My article posted at Barclay Press.
"Allez! Cuisine!" my husband, Jason, exclaimed. On a Sunday evening this could mean only one thing: Iron Chef was on! This Japanese knock-off program pits Food Network chefs against guest chefs in a cooking competition. "The Secret Ingredient" is revealed (eggs, mushrooms, buffalo, etc.) and must be incorporated into four courses prepared within one hour of the utterance "Allez! Cuisine!" (French for "Go! Kitchen!"). As Battle Trout began, I plopped down on the love seat; but rather than wondering how to incorporate fish in a dessert, I was thinking about "Doing Church."
These thoughts began percolating a few months ago while sitting in church: I looked around and noticed that I was one of the youngest folks present. My high school youth group had had a number of attendees: where did they go? I contacted a few and heard a number of explanations: "I'm too busy" to "Oh, I used to be spiritual, but my beliefs have changed" to "I can't find a church that I like." One thing remained clear: my peers no longer attended church. Ten years ago we were passionate about Doing Church - what happened? Was our excitement just a hormonally-induced phase that passes like acne and uncoordination? Or is there a deeper problem?
Jason voiced his desire for a grill pan while my thoughts drifted to a recent sermon series looking at Acts. The "Founding Fathers" of the church - Peter, Paul, the earliest disciples - lived difficult lives, but lives of giddy joy and constant activity. Their testimonies are bold, passionate like a Pancetta & Parmesan torte, particularly compared to my current lackluster experience of Kraft Easy Mac. How did they stay so upbeat, so energized while Doing Church? How did they balance worship gatherings, committee meetings, school, home, work – life? Did they not become "churched out"? I sure did.
My childhood church bustled with activity with my family in the middle of the action. My parents participated in Sunday school, potlucks, committee meetings, bell choir, backpacking trips. I loved congregating after service: adults gabbed while kids ran around hopped up on sugar cookies and red kool-aid. Like going to school, the library, or the grocery store, Doing Church was a regular event in our week.
Parents of adolescents joke about sending their kids off to a remote island until the hormone roller coaster subsides; if their church has a youth group, this wish is granted. In high school I was "shipped off" to Do Church with my friends. In this segregated state we mimicked Doing Church the way our parents had: participating in camps, mission trips, and Bible studies while balancing school, family, and life in general.
Once through the leprous state of adolescence, I assumed I'd rejoin the larger church collective. This never happened; there wasn't a reason to. Spending time solely with my peers left me unfamiliar with participants in the larger church gathering. Weary of trying to fit the multitude of activities in with my already bustling life, I burned out and barely stepped foot in a sanctuary for eight years.
What was different between my experience and that of the disciples? I thought about the early church in Acts.
– They worshiped, focusing on Christ rather than themselves.
– They taught and equipped the congregation, both spiritually and vocationally.
– They lived in community, pooling their resources, helping the poor and wounded.
– They ate together (all ages and walks of life), sharing in each other's daily journeys.
– They discerned God's will through the use of the spiritual disciplines.
I did many of these things: was it something deeper?
The television blared that five minutes remained. As the chefs creatively plated their courses to gain presentation points, I realized I could never be an Iron Chef. Creative cooking is a recreational activity: I'm not familiar enough with the culinary world to improvise recipes. But for the Iron Chefs cooking is their culture, their way of life, their everything.
Then I realized the difference between me and the apostles --
Their actions didn’t stem from Doing Church; their actions flowed out of Being Church.
The apostles' culture was uniquely dictated by God - not just worship, but the nitty gritty everyday details of life: how to live, eat, take care of the land, treat each other. Church wasn't a weekly activity; church dictated their culture.
I've experienced the opposite. American culture is driven with activities: a productive life is marked with checklists for work, family life, free time. The church, as a part of a culture based on "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness," looks much different that the church of a culture centered on "loving the Lord your God with all of your heart, soul, mind, and strength."
God created an elaborate plan for world-wide redemption through the creation of a very specific God-centric culture. Has His intentional and detailed plan changed? Has God released me to incorporate His teachings, His Light, His Love into my nation-oriented culture? Or does God desire that I continue in the tradition of the Jews, living a God-directed holistic life as exemplified by Christ – not a way of doing, but a way of being?
My re-acquaintance with the church came through participating in a small group testing spiritual formation material. Folks from all walks and ages of life made up our group, meeting weekly to discuss our experiences with the exercises and to engage in different spiritual disciplines. I no longer felt 'segregated" to a group of peers, but rather "incorporated" in a group with layers of wisdom and depth of experiences. We shared snacks, our life journeys, our daily joys and hardships. Using the spiritual disciplines (prayer, Bible study, and meditation among others) enabled God to equip us in engaging culture in our practical, everyday lives.
Like the early church, we worshiped, taught, committed to being in an intergenerational community, engaged in daily activities like eating together, discerned God's direction for our individual and corporate lives. For the first time my activities were a result of being connected and anchored in God's love, being Christ-centered rather than self-centered, Being Church.
I felt called to go outward and share this news with others. First I re-immersed myself in traditional church by attending Sunday service. Then, I found an internal desire - to share that we don't have be burned out by Doing Church. I wanted to let others know what I had found, what the apostles had found: a joyful renewal in having our actions flow out of Being Church.
Time was up, the announcer exclaimed; all kitchen utensils were laid aside. The chefs stood next to the judges as their creations were tasted. Responses were varied: yummy noises, scrunched-up faces, curious looks as they sampled unusual tastes and textures.
The Iron Chef's final dish was trout ice cream. Trout ice cream! That can't possibly be a dessert, I thought. But it's true: the commentator listed the requirements for a dish to be ice cream: cream, milk, sugar, and a certain percentage of fat, frozen to a particular consistency. If it contains those elements, it can be ice cream. But you wouldn't find me trying it (and I *really* like ice cream).
A similar attitude can creep in regarding different forms that Being Church might take. God is so amazingly creative: He doesn't do the same thing twice. Being Church naturally follows in that vein. From simple house churches to megachurches to traditional institutional churches, a million different ways abound that God could call his people to in Being Church. Each manifestation will not resonate with me. If it contains the critical elements - a particular consistency - modeled by the early church, it's church: just a different church for different tastebuds.
The Iron Chef won as he tends to do. Battle Trout came to a close, and I breathed a prayer of thanksgiving to the Lord that He wants to Be with me; that I might be able to Be Church to my friends, my peers, the rest of the world; that God shows me how my Christian-cultural need to Be Church can supercede my American-cultural predisposition to Do Church; that I could eat coffee rather than trout ice cream.
– What activities do you associate with church? Which ones do you participate in? Do they fit within the criteria, the 'particular consistency,' modeled by the Early Church?
– Why do you participate in activities within the church? Are they a habit? A cultural expectation? A call from God? Do you find joy in doing them?
– Do you feel like you are Doing Church or Being Church? What would Being Church look like to you? Have you spent time discerning this, both individually and corporately?
– Do you have a spirit willing to accept that not all expressions of Being Church will resonate with you? Will you allow God to show you how to recognize and respect these "different styles for different tastebuds"?