This morning I am skipping church. My legs are aching and my nose blocked but they are not life threatening and certainly not enough to stop me from making a public appearance at this morning’s service.
So why am I skipping church?
I don’t know. It is hard for me to put my finger on. There are many reasons. I will unpack them now over my coffee and aching legs.
1 I’m not a Marching Anymore
A few weeks ago the church choir sang this song
‘Will you ride, ride, ride with the King of Kings?
Will you follow your leader true?
Will you shout hosanna to the lowly son of God
who died for me and you?’
I think it’s that attitude of ride, ride, ride that’s a stumbling block for me in church, not just my present church but every church I’ve been a member of. Perhaps that is why I feel I should put the brakes on sometimes.
This ride, ride, ride attitude that I’ve heard from countless pulpits seems to leave no room for doubt or questions, for mess or grey especially during our traditional Presbyterian church service.
If you’ve ever been to one you will know that it’s your job to sing verse after verse of hymns like a metronome which contain aspects of doctrine and statements of faith that you don’t really have time to process.
You might be singing a hymn and the first verse hits you and you say ‘Oh that is quite a bold statement of faith, do I agree with that?’ but already you are racing on to the next verse and sitting down and now the minister is praying and you’re confessing sins and listening to a children’s address and singing another hymn and riding waves of doctrine and faith and then maybe the pastor will be reading a chapter from Ephesians and you will be thinking ‘Oh, that sounds harsh’ or ‘Isn’t that wonderful?’ but there is no time to reflect on that either because the minister has now launched into his/her sermon and is hitting you with more spiritual truth or proclaiming words that aren’t actually his words, but God’s truth for us today and then it’s another hymn, a chat with someone over a cup of tea (in a cheap polysterene cup) and back home.
Basically you are expected to receive or give everything in faith quickly and without room in the service for working through issues or for having a discussion. And the nature of sermons seem to be to give an elaborate ‘Sunday School’ answer to grown-ups.
This is sort of related to the above but the main reason that I’m feeling guilty right now about not attending this morning’s service is because I feel as if I’m letting the minister down by not attending. This attitude of ride, ride, ride means that if I don’t ride,ride, ride I’ve let people down such as the minister and even the apostle Paul further back.
My minister has heard that I played guitar and has been determined that I should join the praise group over the past number of years. He has said the words ‘We need you in the praise group’ in a stern manner as if that is my preordained position in the scheme of things. I play the guitar therefore I should join the praise group.
It wouldn’t be such a big deal except I’ve seen it countless times over my years in church. The minister has a vision of the way he would like church to be and therefore it will be moulded that way. If someone is friendly they should be on the welcome team in the door. If the someone is young and trendy they should help out with youth group. If someone is a teacher they should be teaching Sunday school.
My dad was talking about this over Christmas in how the minister used to have incredible power over members of the congregation, probably as they are seen as God’s spokesman and representative in the community.
And so your job isn’t to question your leader but to do whatever your leader says or thinks you should be doing as they know what God thinks you should be doing and God thinks you should be playing guitar in the praise group. Next thing you know you’ve been teaching Sunday school for 30 years or church organist until you die as you can play the piano.
Often the leader of the church doesn’t seem to be Jesus, it seems to be the church or whatever has been decided should happen at the church by whoever is ‘in charge’ of the church
Stepping back there is the whole truth that the pastor or minister isn’t supposed to be the head of the church or the brains behind the operation and yet it doesn’t seem to be that way.
The brains behind the whole church operation seems to be the minister with the elders as supporting cast.
The church set up seems to be modeled on Jesus and the disciples with minister in the role of Jesus, the elders as the disciples (with an inner circle of committed elders) and the rest of the church as the crowds flocking to hear Jesus.
It is hard is hard to write these things about the minister as so many of my friends are ministers or training to be ministers and I don’t think they’re control freaks or craving power, they’re just ordinary men and women who are following Jesus.
But I guess that a part of my frustration is partly borne out of being a concerned husband to someone who is training to be a minister.
The attitude of the minister as leader of the church puts unfair pressure on the minister to keep standards up and not let the side down, to stick to the script and have all the answers. We don’t really like our leaders to be messy and unsure about the direction to take.
For instance it doesn’t matter if the minister is having a particularly awful week, their job is still to get up on s Sunday morning and deliver a sermon that speaks God’s truth in front of people whether they feel like it or not. |
Of course it is hard for many people in jobs having to do things they don’t feel like doing (a teacher who isn’t in the mood to teach still has to teach) yet perhaps there is something particularly hard about speaking about God and those deepest parts of our humanity when our heart is in a different place.
3 There is one on tonight
This is the main reason.
We have a service tonight (for some reason). So there are two church services today. Should I be feeling guilt about not attending the service this morning while ‘only going’ to the one tonight?
I don’t think so, and yet somehow I do.