Would more people want to belong if we paid attention to the purpose of church?
I’m joining the Five-Minute Friday crew over at Crystal Stine’s this week. Our prompt? Belong.
If church were a sporting event, would more people want to belong?
I went to a Portland Trailblazers basketball game back in the day, and although I arrived as an observer, I left a fan (of the Trailblazers—not sports in general).
The Rose Garden in Portland, OR quickly filled to capacity the night I went—and I noticed right away that people dressed to support the team—I spotted black, white, and red t-shirts on just about everyone there. Occasionally, the cameras would pan the crowd and zoom in on a Blazer-painted face, or even a torso-face combination. I had on a green shirt. But it didn’t matter.
But my voice mattered. I cheered when the Blazers made a basket, and grinned at perfect strangers in the bleachers around me. When the team called a time out, I felt comfortable enough to ask a person I’d never spoken to before to explain the significance of the referee’s call. That’s just the way I felt—secure in my fellowship with thousands of people crammed into a tiny coliseum to participate in a victory for the team.
I seem to remember a real live organ belting out the musical cues for the fans to cheer when the Blazers fell behind and the victory cheers when they scored. We jumped to our feet when Jerome Kersey made a basket, and held our breath as Clyde ‘the Glide’ Drexler defied gravity with the grace of a ballerina and avoided a traveling call.
During half time, we stood and stretched, bought popcorn and joked with the people around us. I found out that the guy behind me had been to every home game for the last five years. I discovered that the lady in front of me had only been to one other Blazer’s game (she preferred the Phoenix Suns, but was enjoying herself any way).
By the end of the evening, I’d learned stuff about free throws and their strategic importance to the game that I still remember to this day (I promise not to bore you with the details). Time passed, but I didn’t notice. Sitting in the bleachers felt nothing like watching a game at home.
I left the game energized and excited to have helped spur the Blazers on to a victory. MY cheers helped them win. I could scarcely talk for the next two days, but I had an inner glow knowing that I had had a voice in victory. I belonged. I was a Blazer fan.
Church. I go. I sing. I sit for so long I long to jump from my seat and shake someone’s hand. I want an intermission. Everyone smiles politely, sits politely, listens politely. No one eats popcorn or turns to ask the person behind them the meaning of a text (it wouldn’t be polite to turn and whisper in church). But what if church were more like a basketball game?
Hebrews 10:22-25 reminds us that need to go to church for two reasons. First of all, we need to worship together.
Who decided what worship needs to look like and sound like? David danced and sang before the Lord. I intone hymns and wish that worship felt a little more like the cheering and the singing at a basketball game—slightly off-key, but from the heart, not the head.
The second reason we should go to church? To “spur each other on toward love and good deeds.” WE should spur EACH OTHER on. It doesn’t say anywhere that the pastor is in charge of the spurring and encouraging. We should do it for each other. I can attend church for years and never really know the burdens of my fellow churchgoers.
An introvert by nature, I need someone to direct the ebb and flow of my conversations and questions—just like the organ player at the basketball game directed our cheers and shouts of victory.
Although I go to church, I sometimes feel as if I belong more to the Blazers game than I do to my fellow worshippers. But wouldn’t it be fun if we could spur each other on? If we knew each other well enough to sing loudly off-key and ask deep questions and feel the worship with each other?
Community building (or congregation building) doesn’t happen passively in a jug-mug relationship (you know, the teacher is jug, ready to fill all the little mugs).
It requires direction and instruction in how to get along so that those who belong can learn from each other. Community building requires work and and effort and sounds like conversations and talking over the backs of pews.