Wednesday, March 12, 2008

On Choosing a Church

I read a wonderful bit of wisdom on Amy Welborn's blog today. Marcel Lejeune shared this on a comment thread:
A friend recently asked me what I “need from the Church”. My response boiled down to - I need the Church to make saints. Not in naming someone a saint, but rather in calling us all to holiness and perfection. Making modern-day saints out of the ordinary. We have a crisis in holiness in the Church. Holiness would solve every problem.
There is a great temptation to think about the work of the Church (caring, healing, celebrating and teaching) as equivalent to some kind of service industry or retail job. At the bookstore, I want the place, and particularly my religion section, to be the kind of place to which people will want to come and spend time and buy books. There is a needful and legitimate extent to which I have to think about what people want, and try to have that on offer. It's my job to sell books, and other concerns are secondary. I do have the opportunity to serve in some creative ways: there are a number of books in Joseph-Beth's selection that I make sure we carry, and do indeed sell, that you're not going to find in other places, and that we wouldn't have if I didn't put them there. If you want them, you will come into the shop and find good Christian books that are good for you. It will not be hard to find them. This is not true at chain stores or Christian bookstores (depending, of course, on who you trust to declare something "good.") Of course, you will also find Joel Osteen's stuff. I work for a "secular" business, not a confessional one. I don't go out of my way to get book that I think are bad for people just because I think they'll sell. But I don't try to prevent the stocking of titles that already sell. And of course if I'm indifferent about a title, I want to carry it if it will sell.

The work of the Church ought not to follow the same logic, however. "Give the people what they want" is a sound business practice and marketing strategy, but it is deadly to the life of any church that seeks to organize itself in such a fashion. The shape of the liturgy is not decided by popular vote, and we must not be interested in doing things because they are "neat." The Church has a reason to exist that comes before anybody else's agenda: it is the People of God, the new humanity that has been created in Jesus Christ to worship the Father along with Him, and to participate in the renewal of Creation in the power of the Spirit.

The Church doesn't exist in order to bring a large number to its Sunday gatherings for any reason, or to be "useful" in the social order or to split up responsibilities for poor folks with the government. The Church is called to give people Christ through the Sacraments, and Christ through their own presence in the dark and broken places of human life. The Church is called to mimic and extend Jesus' own ministry of healing, teaching, meal sharing and exorcism. That can look like all kinds of things, but the Church is not at liberty to make up activities unrelated to those things, and call it "ministry."

This is why it is dangerous to choose which group of Christians you'll make your life with on the basis of musical tastes, your "enjoyment" of the "worship experience," or the activities they put on offer. In most cases, those things will have very little to do with whether you can find healing and wholeness in Jesus Christ along with that community, or whether they are a people who can or will come alongside you to stay in the dark places of your life.

We need to be involved in communities that will participate actively in God's work of making us all saints - bringing us all to completion of who we really are.


byron smith said...

Great post.

The Church is called to give people Christ through the Sacraments, and Christ through their own presence in the dark and broken places of human life.
How about adding "...[to give people Christ] through the proclamation of the good news..."?

Matt said...

thanks for the cavanaugh suggestion. i am excited to check out some of his writings, he seems pretty interesting. anyone that puts torture and eucharist in a book title seems ok with me. dig the blog man, keep up the good work.

Kyle said...

Absolutely, Byron.

Thanks, Matt.

Anonymous said...

I imagine someone someone coming to your store and asking for Joel Olsteen resulting in a scene like this scene with Jack Black (Barry) in High Fidelity...

Customer: Hi, do you have the song "I Just Called To Say I Love You?" It's for my daughter's birthday.

Barry: Yea we have it.

Customer: Great great... Well, can I have it?

Barry: No, you can't.

Customer: Why not?!

Barry: Because it's sentimental tacky crap that's why. Do we look like a store that sells "I Just Called to Say I Love You"? Go to the mall!

Customer: What's your problem?!

Barry: Do you even know your daughter? There's no way she likes that song! Oh oh oh wait! Is she in a coma?

Marcel said...

Thanks for the nod my way. Paul VI once wrote that the Church "exists in order to evangelize" and evangelization is incomplete unless the call to holiness is made.

It wasn't an original idea of mine, as much as I wish it was.

#Debi said...

I'm just looking for a church with a good singles' ministry...