And unfair, Adam!

    * There is not a 7-11 in my community…not ONE. So, when the people in my church look around, they don’t see folks who get their coffee at 7-11. When the folks in my congregation look around, they see people who not only get their coffee at Starbucks…but pay an extra dollar to have it hand made on the clover machine!
    * When I go into Starbucks in the morning there are (let me count, since I’m in one now…) about 26, and half of them are sitting down, taking their time, enjoying conversation with others. Right now, 11 of them are teenagers. 3 of whom I’ve never seen before but have already had conversations with.
    * In many (if not most) communities today, Starbucks is THE PLACE to get your pulse on the community, to have conversations with strangers, etc.

    A few years ago, the rallying cry to Pastors was “get out of your church office and into the community!” And already it is becoming, “No…not THAT part of your community!”?

    You can be Good News in Your Neighborhood in Starbucks. Lost people spending $4.00 for coffee are just as lost as lost people spending $1.50 for coffee.

    What you imply is an out-of-touch, lazy approach to relating to people I would argue might be highly strategic on the part of Pastors who (hooray for them) are actually getting out and about instead of holing up behind their church walls.

    I appreciate the criticism, I really do….and the desire to see the church become something better than what it is. I also own a lot of Starbucks stock (Okay, that part isn’t true).

    Yes, I realize the post wasn’t about Starbucks, but you used it as an antidote to prove a point that Pastors aren’t leading by example. I’m not sure that’s as fair an argument today as it might have been a decade ago. Baby steps, Adam…baby steps!

    Ryan,
    Please take the current model to the woodshed, shoot it and then start telling us what is working in the new way. I’m not being sarcastic, I’m honestly hoping people with such strong feelings will lead the way and force the rest of us to follow.

    • Adam McLane October 16, 2012 at 10:25 am #

      @d13eee0fc398f5f15723af50f6dcf75c:disqus I think you see why I’ve sat on this for so long. I actually have a whole “book” of laments… boy that’d be fun to publish, eh? 20 chapters of fun. Heck, it’s not even fun for me to look at. There’s yucky stuff in there.

      I’m not blaming this post on anything other than my own re-orientation to a “platform-less” life. I’m having to re-define my own worth in a church community. It’s easy to have value when you’re the teacher dude. It’s hard when you don’t have a clue how you’re contributing.

      In regards to my Starbucks comment. That comment came straight out of working for YS in East County. There’s a big difference between the nice SUV/Rancho something crowd at Starbucks and the dudes who pick up 7-11 and a Red Bull on their way to the job site. I actually really love going to 7-11 because I think it reflects the neighborhood I need to connect with more because I am way, WAY more comfortable at Starbucks. (Dude, guilty as charged as well. If only 7-11 had free wifi and a gift card app!)

      As with any lament it’s mostly introspective. Every time I take myself to church and I sit there I think… gosh, I want to DO something. Actually, I want to be a part of something. So sharing it today was a bit of a faith step… good bad or ugly.

      For me, a person who learns a lot more by doing than by hearing, church has always been a struggle. It’s very omni-directional and not a way I learn at all. And I’m thankful God loves me and meets me in a way that isn’t dependent on that experience.

      We’ve been part of great churches. (Like now) And some new churches, some straight up crappy ones, and everywhere in between. It’s taken me a while to get comfortable with just not being wired to sit and take in that experience. I go. But its more out of discipline and respect for God’s Word telling me to go than true enjoyment.

      Anyway… long rambling comment!

  3. Alon Banks October 16, 2012 at 9:21 am #

    Bummer for those who sit on their hands on Sunday and call it Christianity. My church is compelling/challenging me to stand up and live my faith.

  4. Nick Ortega October 16, 2012 at 12:55 pm #

    Wow, Adam…this hits really hard and close to home. My home church is beong forcibly dragged from the pews i to action, and the push-back is ridiculous. We are actually having a vote to see if “the church” will accept the Interim Pastor who brought this “sea change” as permanent, because at least a third of our body are more like corpses, and the dead do not like to be poked. On the plus side, within a week I may be joining him in platform-less worship – he will start a home church if he receives a no-confidence vote, and I may well follow him; he seems to be following Jesus more closely than anyone else I am aware of in the community.
    Thanks for taking the brave step to publish a lament – so many today only want good news, instead of the Good News.

    • Adam McLane October 16, 2012 at 1:03 pm #

      Thanks, Nick. It’s nice to know I’m not alone.

    • Kurt J October 16, 2012 at 3:36 pm #

      Nick,
      You and the interim Pastor starting a home church is the kind of “take it to the woodshed and shoot it” risks that people need to take if there is ever going to be a new (although I would say we don’t need new, just revised) model of how church functions. Good for him for leading in a way he feels he needs to…even if there seems to be a price to pay.

      I’m at Saddleback. My best friend has led a house church for 5 years. I have visited several times and I’m shocked at how similar, other than the “pace” at which things run, the churches actually feel.

      Us life-long Christians are an entrenched bunch. It wasn’t more than a couple months into his house church movement that majority of the folks who were attracted to a “new way” were demanding and feeling entitled to stuff they enjoyed about the old way. If you go down that road, I hope you guys can navigate that with better success than he has.

      Adam, forgive me if my first response was overly negative as that truly wasn’t my intent. I agree with you mostly. I could have written a much shorter, to the point, response that simply stated:

      “Wait a minute….some of us are actually doing more than just hanging out in Starbucks. It’s where we choose to be “good news in our neighborhood.”

      • Adam McLane October 16, 2012 at 3:40 pm #

        It’s all good, Kurt. That’s the power of relationship. I knew we were cool.

        I love the irony that some really good ethnography kind of blew up into what became Saddleback. I’ve always been sad that people came and tried to copy the result of Saddleback without taking a serious look at the ecosystem that created it. Back in the day we called this “missiology.” I don’t know what they call it now, but there needs to be more of it.

        I’m or all kinds of churches and more of ‘em.

  5. Brandon Pachey October 16, 2012 at 1:27 pm #

    YOU…TOOK….THE…..WORDS….RIGHT….OUT…..OF….MY….MOUTH…..Adam.

  6. Sam Halverson October 16, 2012 at 3:24 pm #

    I’ve often wondered what a new church would look like that gathers folks together on a Saturday or Sunday morning for worship…and for worship actually goes out in the community to do work/service for a few hours. After all, isn’t this the kind of worship that God wants from us – to care for the poor, the widows, and the orphans? What if worship … weekly worship … were weekly service together in community.

  7. Josh Corley October 16, 2012 at 6:15 pm #

    I remember hearing Shaun King at the NYWC a few years ago talk about Courageous Church that he started in Atlanta. They voted to basically cancel church services and spend the resources in their community. I believe I even read about it initially on Adam’s blog. He told the story of how their church grew and flourished leading up to the date when they would stop “doing church.” When the time came to make the change, people weren’t ready to come along. He was fired from the church he founded and he said something I’ll never forget: “People like to talk an awful lot about change, but in reality, people HATE change.” That resonated so much with me.

  8. beckydurham October 17, 2012 at 6:31 pm #

    So tonight, I was talking to a pastor from Austin, TX and she was telling me about a church that she’s been involved with some.

    http://servantchurchaustin.org/

    During worship every week, they serve. Some people sit at a table and knit stuff for people who need knitted things (I didn’t catch the details), some people sit at a table and write letters to prisoners, there’s some sort of a food ministry that’s happening (maybe packing bags for the food pantry), something about books I didn’t understand but she was really excited about, and on and on. Worship happens and interwoven in worship is service to others.

    I don’t know if that seems exciting to you or not, but it made me all kinds of happy.

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