Whether we are tempted to leave one church for another over a matter of mere preference, whether we are tempted to remove an element of our worship service because it no longer resonates with people, whether we are tempted to try something novel and new, we must always turn first to the Word, first to the one who knows exactly what we need. He will lead us, he will guide us, he will help us to worship in the ways that please him and that satisfy our hungry souls.
NPR recently ran an article about the future of the Christian church. Church attendance is in decline, they said, but some creative leaders are finding ways to keep it relevant in a new cultural context. Pastor Chris Battle has walked away from traditional church because it “was not connecting with people” and now leads a “spiritual community” called BattleField Farm & Gardens. Rector Billy Daniel and Pastor Caroline Vogel of an Episcopal Church in Knoxville use their sanctuary for yoga, breathing exercises, and other alternate forms of spirituality. “Just because you leave organized religion doesn’t mean the hunger to connect with the divine is going to cease,” she says. Bradley Hyde, a Methodist minister, sees churches like his hemorrhaging members and is also turning away from traditional services to focus more on community involvement.
It needs to be said: I care what NPR thinks of the church about as much as I care about what North Korea thinks of democracy or what Jehovah’s Witnesses think of the Trinity. But the article did have some tremendously revealing components to it and ones that are worth considering because they reveal universal human tendencies and temptations.
One of these comes courtesy of a participant in Chris Battle’s church who describes herself as “a refugee from fundamentalist churches.” When asked why she is part of BattleField Farm & Gardens she says, “Generally, I’m here because I want two things out of church … I want time to sit down, like we do on Sundays sometimes or around the fire, and, like, pray and re-center and figure out what we’re about in the world. Because the world is very noisy. And then I want a church to get [expletive] done with your community and for your community.”
The key part of her comment is not the bit about sitting around the fire and re-centering and it’s not the bit about getting [expletive] done within the community. The key part is at the beginning where she says, “I want two things out of church.” The assumption is that her desires are relevant, that what she wants out of a church is even the least bit consequential.
But then she is well-trained because the pastor, when he became convinced church was no longer relevant, said to himself, “maybe we need to begin to do church differently. But what does that look like? And I didn’t know until I got to the garden.” There’s no indication that he looked outside of himself for answers, but only that he looked inside. He asked what he wanted, not what God wanted. He indicates no source of authority beyond his own desires or his own reasoning.