I’m sitting at home this Sunday morning, enjoying the birds’ songs, petting a cat, resting. I’ve visited a number of churches in the last three years but haven’t felt at home in any. The sermons are fluffy. The adult Sunday School teachers and students know very little about the Bible and leave no room for questions or opinions other than their own. Some talk more about their brand of politics than Christ. And I’m tired.
The problem may come down to “relevant church”. Sermons about Katelyn Jenner or the latest commercials may be their way of relating to people “on their level” -being more relevant. The problem is, I’ve rarely heard someone complain that they just couldn’t relate to a sermon, much less an entire series. What I do hear far too often is that sermons are “fluffy”, that the overwhelming sugary-sweet (and almost invariably fake) greetings, smiles, and hugs are… well, like choking down an entire Cadbury egg in one bite, without a drink. Even the thought makes my teeth hurt. Like those eggs, corporate church is extremely sweet, but not rich. There’s a bolt of sugar and then… nothing.
There is shallowness hidden behind the smiles, the parties, the greetings, and yes, even the sermons and lessons and the beliefs behind them. Church doesn’t need more relevance, it needs more real relationship. Relationship with the God they tout but who is too rarely mentioned in their songs and sermons. Relationship with others -as in true caring and compassion, not empty smiles and hugs and new Facebook requests. I’ve been told they’re too busy to do things with each other, and that’s understandable. But they wouldn’t need to spend time together frequently to love those they share their Sunday pews with.
A woman in the church I spent the most time in within the last year or two messaged me this morning. “We miss you!” I stood for months’ of Sundays trying to join conversations, trying to develop relationships, feeling like I was just hanging out on the fringe, in the way. I asked the pastor for more information about the church’s terminology and beliefs in consideration of membership and was told someone else would answer those questions. It took three weeks and several emails on my part to get those answers, and even then no one ever followed up, no one asked my thoughts on the answers I’d received or asked if I had any more questions. Not once. I’d go weeks without more than a passing, rushed “hi”. Until I stopped attending as frequently and talked of moving closer to work. Then suddenly “But we’ll miss you! Don’t leave!” became the recurring theme. I felt pressured, but considering my experiences in the months prior to that, I did NOT feel loved.
It was a relevant church. But church doesn’t need to be more relevant, it needs to be relational. Because when it becomes relational, it will be truly relevant, since it’s through relationship that we can meet people where they are.*
*1 Cor 13 states that where there is no love, there is a hollowness, a purposelessness. Without love our words are like “a resounding gong or a tinkling cymbal.” Our words and our actions are nothing without care and compassion, without love. When we opt for video clips from popular media, harp on political soapboxes, and disallow questions or concepts different from our own, our words are empty. We are not meeting people where they are. We are not loving them.