Why isn’t it simple?

I’ve had a great e-mail conversation with Michael Fawver this week. We do this from time to time, and every time he says something really smart, and I wonder: why don’t I e-mail him more often? Here’s one of my favorite things that he said:

So far, my intellectual answer to the questions concerning the church is all relationship. It all comes down to relationships. It is so simple I don’t know why we are struggling with it. 🙂 All the church should be about is helping people know and be known. The institution of the church is just a forum in which we can rub shoulders with other believers, rub shoulders with Jesus and, yes, even rub shoulders with non-believers. (We are currently better at some of those than others.) In my mind the Sunday morning worship time is one time where we are farthest from intentional inter-human relationship building. So I’m thinking that if we can get ourselves past the “pain” (which you’ve so brilliantly expressed) of allowing ourselves to let go of our preconceptions about church, then we will more likely to be free to be led by Christ wherever He might be taking us.

The saddest part for me is that Sunday morning worship is where we are farthest from intentional inter-human relationship building. We’ve tried to increase the relationship/community aspect, but there’s only so much you can do in a room with several hundred people. It’s the kind of thing that makes one despair of tinkering with what is and doing something radical.

And I hope we will do something radical. In a both/and sense, not by chucking what is, because there are some who are finding meaning in what we’re doing.

11 thoughts on “Why isn’t it simple?

  1. But is there anything you can really do? Is that your job or place? I’ve been sad lately looking at the larger church body of the US – many people leaving. So I look smaller to the Yearly Meeting – much of the same. So I look smaller to my meeting for worship – more hope. And I look even smaller to my small group – brighter hope stemming from intentional personal connections (which ties in with Michael’s thoughts – he’s definitely a smarty) and knowing where these folks are at and are coming from. And then I look to myself – the only person I can truly change. God doesn’t seem to “tinker” with us; He’s pretty intentional about the changes He makes in us. He says, “I love you. I want to be with you. I’ll seek you out no matter what. But ultimately you have to choose to be with me, to let me change you so we can be in intimate communion.” If folks don’t choose to build community, if they rely on others (like pastors) to do that for them, then it falls short. If I’m used to a Sunday morning experience that’s all about managing my own personal salvation and not focusing on the greater call God’s given us, then I’m probably not going to be able to build community – I’m thinking of myself and not others. And until I make that choice to seek truly after God, to open my eyes to what He honestly has to say (not clouded with the opinions of others or myself), it probably won’t come about. (Man, I shouldn’t check my bloglines before dinner – low blood sugar makes me preachy). 🙂


  2. I want to write a long comment asking you about whether you would move more towards unprogrammed worship – allowing more room for the movement of the Spirit among you – or more towards more modern A/V techniques, which seems to be quite popular amongst the emergent church folks, but seems to me to be more human intervention than necessary, but I don’t have time to phrase this in a properly humble and non-judgemental way. So maybe I should say nothing, but that’s not what I want either. Re: your last post, when you write long and thoughtful posts, I want to write long and thoughtful comments and so I usually just give up rather than write short bursts of response.


  3. AJ-I don’t mind you getting preachy. I didn’t mean to sound like it was my fault or my responsibility to make it happen. I just wonder what I CAN do. What else is God calling us to?Robin-You can make as long a comment as you want, and I’ll read every bit of it! The types of worship that intrigue me are ways to help people interact on a meaningful level with each other; where there’s room and will and energy to tackle the bible together; where we attentively listen to the Spirit; where we can share the whole breadth of human emotion (sometimes I’m quiet and contemplative, but sometimes I’m hyper and rocking, and sometimes I’m depressed and grieving).Friends (well, especially NFC in our gathered worship) can be good at quiet and contemplative but often fail to “hit the highs”. AND, I’m still haunted by what we’ve lost because we’ve been anti-symbolism (ok, that’s inflammatory too, sorry…not taking the time for careful words). I love the emergent emphasis on all five senses, and would like to explore that more among Friends, who ought to be better about letting those 5 senses lead us to the true presence of Christ.I feel another post coming on… 🙂


  4. Gregg, it’s that in between kids, their schools, my work, Meeting, finding time to write my own blog, oh and my fine example of a husband too, I always feel like I shouldn’t be spending so much time writing comments on OTHER people’s blogs. I can at least make a link here to a post about one of my concerns about Quaker worship, called, Why do Quakers talk like that? I too think we need to use our five senses in opening ourselves to God – or more – one I learned about at my son’s nursery school is the sense of proprioception – an awareness of the space we take up – an interesting concept in relationship to God. Here is a link to a comment I wrote on The Good Raised Up about proprioception.


