Why We Aren’t the Church Any More
by Andrew Stephens-Rennie
Making its rounds this week is Steve McSwain’s HuffPo article “Why Nobody Wants to Go To Church Anymore.”
I get it. I do.
But then again, I don’t.
It seems as though so many of the most-talked about end-of-the-world and end-of-the-church articles being passed around these days come from the United States (love y’all).
And while that isn’t a problem per se (they have a right to lament the transition, nay, death, of the church), it leaves me feeling a little exasperated.
It leaves me exasperated that we’re still talking about those things in Canada, because the death is already with us.
And while some areas of our Bible Belt remain in denial, the majority of us cannot deny this any longer. Those of us in Quebec or British Columbia have no excuse. Death is with us, has been with us for some time, and we need to figure out what it means to be church here and now, not in a cultural context that is 20 years behind the already-marching-decline-of-Christendom-that-is-our-reality.
So articles that reference the opinions of Southern Baptists whose cultural location, is again, far from our own only serves to distract us Canadians from our current reality. It’s as if we don’t want to exegete our own culture. It’s as if we don’t want to do the hard work of ministry here. It’s as if we want to finally feel validated for that sinking feeling we’ve had for some time.
To the church in the United States of America: We are your future. You should be looking to us for your future, in the same way that we Canadians ought to pay attention to what’s going on in Europe. You want to moan and bitch about decline? Fine. But it does no good for Europe to look for solutions in Canada, and Canada in the United States. We’re going in the opposite freaking direction here.
I know that the reality of the culture wars still comes to bear in Canadian life. Whether it be about sexuality, patriarchy, whatever, I know it’s still here. And it’s not just the church. When I hear Canadian dudes (we’re progressive, eh?) refer to caring for their own children as babysitting, instead of, say, parenting, I have to wonder. Patriarchy much?
I think the piece I struggled with the most in McSwain’s article was the idea of “competition.”
I get the thought, but forgive me, I’m almost naive enough to think that church is about community. Here’s how Tom Wright puts it in Paul and the Faithfulness of God:
First, the gospel message of Jesus the Messiah created a new world with new inhabitants, no longer defined by the specifics of Jewish law, but not seeking as a replacement any of the standard symbols of pagan identity. This new community could sometimes be thought of as the new Temple, sometimes as a human body, in both cases not simply drawing on obvious and available metaphors but making powerful symbolic statements (402).
If church, the body isn’t about community, a reoriented family with new, broader, more hospitable boundaries, I don’t know what it is. It’s not a consumer choice. Although, yes, I probably treat it as one from time to time. And yes, our church leaders sometimes position themselves in just such a way.
If we position ourselves as an alternative to Sunday Morning Sports or The Church Down The Road, we’re facing an incredible challenge. And yet, how do we authentically welcome people in, and journey with them as community, one to which they contribute, rather than one they just attend, or, to a more crass degree, consume.
Let’s have programs. Let’s teach people. But let’s also, ahem, disciple one another in the ways of Jesus. Let’s come together and empower one another, in the name of Jesus, to take responsibility for a) themselves; b) their family and friends; c) the community(ies) of which they are a part.
Why does nobody go to church anymore? I’m not sure. But I’m pretty sure the most important question these days is why aren’t we the church anymore? When will we stop fixating on others’ problems, and start working on what it means to embody this crazy, messy, hospitable family in the here and now?
If we take our discipleship seriously, we’ll not stop at complaining about our leaders. We’ll work with them to embrace our own role as a part of this body, and struggle and strive to figure out what it means to stick together, in the name of Christ. Here. And Now.