On a Sunday morning sidewalk
I’m wishing Lord that I was stoned
‘Cause there’s something in a Sunday
That makes a body feel alone.
And there’s nothin’ short of dyin’
That’s half as lonesome as the sound
Of a sleepin’ city sidewalk
And Sunday mornin’ comin’ down.
There’s been a good bit of discussion recently about the value of attending church. Author Don Miller upset a few, but may have pleased even more people when he wrote in his blog that he doesn’t connect with God very well when he goes to church. He went further to reveal that about five years prior to his blog post he stopped attending church regularly. What might be surprising to you is assertion by Miller that quite a few Christian leaders with whom he interacts (para Church leaders I’m assuming) don’t attend church either. There’s also a book that just came out to reinforce this approach to Christianity.
As some of you may be aware, the church that I lead has been doing an experiment this summer. Basically we cancelled Sunday morning worship and asked people to reach out instead. We have scheduled a 5:30 PM worship time for people to gather instead. This is risky, but by no means extreme. We’ve called it The UnChurch Experiment, and it has brought some new people into our community, but our worship attendance hasn’t gone up as the result. Hopefully, our people are at least enjoying sleeping in on Sunday!
Initially this experiment was disorienting for me. I’ve been going to church on Sunday morning, or teaching people during that time period for the great majority of my life. Early on I didn’t like it. I do like worship on Sunday evening, so that’s not the issue. It’s just, well, Sunday morning is when you’re supposed to go to church. Right? It’s the time the majority of people who attend church do so, so it must be the right time for it. Sunday morning is the time when Jesus rose. Well, if you go to a sunrise service every week you might be closer to commemorating Jesus’ first appearances to Mary Magdalene and the other women. Interestingly, the first community gathering with Jesus was on Sunday evening (check John 20:9 and Luke 24:29-36).
This is the seventh week of our experiment and what I’ve discovered about not attending church on Sunday morning is, well, how easy it has been not to be in church. I wrote on the first week about how I felt like I was going through withdrawals by not attending. No more. In fact, although I feel like I’m missing something at times, I don’t miss it enough to regularly attend church anywhere else as the result. I’m sure you wouldn’t expect the pastor of one church to attend another on Sunday morning, and this is doubly true since we’re all supposed to be reaching out and all. Yet here I am, sitting in the front of an empty church writing this during the sacred eleven o’clock worship hour, and not feeling any loss any longer.
Perhaps this is one of the things God wants to teach me through all of this. He may want me to identify with many of you who don’t attend church regularly. Believe me, I understand the tendency to want to stay home or do something else. However, there are repercussions, consequences, especially if you don’t have a consistent walk with God. By the latter I mean you practice your Christianity: you pray regularly, read your Bible and try to hear a message from God regularly, give your time and money to help people in need, share Jesus and his love as often as you are able, obey Jesus’ teaching. Even if you’re actually doing all of that you will fall short and fail to grow and become more like Jesus you are not involved and accountable to a community of people who worship together in spirit and truth: that’s a church.
Jesus established the church much in the same way as the Father established family at the beginning. These are basic support networks for people. We need family. We need community. God works and speaks through other people. God created these social structures to cultivate and nurture people as they live and grow in the world. So, even though I don’t relish the thought of going to church a listening to another preacher talk, or watch the show that some churches put on for Sunday morning, I need church. I need the people, the accountability, the opportunity to exercise my gifts, a place to call home.
I’m looking forward to worshiping with our community this evening, and I’m looking forward to restoring our Sunday morning worship too. Hopefully we’ll be able to keep both of these times!
“In the park I saw a daddy
With a laughin’ little girl who he was swingin’
And I stopped beside a Sunday school
And listened to the songs they were singin’
Then I headed down the street
And somewhere far away a lonely bell was ringin’
And it echoed thru the canyon
Like the disappearing dreams of yesterday.”
From: Sunday Morning Coming Down
by Johnny Cash