Let me illustrate this with a story.
Let us say that two friends decide to throw a birthday party for a common friend, we’ll call him Mark. As they start planning this party, debates begin to arise regarding the activities. The conversation goes something like this:
James: “We could get together and play board games. I know Mark loves them.”
Tom: “Well, not everyone will want to play them… in fact most of his friends don’t enjoy it. How about we play video games instead?”
James: “Yes, that would be fun, but some of them have objections to video games. How about we watch a movie?”
Tom: “Yeah, we could watch the new super hero movie!”
James: “Well, there’s nothing wrong with super hero movies, but I think two of the families don’t like the violence in them.”
Just then a third friend happened to walk by and said, “Why don’t you let Mark decide what he wants to do as the night progresses?”
James: “Well, I like the idea in theory, but in practice I think people will get confused, and someone might end up going to the wrong place or misunderstand something.”
Tom: “Yeah, and I think it would make some people uncomfortable to not have a plan.”
The third friend said, “Oh,” and moved on.
Tom: “Well, how about that comedy show everyone likes? We could watch a few episodes.”
James: “I love that show, but I think Jacob might get offended because he doesn’t like TV.”
The conversation went on like this until they finally decided to do a group activity involving painting pottery because Mark had once said he enjoyed his high school art class. Mark had indeed said that, but had enjoyed drawing realistic pictures with pencils mostly. Yet Mark was a kind and patient person, and so he appreciated his friends’ efforts, even if the party wasn’t really his sort of thing.
For most of us in the West (due to our traditions & thoughts on birthdays), the story above is ridiculous because we know that if this is Mark’s birthday party, we ought to do what Mark loves. If Mark is a low-key guy, we shouldn’t hire a DJ and throw a pounding rave with 200 people. If he is a high energy socialite, we shouldn’t plan a quiet evening with four people playing Settlers of Catan. If one of Mark’s friends doesn’t quite enjoy the activities at his party, the reply is usually easy: “This is not your party.”
Yet we don’t treat church like a gathering to do whatever Jesus wants, do we?
Think back to the times you were involved or in the loop for church decisions. Perhaps it was a building relocation, or how to run a men’s ministry, or arrangement of the Sunday morning service, or times and lengths of each element in the service. During those conversations, did anyone stop and say, “Well, how long does God want the service to be?” Usually not. Usually the bulk of the conversation, evaluation, analyzation, & debate revolves around the congregations reactions. You’ll hear things like, “I’m not sure our congregation will be comfortable with that style of music,” or “Unfortunately people have kids and they’ll leave if we go that long,” or “That’s just not what people are used to.” And whenever I’ve pointed out that these discussions seem to center mostly around man, the reply is usually something to the ends of, “We need to meet people where they’re at.”
Now, I would never say people don’t matter or that culture shouldn’t be taken into consideration. I plan on exploring those issues in a lot more depth as I write here. This is a gigantic topic with a thousand aspects to it that I cannot hope to begin to cover in one post.
However, I had to start somewhere. So let me start with why I believe this is an urgent issue. If God is loving, kind, & patient, why would I go so far as to call this type of thinking incredibly dangerous? Let me ask you the question that keeps me up at night:
If a church is built around people, who will that church worship the most?
I fear there can be only one answer to that question: Themselves.
Photo by: Simon