All of us who have been or are connected with mainline churches have heard the lament many times: “He/She always went to Sunday School and church. I can’t understand why they did the bad things they did.” Or: “Their children always were in church and Sunday School, but now we never see them. Why?”
I know there are many answers to these questions, but I would like to suggest one that appears broad enough to cover many of the children who have “gone wrong” or the children “who never darken a church’s door now.”
It is my experience that these children were taken to church and Sunday School and were taught how to “do church”, but the church failed to teach them how to “be church.”
Diana Butleri Bass , in her book, Christianity for the Rest of Us recounts the story of her life growing up in a Methodist church and remarks that she learned how to “do church”, how to take communion, how to fix casseroles for fellowship dinners, how to be obedient, how to do the rituals of the church—-but never did she have any instruction in how to “be church“.
All of us know that there is a difference between “doing church” and “being church“, but what is it exactly? In my opinion “doing church” is a matter of being busy, busy busy, with committee meetings, church attendance, decorating for fellowship dinners, planning programs and carrying them out, fixing the Lord’s Supper, and doing all the jobs we are asked to do to keep the institution smoothly running as a business might run. I am in no way saying these do not need to be done, but they are not the most important part of being Christian, a disciple of Jesus Christ. The above are all involved in “doing church“.
The important part, on the other hand, is “being church” It is being a functioning part of the body of Christ in this world— loving God and living in His Presence, and loving our neighbor as ourselves. “Being church” is practicing our faith in daily life. It is walking the walk that the people of the bible and that Jesus and this disciples walked. “Being Church” is being Christ’s body here right now in the present. It is practicing radical hospitality as he practiced it. it is taking up our cross daily, though that might lead to suffering and self-denial. It is practicing passionate and Radical Christianity in our communities, both spiritual and secular.
Somehow we neglected to show our young people in all of the busy-ness of “doing church” what “being church” was all about and its importance in living as a disciples of Jesus the Christ. . And one of the characteristics of the generation now in young adulthood is that they are still searching for the meaning of “being church” but are put off by just being asked to “do church.”
Do you agree or disagree? And if you agree with me, how can we change our practices and teaching in our declining mainline churches so that we do not produce another generation like the one who has rejected the church?
Rather than lament the past, let’s concentrate on changing the future!