EDIT: The review of Chan/Preston's Erasing Hell has been delayed because, ironically, it got erased from my computer.
It was a sad and humbling transition for my family and I. I didn’t have a full-time job, so I worked at a local coffeeshop for health insurance coverage and some pocket change while we all moved in with my wife’s parents, far from any place I, personally, had considered home. We had an uncertain future, almost no local friends, and we couldn’t afford anything.
We thought we’d attend a church plant in the area. It was led by my wife’s old youth pastor, and was in a denomination I respected. They met Sunday evenings in a rented and very traditional sanctuary in a blue-collar and shady neighborhood just outside of the crime-ridden portion of the general metropolitan area.
This church helped to define the aspect of community that should be found in more churches in our business-dominated nation. It was hard for any member of the community to compartmentalize or hide their life outside of it. It was a big deal (as it was usually because of concerning reasons) if someone didn’t attend a Sunday evening gathering. The pastor never said anything along the lines of “see you next week!” because we all knew we would have smaller gatherings and get-togethers at least four times again before the next service. After service dinners out (highly attended) were common. Community groups kept growing and reproducing. Social activities and parties between members were frequent. This was a church body that was much more like a family than members of a gym or country club. Whatever happened, we grew or bled as one unit.
Was it partly because of our small size? Yes. But it’s also because it was a community of like-minded people who vulnerably bear each other’s burdens of impoverishment, drug/alcohol addiction, broken relationships and other trials of life. They took seriously the New Testament’s call (from Jesus, Luke and Paul) to regular community and fellowship, and were willing to sacrifice a lot (and I mean a lot) to compassionately, not judgmentally, bring the Gospel message and biblical love to what was clearly a godless and penniless town.
My family and I were obviously excited to take part in every “church activity,” not out of a felt obligation or duty, but because it was an opportunity to be with friends and family, to serve and to be edified. Yes, the church was “all we had,” but, in contrast, all other activities outside of a day-job/school (which many were using to witness, etc.) seemed futile.
I invoke this true personal story because the consumer church (which we’ve been talking about for a few entries) is on the other side of the spectrum. Elsewhere, church involvement will find itself on a laundry list of other seeming extra-curricular activities, and it will have to compete hard to climb in priority. Some pursue heavy church involvement for the wrong reasons. Others scoff at it as a legalist method to feel holier-than-thou. But, for the stereotype that is the consumer church, the “commitment level” is on the checklist as they sometimes shop for churches because they want to know how much time involvement in a particular church will take away from the rest of their weekly lives.
Does that last sentence sound wrong? I think it should, especially from the perspective of the New Testament’s Church.
The Church, as laid out in the New Testament, has much more the essence and structure of a family, rather than a business. This is why it hurts when people leave. This is also because the Church itself is based upon a Truth that is meant to infiltrate and affect every aspect of one’s life (like a family identity/relationship), not just part of it (like a day job). It operates similarly to a family in that the more time, energy and sacrifice you give to it, the more you receive. Sometimes I miss out on some of my extended family reunions or communications. Do I, then, even have the right to complain about how disconnected or out-of-the-loop I feel at the next reunion? I wouldn’t even dare complain about how my family involves too much commitment or time.
Even though I have friends and colleagues who have sacrificed much (time, dreams, even financial stability) for service in the local church or some type of ministry, I’m not suggesting any rash decisions here. Simply put, church “activities” don’t even belong on the same list as Computer Club.