Do you find church to be boring? Does it seem like a waste of time? Read this to feel even worse.
Probably my favorite Christian author is Mike Root. He wrote the book, "Split Grape Juice: Rethinking the Worship Tradition" which I discovered quite by accident back in the early 1990ís, and I consider to be one of the major influences in how I came to view "church." A follow-up to this book, "Unbroken Bread: Healing Worship Wounds," is an expansion and elaboration of the same ideas, and one of the only books out there that tells the truth about "church" and "worship."
So, I bought the book "Empty Baskets: Offering Your Life as Worship" with great expectations. If "Unbroken BreadÖ" was the expansion of "Spilt Grape JuiceÖ" perhaps this book would be the sequel.
Well, it is a sequel, and itís book with a lot of truth in it. I would recommend it to anyone. The premise of this book is that our worship to God consists in offering our lives to God, hence the title. Root divides the book into twelve chapters, each concerning an area of life where we are "stewards": areas such as minds, bodies, souls, church, etc. Itís great stuff.
But boy was I in for a surprise when I got near the ending in the chapter entitled "Stewards of His Assembly." Root has spent two previous and a good part of this book making the point that much of what we consider "church" is unscriptural. On page 185, he writes:
What happens to you in the assembly of the saints is totally up to you. I have spent a lot of years studying, praying, preaching, and writing about worship. The fact that there is absolutely no biblical precedent for our present-day formalism, tradition-steeped, "one hour a week" view of worship, doesnít seem to bother many people Ė even brethren who understand and agree with what Iíve preached. It amazes me! The New Testament is so obvious in its teaching of our life being worship to God, yet brethren still donít have any problems thinking of it as something they go to on Sunday morning. There is not a single example of a New Testament congregation in an assembly that remotely looks anything like what we do, yet we think what we do is copying a New Testament pattern. People are shocked and surprised to discover that the word "worship" is never once applied to the Christian assembly in the New Testament! Iíve had brethren respond with, "Well, how about that. Got to run. Iím late for worship."
Now that Mike Root has driven home the point that "church" as we understand it has no scriptural basis whatsoever, what are we to do?
Root has seven suggestions on pages 186 through 190, which I will summarize:
First, prepare for the assembly through prayer. We should pray that God will use us to strengthen others and that God will help us "not to miss a single opportunity to represent Jesus properly."
Second, prepare to prey, as in hunt. We are to look for "victims" to encourage. We should arrive early and stay after the assembly to find those who are sad, lonely, hurting, depressed, and struggling and give them words of comfort and hugs.
Third, we should focus on joy not judging. "Decide that you are going to enjoy everything that takes place when you are with your church family" says Root. How do we do this? Root goes on to write, "Look for things to appreciate and be grateful for. Smile at everything and everybody!" and "Praise God for every song, prayer, and scripture."
Fourth, be vocal. Root writes, "God gave you a voice. He commanded you to encourage others, and He provided the opportunity with the assembly. How can we dare ignore all that He has done to make sure we lift up one anther? Sing with all your heart! Love it!"
Fifth, be physical. Root suggests, "Try sitting on the front of your seat, at least some of the time. You do it at basketball and football games when youíre really Ďcaught upí in the game. Decide youíre going to be Ďcaught upí in the assembly." Root goes on with other suggestions, which if followed will make the assembly "Öthe fastest hour youíve ever spent in your life. Youíll wish it were longer and realize that you never checked your watch once during the entire assembly time."
Sixth, be Jesus for others. Others should see the love of Jesus in our life, our face, and in our concern for them.
Seventh, follow through and follow-up. Assuming youíve taken notes during the assembly (one of the other "physical" suggestions from above), you should "pray for those who need prayers and send cards to those who need cards, and reflect on how God used you to carry out His will."
Whew, thatís a lot. And, I agree that Root has some good suggestions. Whatís interesting to me is that they seem to confirm what Iíve suspected for a long time when it comes to "church" and one-another relationships. That is, that the really biblical stuff happens before and after the assembly, not during. The times when Iíve been really blessed, or have managed to somehow bless others, were random events that occurred before and after "church" while I was at the building. This is likely where you find those "victims" that need encouragement, or you see the love of Jesus in someoneís face. (Itís sure hard to see the love of Jesus in someoneís face when youíre staring at the back of his or her head for ninety minutes.)
On the other hand, some of these suggestions sound like theyíd put you on a slow train to the "funny farm" if you practiced them for a long time. Can I really just "decide" that Iím going to "enjoy everything?" Is it really all that simple? Should I "decide" to enjoy singing that song for the 500th time that I didnít like the first time? Should I just "decide" to enjoy hearing false doctrine preached by people who should know better? (Iím not thinking of any time in particular, but itís happened to me and I didnít enjoy it.) Should I "enjoy" being threatened with death over my ability to ingest a breadcrumb and a few drops of grape juice in a "worthy manner?" Then, should I feel guilty if my attempts to "enjoy" these things are unsuccessful? Some therapist is going to get a new car on me someday!
Root writes,"God gave you a voice. He commanded you to encourage others, and He provided the opportunity with the assembly." Really? Which assembly is that? Root has just made the point in no uncertain terms "Öthat there is absolutely no biblical precedent for our present-day formalism, tradition-steeped, Ďone hour a weekí view of worshipÖ" So, who provided the "opportunity" and just what kind of "opportunity" is it? Is "the assembly" really an opportunity to encourage others, or is it just an opportunity to perpetuate extra-biblical tradition one more week along the space-time continuum by aping my way through a ritualistic routine devised by people whoíve been dead for centuries?
Finally, I donít see myself simply deciding to be "caught up" in some activity that Iíve already been convinced is steeped in man-made tradition but is touted as being the most important thing a Christian does every week. I know too much. It takes a certain kind of person to "decide" that what is really is not, and what is not really is. Iím not that kind of person. Being on the receiving end of phoniness and ignorance has a way of sapping my enthusiasm, and I canít just "decide" to behave differently.
So, after three books on "worship" Mike Rootís suggestion for me is to pretend to be something Iím not, a church addict. I expected more.
One think Mike Root does not mention is the possibility of leaving the tradition steeped assembly and starting something new. You can be an entrepreneur in business, but not in the church. So, youíve learned a lot. So, you know whatís wrong with the system and why it doesnít work for you. You think youíve got the answer? You think youíve got a biblical approach to church, fellowship, and assembly? Well, youíd better just spend you life "deciding" that youíre going to "enjoy" the system the way it is. Donít put your ideas to the test. Donít try to bring something new and beautiful into the church or the world. Every church system started somewhere, but you canít start anything.
Now, get your butt to church!