Soccer practice is on Tuesdays and Thursdays starting at five. Wednesday is church night. Monday night is yoga where this week we will practice the ever-elusive “scratch my ear with my toes” technique. We love our routines. Even if you don’t see yourself as a “routine type of person,” whether you want to admit it or not, you still have them. And we all embrace our routines, consciously or not, because they make us comfortable. Why? We don’t like change. It doesn’t stress us out to go to the same restaurant and order the same thing every week, or to wear out our favorite playlist, or to spend all of our free time around the same people. We adore familiarity because it doesn’t threaten our sense of stability and it allows us to maintain some semblance of control. But our routines may come with some unintended consequences, something I just realized this week.
Working third shift has its advantages, to be sure. On one hand you escape much of the politics and infighting that can occur during the day. The lack of interaction with other people, combined with not plugging into the 24 hour news cycle on television, makes for a nearly monastic-like state of solitude and isolation. Now, I’m not suggesting that this is an ideal, but it does have its merits. But on the other hand, when you’re distracted with your silent and lonely bliss, you miss some significant events, such as when 2,500-plus people perish following one of the most violent storms in recorded history. Nearly 1,000,000 people are without homes (with upwards of 10 million people affected,) and I’m stoked because I figured out how to get a decent brew out of a French press. Something’s wrong with this picture.
My routine, waking up at the same time, ignoring the news, visiting the same mindless websites, getting more awesome at Team Fortress 2, and generally not trying to engage people outside of my comfort zone, fuels my apathy and encourages isolation. That’s not a good thing. I’m not going waste your time justifying my routine-powered apathy, because that would come across as whiny. And nobody likes a whiner. But regardless of the validity of my hidden arguments, I miss things I shouldn’t. But I’m not alone. And since this is the Gospel Lovin’ Power Hour, you can guess where I’m going to direct my attention. That’s right. The Church.
Stop me (or comment,) if this doesn’t sound familiar, because I’d really like to know how you do things. Sunday school starts at 9:30, where your lessons must come from the same Standard book each week. Worship starts at 10:30 sharp, where you will hear one song, then a prayer, then three more songs, followed by offering and communion, a sermon, an invitation, and a closing song. The songs will not suffer from any sort of variety over the years, and the service must be over at a certain time, lest the Olive Garden be too overcrowded by the time you get there. Now this (seriously) isn’t a crack at any pastors, worship or otherwise, but I think over time the (especially lay) leadership of evangelical churches have become hamstringed by a false sense of tradition, where routines are declared sacrosanct. It turns out people aren’t the only ones whose effectiveness is compromised by an endless cycle of unashamed and safe routines.
It makes me wonder if our unwillingness to escape the bondage of our safe and inoffensive routines has contributed, not only to the declining influence Western Christianity has over our culture, but to the shrinking number of rank and file, as well. Our rut has kept us from adapting, both to the needs outside of the church (our mission,) and inside the church (our ministry, worship.) This happens because, like our own routines, it makes us comfortable to do the same thing each week, to play the same songs in the same order, to minister by proxy through giving, etc. So the real question arises: so what? If we have a problem (declining influence, attendance, complacency, etc,) and a cause, (our routine, nostalgia worship,) what is the solution? This calls for a crudely made flowchart!
It really doesn’t matter who you are or what your role is in the church, be it pastor, parishioner, or elder. It takes recognizing our preferences or routines, or “how we’ve always done things,” really don’t matter. I’m sorry, but they don’t. What does matter is that you as an individual and we as a community are:
1. Communicating the Gospel in effective, relevant, and dynamic ways in order to both instruct believers and introduce to non-Christians the concept of salvation by grace through faith. (Matthew 28:16-20)
2. Acting as living representations of the Gospel, while both edifying and encouraging fellow believers do the same. (Ephesians 2:1-10)
3. Worshiping and honoring God. (Hebrews 13:15)
I know what you’re thinking. “Zeke hand hewed this communion table out of the first tree cut down to build this church. If this table goes, my tithe is going with it!” Very mature, Zeke IV. “We’ve done this program every year for the past 10 years and you want to end it? Why do you hate me?” I wasn’t aware this program is the most important thing the church has ever done. We all have things that we like and don’t like, believe me, I know. But sometimes we need to take a step backwards and remember that none of us are the Head of the Church, and that the Church exists, not for us, but the other way around.
What I am not saying
Please don’t take what I’m saying the wrong way. I have nothing against Zeke’s handmade table. I have nothing against *hymns or having the same rigid worship service structure each week. What I take issue with is the claim that none of these things can be changed, ever, because “that’s the way we’ve always done things.” Selfishness is cancerous to the church, alienates younger generations, and is killing the chance of us effectively engaging the mission of the Church. I’d hate to wake up 20 years from now and discover that the only people left in the pews are self-righteous “squeaky wheels” who have pestered the church into submission.
In the same way my routine kept me blinded to current events, our routine can handicap us. If we shackle ourselves to our routines, if we hold the church hostage just so we can get our way, we might miss something. Something very special and significant that deserves our rapt attention. And that something is probably much more important that our routines.
* As the Deer does not apply.