Thinking Out Loud

July 7, 2013

How to Play Church

Have you ever watched a group of children playing “school,” or do you remember playing the game yourself? Kids may say they hate school, but interest in this game usually intensifies in mid-July, and the same kids who were chanting, ‘No more teachers, no more books…’ just a few weeks previously find themselves engrossed in a complete reconstruction of the educational process.

The teacher plays the role perfectly. There’s instruction, discipline and a test to see if the students are learning. The students also turn in a flawless performance. But wait! Now somebody else wants to play the part of the teacher. The roles have been exchanged and the new ‘teacher’ is even better than the last. These kids have never been to teachers’ college; where did they learn the teacher’s role so well?

It has been said that of all the occupations available to young people, the job of schoolteacher is the most self-perpetuating. This means that the teacher’s activities receive constant exposure and we gain a full understanding of what teaching entails without being formally trained to take on the role. We are what Hollywood would call understudies for the part, even though only a handful of children ultimately choose teaching as their life’s work.

[Sidenote: Some will argue that motherhood is actually the most self-perpetuating role. No problem here; have you ever watched the same group of children play “house?” It’s the same principle: Monkey see. Monkey do.]

Having grown up in a Christian home and having shared that heritage with many of my friends, I’ve learned that it is equally possible to play “church.” It is actually a game that affords a greater variety of roles. One can be the worship leader while another is the preacher. A cardboard box becomes the offering plate. A battery-operated toy piano is transformed into a four-manual cathedral organ. For Baptist children, a nearby wading pool offers the opportunity for the sacrament of baptism; for Anglican children a glass of water serves the same purpose. Those who don’t sing, preach, or serve communion become the congregation.

The problem is that the game never ends. As we progress through our teens, twenties and thirties, we continue to perpetuate the game the way we’ve always played it. When someone tries to play the game differently — maybe they didn’t play church when they were young — we encourage them to play it our way because we’ve been playing it longer and we know the rules.

Think about this one: Its 9:00 PM on a Saturday night. The kids have had their ritual weekend bath and gone to bed. Time now to read the paper, play with the TV’s remote control for a half-hour, and then review your Children’s Church lesson for the next morning.

The phone rings. It’s the pastor, and he doesn’t sound too good. He’s come down with Somethingitis and can’t get anyone to take over the worship service, because everyone has gone to the cabin for the long weekend. He needs you to run the entire service; there’s been no order of service written. Choose a few choruses that the kids from the youth group can play on guitar or piano. Be sure to read a scripture. Don’t forget the offering. “Look;” he says, “I need you. You have one hour together to worship God, and you can do anything you want to with that hour.”

You hang up the phone. Nobody would ever believe this one. You grab a copy of the church’s old hymnbook; the one you should not have taken home with you. You flip the pages back and forth, and set it down and pick up a CD copy of Wow Worship and start reading the list of worship songs on the two discs. All this time the pastor’s words are echoing in your brain, “do anything you want to with that hour.”

Your creative juices start to flow. You begin to think of all the things you wish would happen at a Sunday morning at your church. Testimonies. Praying together in small groups. Interactive discussion. All those concepts that have been locked away in your head for all those years.

On the other hand, you realize that a very sacred responsibility has been entrusted to you. Everyone will be watching to see what you do.

Why rock the boat? Why make waves? Why get everyone mad? Because you were on the sound and lighting team, you have a copy of the order of service from the week before; so you change the music selections, adjust the scripture reading, and enlarge that Children’s Church lesson so that it becomes an sermon for adults.

The next day your service is a perfect imitation of everything the pastor normally does. When it ends, people come up to you and say how much they enjoyed the service. What they mean is that they weren’t challenged, weren’t made to think, weren’t robbed of any program elements that make them feel comfortable. You were a hit!

After 20 years of playing church, you finally got to play in the big leagues, and you let everybody know that you know how the game is played.

Congratulations. Your religion is now completely devoid of any real meaning.

~ Chapter 8 from For Members Only, an unpublished manuscript I began working on many, many years ago.  Previously posted one year ago at Thinking Out Loud

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July 28, 2012

Playing Church

Have you ever watched a group of children playing “school,” or do you remember playing the game yourself? Kids may say they hate school, but interest in this game usually intensifies in mid-July, and the same kids who were chanting, ‘No more teachers, no more books…’ just a few weeks previously find themselves engrossed in a complete reconstruction of the educational process.

The teacher plays the role perfectly. There’s instruction, discipline and a test to see if the students are learning. The students also turn in a flawless performance. But wait! Now somebody else wants to play the part of the teacher. The roles have been exchanged and the new ‘teacher’ is even better than the last. These kids have never been to teachers’ college; where did they learn the teacher’s role so well?

