On Sundays, when I write, I do so at length on some topic of religion, Christianity, Jesus stuff, or faith. Beware. Last Sunday, I fired off this quick one liner on Facebook:
As of this writing, 13 people liked the status, which means (I think) they agree with me. The comments were mixed, ranging from a few people who agreed to a few who didn't. Most people let me know that their pastor was part of the 5%.
I'm sure he is.
Have you ever watched a really great episode of CBS Sunday Morning? Or heard a great podcast from "This American Life?" It's like when you've been to a great comedy show, a mesmerizing new art exhibit, or even caught a memorable movie. If you've been wrapped up in a live music concert, been whisked off to someplace else while reading poetry, or you've come to know a topic deeper after a too-short TED talk, then you've felt more than most sermons today offer.
If you want a religious experience, the last place to go is a church.
It wasn't always this way. Sermons used to be intellectual, inspiring, personal, relevant, educational, and informative. Sure, they used to last way more than 30 minutes, didn't come with notes inserted into the bulletin, or weren't available for instant download afterward, but at least they were thought-out.
Believe it or not, time was actually invested in the act and craft of preaching. Pastors honed their skills well before their days became full of budget meetings, hospital visits, and figuring out how to work a tithing appeal into this week's Psalm reading. They used to pore over commentaries, concordances, and cannons in order to arrive at a point or application that would be meaningful to their audience while also being loaded with wisdom for people who would read those words generations on.
Nowadays, when you can get millions of perspectives in the time it takes you to click "I'm Feeling Lucky", there is no sacrifice. There is no point that is hard won. And when the people in front of you have been in the same seat for 15 years and visitors only show up because "First" is on your marquee, then what's the use in getting better at something? Keep it simple and save Saturdays for yard work and iced tea.
And this is why CBS Sunday Morning or everything on TED.com or a great book is better. When you can find a shining example of someone practicing their craft, you feel uplifted. You feel like you see something of God/a god present. You are transported to somewhere else, somewhere you feel like you can be better. You're more hopeful, more kind, more loving, more inspired. You've become a better person.
Church used to do that for us.
It doesn't have to anymore, though. This isn't an appeal to preachers to get better. It's an appeal to everyone to find church where they may. Jesus isn't confined to brick walls, red carpet, three points, and a poem, either. I believe you can glimpse God at a singer/songwriter night, while serving others, in the lines of a great poem, or while watching a riveting documentary.
The challenge for pastors, really, is to understand that competition doesn't just exist down the street at the other church. People are experiencing God in the streets, in between your buildings. And if you can't provide art in its highest form - that which transports us somewhere else - then you will be discounted as a place that can't provide a God experience. I can't think of anything more irrelevant for a church. So stop dumbing down your sermons because you're afraid you can't reach a society glued to Two and a Half Men. In reality, the exact opposite is true.
May you use your Sunday to enjoy someone else's work, someone who works hard, who sacrifices, who thinks, who challenges, who professes, who proclaims, who hopes, and who tries.
Wherever you see that happening, there is church.