upper room daily devotions

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

church and the common experience

Once upon a time when Christendom ruled America, a pastor could stand in the pulpit and assume all kinds of things about his (and I mean "his") congregation. More likely than not they had been born into the parish (at least into a parish somewhere), understood basic concepts of Christianity and congregational life, and lived in or near the neighborhood. That is not the case anymore. This is one of the biggest challenges of ministry for me.

I read articles and books written by "emerging church" leaders and I realize how their approach to ministry and what they do in ministry just will not work in the church that I serve. When I look at websites that "appeal" to people my age and younger I see graphics and pop culture references that would fall short of hitting any mark in a group of people diverse in age and life experience. Even my own life experiences are far afield from the people I serve. I love LOST; no one in my church seems to watch it. I love movies; no one in my church is going to see Hot Fuzz (I can pretty much guarantee it!). And it's not just an age thing, either. The "younger" adults in church have made life choices that take them far away from the plugged-in and hyped-up world of many others their age. They have chosen to cut the cable, lose the high speed internet, have children, and go hiking. Most folks in worship have no clue what's happening liturgically, have no personal experience in Bible study, and don't know what church life can be. They don't know an ambo from a pulpit, and they don't care. In a church like this, where is the common denominator? Where is the common experience?

This question about common experience came up in Bible study the other night, actually. And it was great to listen to a discussion about it. It reminded me that the early church also struggled with a similar issue. As the church expanded to include non-Jews, the common experience of tribe, nation, culture, and tradition was lost. The early church found/created a new common experience through breaking bread and the sacrament of baptism. They created common experience by pooling their wealth. The created common experience in worship and in life shared together. It had to be an intentional act. I wonder what we'd have to do to get our churches to take the quest for common experience in Christ seriously. Every time we break bread in Holy Communion, we enter an alternate universe, one where God's kin-dom has already come. When we make promises in the baptism covenant, we promise to share our lives with one another. These are radical acts that call us to step beyond the confines of our individual experiences and into something more - much more.

Christianity is a gateway - not into "common" experience but into a shared "uncommon" experience. It seems that if we could take this seriously then things like pop culture references, vernacular, and personal likes and dislikes would fall by the wayside. Or, are these things so important that they will indelibly mark how we enter into God's kin-dom? I don't know. What I do know is that a church that includes diversity in culture, age, economics, and background has a hard way to go in even finding common language to explore the Divine as a community.

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