“Could someone please pass the chicken?”

“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.  Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles.  All the believers were together and had everything in common.  They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.  Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts,  praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people” ( Acts 2:42-47)

Andrew Nelson Lytle wrote in his seminal work, “A Wake for the Living”, that back in the earliest days of the twentieth century if someone from the industrialized North met you for the first time, the question they would most likely ask you would be “What kind of work do you do?”

Lytle then wrote that to the contrary, folks from the agricultural South would likely introduce themselves with one of two questions:  “Where are you from?” or “Who is your daddy (or mama)?”  Southerners moved at a different pace, and were less concerned with vocation, leaning more toward interest in place and relationship.  Connection was the priority.

Our culture has changed significantly over the years, and a more transient population has blurred some of the lines between North and South, and the industrial, consumer mindset has become a part of even our rural areas..  Today, people are more concerned with “doing”, “producing”, and “obtaining” than “being connected”.  The attitude has even infiltrated our churches.  Think about it…How does your church measure itself? By productivity?  Or connectedness?

In the church of my youth, the Attendance Board was the tool used to measure the church.  It hung in a hallway that connected the sanctuary to the Sunday School rooms and Fellowship Hall.  Everyone that attended would likely pass by it.  The board contained numbers from the prior Sunday, including attendance for Sunday School, attendance for the worship service, and how much the offering was during each of these times.  We actually took up three offerings each Sunday: One before Sunday School, when birthdays were acknowledged.  Little kids would put change equivalent to their age (10 years old = 10 cents) in a small, church building shaped offering box while the congregation sang “Happy Birthday”;  Adults would usually do the same, but in dollars.

We then took up an offering during Sunday School, and finally the “general offering” during the worship service.  Brotha, we knew how to pass a plate back in the day!

The attendance board of my youth has today become a monster. Churches most often measure themselves in the same way western culture measures success: by productivity.  The old board has been enhanced and “improved” with pie charts, line graphs, and budget reports that only an accountant could understand.   One post-modern evangelical church I served at measures the following on a consistent basis:

– Worship service attendance

– Sunday School attendance (Whether you call it “Connections”, “Life Groups”, or whatever the latest catch phrase is, folks, it’s still “Sunday School”…)

– Discipleship classes attendance (usually on Sunday night)

– Prayer Service attendance (Wednesday nights for adults)

– Awana attendance (for elementary school-aged kids)

– Youth group attendance (for teens)

– Number of volunteers serving during each of the aforementioned

(more…)

Check out the two videos below!  The first, “Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus”  has become really popular in Christian circles, and there’s been a ton of Youtube responses, ranging from the atheist “Why I Hate Religion, and Hate Jesus, Too”, to a bikini clad girl’s version of “Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus”.  The original, written by 22 year old Jefferson Bethke, has quickly become a theme for younger evangelicals.

I’ve seen a lot of responses, but the second video featured here, “Why I love Religion, and Love Jesus”, is a really well-thought out response from a Catholic perspective…by far the best response I’ve seen.

There’s an unrest, a sentiment among some Christians that calls for a dislike of  “organized religion”…the church.  Scripture teaches us, though, that “Christ loves the church, and gave himself for her…” (Ephesians 5:25).  In the words of Derek Webb, “If you love Him, you must love the church”.  There really is no scriptural context for Christianity outside of community.  Yes, throughout the centuries, there have been believers who were called to solitary living (see Desert Fathers), but if you really examine their lives, you see that these men were teachers, mentors, and spiritual guides for countless souls.  They may have lived solitary lives, but their faith was lived out in community.  And that community, with all its beauty and scars and pain and hope, is called the church.

I’ve heard lots of thoughts on the first video…Let me know what you think about the second!

 

“If we are to have any hope for the future, those who have lanterns must pass them on to others.” (Plato)

“If you join our pilgrimage, you will find a group of people who are just like you. We have hopes. We long that the world will be put to rights. We suffer. We get discouraged, and angry, and aren’t always nice. We get sick, lose our jobs, divorce, have rebellious children, aren’t always honest, and don’t always keep our promises. We also long for love, try to be kind, have dreams for our children, and hope we can pay this month’s bills and put aside a little for the future.

 We do believe that God is our Father, that Jesus died and rose again for us, and that the Holy Spirit has called us into a community of people called the church. We’ve been baptized to signify that our only hope is in death and resurrection with Jesus. We gather at his table to meet with him, hear his words, and receive food for our journey. We trust that God will put his world to rights one day and we long to be part of that.”   (Chaplain Mike, Internetmonk)

“Labor together with one another. Strive in company together. Run together; suffer together; sleep together; awake together, as the stewards, assessors, and servants of God.”  (Ignatius’ Sixth Letter to Polycarp, 110AD)

“It is in community that we come to see God in the other. It is in community that we see our own emptiness filled up. It is community that calls me beyond the pinched horizons of my own life, my own country, my own race, and gives me the gifts I do not have within me. ”  (Sister Joan Chittister)

“Since my youth, I think that I have never lost the intuition that community life could be a sign that God is love, and love alone. Gradually the conviction took shape in me that it was essential to create a community with men determined to give their whole life and who would always try to understand one another and be reconciled, a community where kindness of heart and simplicity would be at the centre of everything.” (Brother Roger, Taize)

“The gospel is absurd and the life of Jesus is meaningless unless we believe that He lived, died, and rose again with but one purpose in mind: to make brand-new creation. Not to make people with better morals but to create a community of prophets and professional lovers, men and women who would surrender to the mystery of the fire of the Spirit that burns within, who would live in ever greater fidelity to the omnipresent Word of God, who would enter into the center of it all, the very heart and mystery of Christ, into the center of the flame that consumes, purifies, and sets everything aglow with peace, joy, boldness, and extravagant, furious love. This, my friend, is what it really means to be a Christian.” (Brennan Manning, The Furious Longing of God)

“A community is the mental and spiritual condition of knowing that the place is shared, and that the people who share the place define and limit the possibilities of each others’ lives. It is the knowledge that people have of each other, their concern for each other, their trust in each other…” (Wendell Berry)

“We have all known the long loneliness and we have learned that the only solution is love, and that love comes with community.” (Dorothy Day, The Long Loneliness)

“It is not more bigness that should be our goal.  We must attempt, rather, to bring people back to…the warmth of community…of individuals working together as a community, to better their lives and their children’s future.”  (Robert F. Kennedy)

“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.  Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles.  All the believers were together and had everything in common.  They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.  Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts,  praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” (Acts 2:42-47)