A recent post of a friend of mine has generated some reflection about what the church really is. Click here to read her thoughts, then come back and read mine.
Recently I saw a dancing tomato at a busy intersection. The dancing tomato was holding a sign advertising large pizzas for a low price at a nearby restaurant. Thousands of cars were driving through this particular intersection during rush hour, and each of them was likely seeing the dancing tomato selling large pizzas. I presume that the guy in the dancing tomato suit believed sincerely that his efforts would result in an increase in the sale of pizzas on this particular evening. He apparently believed that, upon seeing a dancing tomato at a busy intersection, scads of drivers would immediately change their evening plans, rush into his particular pizza restaurant, and order as many large pizzas as their arms could carry. “Hey, look at that dancing tomato. Holy pepperoni! Am I ever in the mood for a pizza! And to think I never would have realized that unless I had seen that crazy yet effective dancing tomato.”
How much of what the church does is nothing more than putting a dancing tomato at a busy intersection? How many campaigns to boost attendance and membership are truly evangelism, as opposed meaningless exercises that pander to our insatiable desire for self-promotion? How many mission trips are truly acts of deep sacrificial love, as opposed to surface level attempts to make ourselves feel better by “fixing” someone else’s problem for them? Bulk mailings, anonymous placement of door hangers, flashy lobbies with coffee shops and bookstores, “worship centers” (never sanctuaries) with hundreds of thousands of dollars invested in technological gadgetry, fully equipped gymnasiums, marketing departments – What on earth are we doing, for heaven’s sake? (Pun intended.)
And here is my BIG question of the day: When was the last time you heard an intense dialogue about what the church IS, rather than what the church DOES? How many people could finish the sentence, “The church is ….” with a well reasoned, theologically sound answer? Sure, we could say that the church is the people, like the old Sunday School song says. “We are the church together.” But what are we?
The question is about “being,” rather than “doing.” And it seems to me that we need to be able to answer that question again, before we waste too much more time just doing stuff for the sake of doing it. Because it seems to me that a lot of what we are doing is the ecclesial equivalent of a dancing tomato at a busy intersection.