Giving Church Another Chance
by Todd D. Hunter
I played serious baseball while in college—well serious to me! I was a catcher. Before every game we had meetings for pitchers and catchers to go over scouting reports and how we would pitch every batter. We discussed which opposing hitters were hot at the time, which players were not hitting certain pitches in certain parts of the strike zone, and where batters tended to hit certain pitches so we could position the defense. As important as these meetings were, we never mistook them for the game.
Those meetings prepared us for the real thing: the competition. Church and its historic activities and practices should be viewed in the same pregame manner. They enable us to do what we long to do: excel as followers of Jesus in the 167 hours per week we are not in church.
This is not a perfect analogy, but to help you see how the spiritual practices of church work with being sent by Christ, think of athletes and other public performers. Those of us who have watched a major athletic event or professional performance on television have probably seen an athlete in a locker room or performer in a dressing room engaged in deep, personal, private time. Perhaps they are visualizing and imagining just how they want to sing on stage or attack their opponent on the field. Maybe they are quietly filling their minds with positive thoughts, remembering the times they have done well, believing that they can do so again. These are common practices of elite performers.
Now imagine you left the TV but have come back an hour later and the event is running late. The camera crew is looking for the performer, who is still in the dressing room, in church mode. That would be odd. No performer ever confuses the preshow preparation with the show. The former always exists for the latter. It leads to the stage.
Most every human activity has meetings associated with it. Corporate marketing teams meet, sports teams meet, surgical teams meet, teachers meet—but none of them confuse the meetings with the real task. Meetings exist to facilitate the actual work.
As fed up as many people are with church meetings, I don’t think the church needs to quit meeting; nor does it need to make the meetings more hip. The people of God have met weekly in tabernacles, temples, church buildings and homes for thousands of years, and they will continue to do so. But the church needs to rethink the purpose of its meetings.
I am not antichurch. . . . I assume that church is what it is, for better or for worse. . . . Like most human endeavors, the church has meetings associated with it. Unfortunately, while most people do not confuse meetings with their work (the game or show), churchgoers often do.
I have discovered that Christianity is not just composed of the right stuff, accurate beliefs and correct ingredients. Over the years I learned that I needed to find some right practices to make the right stuff work. A rocket can be assembled with all the right parts, but if someone messes up launch procedures, the whole thing turns into a catastrophe. Lots of people, from various disciplines and points of view are wondering aloud today whether the church has become a catastrophe of sorts.
In response to my own experience, and taking into consideration the critics of Christianity, I believe we have discovered all the right bits of stuff, assembled them and defended them from the contrary elements of society, but we forgot how to launch the rocket.
I believe in “going” to church. I go every week. I have been a church leader since I was nineteen years old. But I have also experienced a five-year hiatus from normal Sunday meetings. (Don’t worry; I didn’t “forsake meeting together” with the body of Christ, I just experimented with other forms of church.) At first it felt good to be liberated.
But it wasn’t so great, actually. I found that in my “antichurch” home or coffee shop groups and many of the others I have known, the focus stays on the meeting: what style, who leads, when and where we meet and so forth. Thus I dare say that we need to repractice church—no matter when, where, size, leadership—so that the natural fruit becomes followers of Jesus who are ambassadors of God’s kingdom.
Copyright © 2010 by Todd Hunter
Todd Hunter’s book Giving Church Another Chance is available in March 2010 from InterVarsity Press.