Sometimes, I wonder what our church services would look like if God planned them instead of us. Don't get me wrong - there's something kind of comforting, I suppose, about a song, a prayer, two songs, Communion, a sermon and an invitation. Or however you're doing it. It's nice to know what to expect when we walk in the doors of the church.
But sometimes...I don't know. Sometimes, I think we're just getting it wrong. And sometimes, I think God would far prefer to work in a little mystery so that we don't always know what's coming next.
I do think that if God were planning our church services, there'd be a lot more one anothering in them. I think there'd be a lot more of us talking with one another, facing each other, carrying each other's burdens, confessing our sins to one another. I think we'd spend more of our time looking into the eyes of our brothers and sisters than staring toward a stage.
I think we'd spend time counting our communal offering and figuring out what we are going to do with it, how we're going to spend it to further God's work in the Kingdom, who we're going to take care of with our resources. I think this would spark further conversations about where the needs are that we're not meeting, needs that maybe we didn't know about because Bill just comes in and sits down and "attends service" and isn't that what our churches have been about for too long? But it turns out, Bill knows of a great need, a big blind spot in our ministry, a place where we ought to be pouring the grace of God right now. I think if God were planning the service, Bill would be telling us all about that.
I think if God were planning our services, we'd be hearing from more preachers outside of our circles. Remember that the early church used to gather to hear guys like Paul and Silas and Timothy, guys just passing through who made the glory of God their labor, talk to them about Jesus. I don't know of a whole lot of churches with pastors willing to give up their pulpit these days. And I know of even fewer journeyman apostles who just go around preaching wherever. But I think if God were planning things, that would happen.
And I think that's for two reasons. First, we need to hear from new voices in our churches. We need to hear from those who have a different perspective. Every single one of us experiences God's grace in a unique way based on our own experience and circumstance, and God's design is that we would share that with each other. (As a side note, I think somehow, we've become ashamed of this and so we don't talk to anyone about God, not even our brothers and sisters, because we're convinced that our unique way of hearing Him is "weird" or worse.)
Second, I think it's far too common for us to live in religious echo chambers, just like we live in cultural ones. We surround ourselves with those who think like us, look like us, act like us, believe like us. We don't make a lot of room in our lives to be challenged or to learn anything new, to think outside of our boxes. The people in the churches in the New Testament were preaching and listening and learning, but they needed these apostles from the outside to correct them where their echo chambers were tempted to start leaning. We need the same thing. So I think if God were planning our services, we'd have more visiting voices around.
I also think there'd be more silence. When did we become afraid of silence in our churches? We fill every second with sound - with soft music playing behind the pastor even while he prays because somehow, prayer makes us hear that silence all the more profoundly, even when someone's talking, and we can't bear it. We don't light candles any more and just let them burn. We don't give the people even a second to have their own thought or to reflect on something in their own heart. There's always noise drawing them back into what we have planned for the moment and for the space. But I think if God were doing it, He wouldn't feel the need to fill it all. I think there would be more silence.
We could keep going, and maybe we should, but perhaps I have sparked your sanctified imagination here and you're already thinking of things that God would do in your church if He were the one planning your time there. What would God change about your church experience?
What keeps you from making those changes?