Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Dancing Tomato at a Busy Intersection

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.


Kansas Bob said...

The church is an expression of God in a community of people who passionately love Him and each other.

Now that is one attractive church ... probably won't need an ad in The Star for this church :)

DogBlogger said...

Dang it, I think I'm the one wearing the frickin' tomato suit.

Adam Caldwell said...

Kansas Bob I agree with you to a point but I would further say that the church is not just an expression but that it IS the incarnational embodiment of Christ. I think that qualifies on an individual basis and an ultimate ecclesial basis. (I am sure that our friend Mr. Willard would agree. See Renovation of the Heart.) Ultimate inward change brings forth outward action. Not the other way around. The Church Is the incarnation of Christ. That is why I think that our friends on the right and left of the conversation both miss the point. We've got to find something better.

srjones32 said...

It seems to me that often what the church DOES yields exposure to what it IS. Even the greatest pizza in the world can't be known unless there is some equivalent of a dancing tomato (advertising in whatever form -- websites, dancing veggies, word of mouth). A mug with a church logo can be given as an expression of grace, but really it's purpose is to remind the mug-user of the church -- advertising to drive the individual back into the group. Perhaps I am jaded, but "Go make of all disciples" seems like a call to advertise and to follow it up with grace, love, and acceptance.

Ksqurred said...

I'm not sure that I would say that the "church" is the embodiment of Christ. Unless you're refering to the people who make up the church. I think that people on earth are made to be manifestations of God. And in that sense, We should all be wearing the big tomoato suit.. but it wouldn't be any different than who we are as people, because our love for God, and humanity would be enough to bring people in.