  5. I can’t stand it any more…I need to push back against the statement Gregg and Michael have made about Sunday morning being when we’re furthest from inter-human connection. I’m sorry that’s your experience and yes, it might be when we’re furthest from inter-human connection with non-Christians but just this Sunday as I sat in the back row under the balcony, I noticed the following things: Mareesa is getting really tall and beautiful, Bree flashed me the most amazing smile (it’s good to see her back), Ginny was missing, Sharon came in late (say a prayer, wonder how she’s doing), Josh was in the sound box (thanks again for the great video), the man walking his baby in front of the south windows made a touching picture, Lee was missing, dear Dawn spoke in her usual clever and compelling manner about faith promise and again I am inspired by her tenacity and dedication to missions, Esther is back to visit her Family Friend, Talle’s story was moving, Roy is responding better to his family, we didn’t have silent worship and I missed it, God at work. Later as I was reflecting on worship this week, I was thankful for all of the cosmic connections in the room. Yes, we need to think of church in broader terms. Yes, we need to experiment with church in different forms. Yes, we need to find ways to talk and listen to our friends and relatives who aren’t Christian about their sense of spirituality without alienating them. But Sunday morning is currently one piece of the whole picture and that crowd may just be the foundation you need for sending people out who are called to experiment with something different. If YOU’RE being called to experiment with something different, those are the people that could bless and send you.


  6. Kathy-:)I was going to respond to your e-mail about this, but since you posted, I’ll respond publicly.If I were re-writing the post, I would more clearly distinguish my position from Michael’s. Instead of “The saddest part for me is that Sunday morning worship is where we are farthest…” I would say, “The saddest part for me in what he wrote is that…”I completely agree with you. It’s why I said we need both/and. We will be more effective in what we do that’s “new” if we have the relational, spiritual, experiential, and financial support of the bigger body. And, you are not alone. I actually have people tell me that Sunday morning is the most connected they feel to any other human being during their whole week.We forget how isolated and lonely most people are in the world. Sunday morning may not be all we want and hope; but it is more than many ever experience. We should honor what we have, and we should strive to find how God is leading some of us deeper and into new experiences.


  7. Good discussion… I appreciate Aj’s comments (now she’s a smart one! Love that phrase the God doesn’t “tinker” with us!) and Kathy’s especially. (You’re smart, too!)My FIRST thought was “Why are mega-churches so popular if what Michael says is true?” If we struggle at NFC with the interpersonal element, how do mega-churches handle it and how did they become mega-churches to begin with? Some people LIKE being anonymous in church! Some people WANT the pastor to carry the burden. Some people want to sit in pews and not feel compelled to interact with anyone else. At least, I guess that’s true… but I’m big-church bashing now.I’m with Kathy – on a “good” Sunday I’m very aware of those around me, and seeing them prompts me to pray, to write a note during the week, to chat with them after worship about how things are going in their lives.


  8. I feel I must defend myself here, but I hardly know where to start. Context is so important when trying to understand a person’s comments. It pains me that I seem to have become a voice of division.All I’ll ask now is that you believe me when I say I love my church. I love Sunday morning worship. What I really want is for all of us to be listening for what God has in store for us as His body and when we hear it to obey and follow.- Michael


  9. Michael – Self defense not necessary. Having a different perspective doesn’t mean we’re divided – You’ve just opened an important topic for conversation. After writing here I’ve given a lot of thought as to how we might “re-balance” the time, energy and resources used up on Sunday mornings. After hearing you speak about this yesterday evening and noticing the emotion in your voice (an important element lost in electronic community) as you talked, I am impressed with your God-breathed desire for help developing deeper, more meaningful relationships. I’m sorry we didn’t have a chance to talk more about it at the time.You said last night that we aren’t very good at friendship – with each other, with co-workers, with non-Christians and there’s a lot of truth in that. We have much to learn from each other and we need to make space for that. That space may or may not be related to what we do on Sunday morning but it’s worth exploring together.Sorry about being a pain, dear friend. 🙂


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