Michael Hidalgo

IN DEFENSE OF DONALD MILLER (FROM A GUY WHO WORKS AT A CHURCH)2.12.2014

milsqrI don’t think church is for everyone. And by “church,” I mean the event we refer to as “church” that happens every Sunday morning. This may sound a bit odd since my job largely consists in preparing sermons to preach at those Sunday morning events. But it is true.

I really do not believe gathering with a bunch of people in a room on a Sunday morning to sing, pray and take in a sermon is something anyone needs to do. In fact, for those who feel they need to attend a Church service, my hope is that you will be led to the where you find you do not need to go anymore.

I bring this up, because Donald Miller recently wrote a blog about why church is not for him (you can read that here). In the blog he spoke of not learning much from Sunday mornings services, explaining he has a hard time learning by listening to someone speak. After he wrote his blog, affirmations and critiques sprang up all over the place. It was actually the blogs about his blog that caught my attention first.

When I finally read what Miller wrote, it made perfect sense to me. He simply shared he does not feel the need to go to the event the Church hosts on Sunday. He did not say he is giving up on the Church or dumping the Church as some claimed – this is an important distinction.

I say this because, for many, what is central and foundational to their faith is the event of Sunday morning. When they think of “church,” they think of the worship service they attend on Sunday. This should not surprise us; it’s exactly what we have been taught to think.

For years pastors and church leaders have measured their success according to the number of people who attend their church. Notice that word “attend.” Attendance is what’s measured, and we measure what it important to us.

And attendance is important because what has been driven into our heads for decades is the centrality of the Sunday morning event. Many local churches spend countless hours, tons of cash and mounds of creative energy planning and crafting their Sunday event. And when the weekends finally arrive, the production value that churches turn out is astounding.

They have lighting cues, camera crews, paid musicians, sound techs, fog machines, massive cinema-style screens, and HDTV’s hanging everywhere. Picture the Grammy Awards with some Jesus mixed in. Many churches urge their attendees to invite their friends; while others go out and actively market their weekend services to as broad an audience as possible.

As church attendance grows, the budget grows, the production value grows and the marketing increases. In all of this, what gets subtly taught and caught is the Sunday morning event is the most important thing. I’ve been in Church services that feel like a rock show, and heard the pastor say, “This is not the most important thing!” But the work, time, money and energy that went into the Sunday morning event speak far louder than his words.

Sunday events are so central, that I am certain if local churches in America stopped hosting Sunday morning events most who church attendees would feel adrift and lost. Some are bound to claim this is precisely why we need to continue to meet on Sunday mornings, but I would beg to differ.

I believe it points to the narrow definition we have given to the idea of church – we have reduced the grand and glorious vision of the Church to an event. Perhaps it’s time to rethink Sunday events, and do all we can to get our people to stop attending them. To be honest, this is my goal as a pastor. I want to work myself out of a job. I dream of the day when I show up on a Sunday morning, and our building is empty.

Don’t get me wrong; I don’t want people to give up on Jesus or his people. What I desire is for people to live out what myself and our leadership has been teaching them for years. My hope is to see men and women live in true, enduring, vulnerable community, and join with God in his renewal, redemption and restoration of this world.

My hope is that people would learn that “gathering together” does not mean the same thing as “going to a church service.” Rather, they would see “gathering together” means living more connected in intentional relationships than ever before. It means being open about all that is happening in your life and heart and marriage, sharing meals together, causing your daily life to overlap with your neighbors, continually living more like Jesus, and praying with and for each other.

It means Church is no longer associated only with an event, but is first associated with a group of men and women with whom we live our lives dedicated to the love, hope, compassion and mercy of Jesus.

It would mean we would have eyes to see the needs in our neighborhoods, city and world matched by our willingness to address those needs as best we can. My hope would be men and women would be so invested in the lives of each other, and so given over to the mission of God that they would find they don’t need the Sunday event so much.

If we do this, we just might find that any Sunday events we do have are better than ever, because we won’t need the lights, the music, and all the production. Rather, we will find ourselves moved by the stories of what God is doing in the lives of people between those gathering. For now, it may be best for some to still gather with one another only so we can catch a vision for what life could be like if we came to the point where we did not need Sunday events so much.

And as we do, may we long for the day when our church buildings are empty, because the Church has so embodied the heart of Jesus that we no longer emphasize an event, but strive to live alongside one another so we can love, serve and care for our world.

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