A lot of our church is not in the meetings on Sundays. It is good that there is more to us than what is happening in the meeting. But…what’s with that? I am not sure what. You may be able to tell me.
I was talking to Rachel the other day and we realized how many people never meet with us on Sunday nights — at the wonder-filled meeting when the church makes itself visible to the world (and to the unseen world, as well). A lot DO come, of course. I took a video last night and managed to upload 15 seconds of it to youtube — this was before everyone got there!
The nice meeting last night notwithstanding, there are a lot of people in the church who have NEVER been to a Sunday meeting yet. For instance, we have teens meeting in the afternoons and they never come to the meeting (this happens in NJ, too!), We have a cell based at UArts and most of the students have never been to a Sunday meeting. Rachel’s cell is full of people who are devoted to their AA meetings but not to our Sunday meetings. Play groups, game night, Circle Thrift friends – the list goes on of vital places that don’t connect with Sunday night much, or at all. With about 40-50 more people we think we’d be ready to multiply the congregation – and I just located more than fifty in these various other meetings! What do you make of that? If people are not part of the weekly meeting are they a part of the church yet? We have an expansive group that never gets into the group! What’s with that?
It is possible that we just haven’t reminded ourselves lately why we have a Sunday meeting at all. After all, the church has met on Sunday for a couple of thousand years — it’s a habit, and a lot of people stopped thinking about why about a 1000 years ago. The meeting can and does go on without any particular need to have an explanation because it is just what Christians do. Some weeks I am finished with the meeting and I say to myself, “What was that about?” No one told me, no one apparently needed to even care why it happened. It seemed like people thought the meeting had a right to be served rather than the meeting having an obligation to serve the purposes of the people who showed up.
So why do it at all? Why imply that these 50 otherwise-connected people ought to show up? I’ll give you six reasons and you can give the rest. I say this old, wonderful Sunday meeting we perpetuate is irreplaceable for a number of reasons:
1) It is a coming out. LGBTQ friends use the phrase “coming out of the closet” for becoming who they are. The idea is important on a variety of levels. At one level it means admitting who one is to oneself. It is also about choosing who to tell about who you are. Most commonly, I think people think it is about making a political statement by being public about one’s identity. Christians don’t have the history of stigma and oppression as gay people do (at least in the United States), but there is a distinct similarity on all three of the levels mentioned when one comes to a Sunday meeting where Christians are being Christians and doing what Christians are and do. It is on the first day of the week because Jesus came out of the tomb as the risen Lord on that day — we’ve been identifying with Him ever since. If you don’t come to the meeting, you are likely to become a closeted Christian.
2) It makes us a citizen. Paul says our citizenship is in heaven. When a Christian takes on that allegiance in the world, it makes a difference. In the United States, this unique citizenship is often in question, since the state has often sponsored and coopted Christianity, so many people think a US citizen and citizen of heaven are the same thing. But the visible body of Christ, meeting boldly in public is a statement of differentiation and often defiance. If you are not a visible ally, to whom do you belong?
Notice I have not said anything about getting some great thing by coming to the meeting, yet. There are great things that happen every week and great people there who will love you. But I don’t think the meeting will ever be a good enough “product” to justify getting off our butts every week and going to it. In a way, it is redundant, and you can consume similar things elsewhere. But there are certain things that we just can’t be and do unless we have that public meeting
3) It makes us effectively public. People prefer to think that they can have everything privately, these days. Maybe Amazon’s business model is built on that premise. They can deliver what you want to you door; you never even have to go outside! — the ultimate in privacy.
- Being a Christian is public. We claim Jesus before people and Jesus claims us before the Father.
- The meeting is a main way we are an “us” as God’s people is an “us.” People can come and see it.
- It is a main way we accept the liability for being one of God’s people with these other people.
I love the risk and the trust of that!
4) It makes us an incarnation. We need to be incarnate and to actively incarnate our life in the Spirit or our faith is subject to being all in our heads and it won’t last. People need to be able to see us and touch us, experience us, or Jesus in us is hard to find. Likewise, we need to see each other and become part of a people, or we are too autonomous to receive the juice that comes with being together.
5) It makes our love bigger than a preference or a choice. There are pilates meetings to attend, NA meetings, book clubs, classes, political meetings, service groups and, primarily, our demanding workplace. A lot is going on. We can get with people like us and do what people like us do. My family, in itself, is the size of a small village. There is plenty there to keep me busy for a long time. I don’t need a lot more people in my life…UNLESS there is God making me bigger than what I already am or what I prefer. The Sunday meeting is a living example of and a laboratory for being more than what I already am and loving more than I need to love. If you only love those who love you, what makes you a Christian? Obviously not all our loving is happening in the Sunday meeting, far from it, but it is square one for starting down the road to being bigger.
6) Without worship you shrink. Here is a key issue. Worshiping, praying, discerning the truth in what is taught is an acquired skill that one can lose. A log burning alone soon loses heat. You can come to the meeting, of course, and not worship there, too. But we are more likely to go with Jesus if we do the kind of things that mean we are going with Jesus. I still love to hear Richard Burton talking about it.
The institution of the church has been so bad, so irrelevant, so into its own authority, so led by the “B” team that it deserves much of its inattention, in my opinion. Even though I lead the church, I don’t always think the Sunday meeting, in its particulars, makes that much sense. Sometimes the people who put on the weekly meeting can’t remember why they do it, they just do it. They may not think they have any new believers around, so it just becomes habit, not strategy. Is that the issue? What do you think?
Right now, we are changing in many ways. The Sunday meeting is developing along with the rest of us. No matter what it becomes, I will have six good reasons, at least, to be there with you. Maybe some day the meeting will get us all into trouble together, it will have become so odd to have one. That’s OK with me, too.