It has been said that of all the occupations available to young people, the job of schoolteacher is the most self-perpetuating. This means that the teacher’s activities receive constant exposure and we gain a full understanding of what teaching entails without being formally trained to take on the role. We are what Hollywood would call understudies for the part, even though only a handful of children ultimately choose teaching as their life’s work.

[Sidenote: Some will argue that motherhood is actually the most self-perpetuating role. No problem here; have you ever watched the same group of children play “house?” It’s the same principle: Monkey see. Monkey do.]

Having grown up in a Christian home and having shared that heritage with many of my friends, I’ve learned that it is equally possible to play “church.” It is actually a game that affords a greater variety of roles. One can be the worship leader while another is the preacher. A cardboard box becomes the offering plate. A battery-operated toy piano is transformed into a four-manual cathedral organ. For Baptist children, a nearby wading pool offers the opportunity for the sacrament of baptism; for Anglican children a glass of water serves the same purpose. Those who don’t sing, preach, or serve communion become the congregation.

The problem is that the game never ends. As we progress through our teens, twenties and thirties, we continue to perpetuate the game the way we’ve always played it. When someone tries to play the game differently — maybe they didn’t play church when they were young — we encourage them to play it our way because we’ve been playing it longer and we know the rules.

Think about this one: Its 9:00 PM on a Saturday night. The kids have had their ritual weekend bath and gone to bed. Time now to read the paper, play with the TV’s remote control for a half-hour, and then review your Children’s Church lesson for the next morning.

The phone rings. It’s the pastor, and he doesn’t sound too good. He’s come down with Somethingitis and can’t get anyone to take over the worship service, because everyone has gone to the cabin for the long weekend. He needs you to run the entire service; there’s been no order of service written. Choose a few choruses that the kids from the youth group can play on guitar or piano. Be sure to read a scripture. Don’t forget the offering. “Look;” he says, “I need you. You have one hour together to worship God, and you can do anything you want to with that hour.”

You hang up the phone. Nobody would ever believe this one. You grab a copy of the church’s old hymnbook; the one you should not have taken home with you. You flip the pages back and forth, and set it down and pick up a CD copy of Wow Worship and start reading the list of worship songs on the two discs. All this time the pastor’s words are echoing in your brain, “do anything you want to with that hour.”

Your creative juices start to flow. You begin to think of all the things you wish would happen at a Sunday morning at your church. Testimonies. Praying together in small groups. Interactive discussion. All those concepts that have been locked away in your head for all those years.

On the other hand, you realize that a very sacred responsibility has been entrusted to you. Everyone will be watching to see what you do.

Why rock the boat? Why make waves? Why get everyone mad? Because you were on the sound and lighting team, you have a copy of the order of service from the week before; so you change the music selections, adjust the scripture reading, and enlarge that Children’s Church lesson so that it becomes an sermon for adults.

The next day your service is a perfect imitation of everything the pastor normally does. When it ends, people come up to you and say how much they enjoyed the service. What they mean is that they weren’t challenged, weren’t made to think, weren’t robbed of any program elements that make them feel comfortable. You were a hit!

After 20 years of playing church, you finally got to play in the big leagues, and you let everybody know that you know how the game is played.

Congratulations. Your religion is now completely devoid of any real meaning.

~ Chapter 8 from For Members Only, an unpublished manuscript I began working on many, many years ago.

February 23, 2011

Wednesday Link List

In addition to usual type of links this week, there are some general links to the whole of some blogs you know and some that will be new to you.

  • Here’s a C201 post dealing with the subject of balanced worship that also contains a couple of classic CCM songs. Check out Worship with Both Hands.
  • Sadly, the hostage drama off the coast of Somalia did not end well. Our prayers are with the families of the two couples who perished in the rescue attempt.
  • Trevin Wax raises the issue of Evangelical churches baptizing children by immersion at very, very young ages. Here’s the link, and we’ll also return to this discussion on the weekend.
  • Got 66 minutes?  Elevation Church (Steve Furtick) has put together a video on their church’s story on the occasion of their fifth anniversary.
  • Speaking of videos, here’s the latest from Hillsong at GodTube.
  • Speaking of the number 66, here’s an idea: A series of word images (or clouds) processed in the style of Wordle of the text from each book of the Bible sold as 11 x 17 posters at 66 Clouds.  See sample at right.
  • Once again, another biting commentary at Shaun Groves’ blog. “According to some college chaplains… long term exposure to Christian music may have unsavory side-effects. They feel like they’re fighting bad theology and unbiblical perceptions created by the music business. Their students grew up listening to K-LOVE in the minivan on the way to school with mom. They grew up in “event-driven” churches singing songs from “stars” who also came to town to play concerts.Did the industry change the church/students or did the church/students change the industry? ” Read the full article.
  • Bluefish TV inexplicably decides to make a total mockery of purity rings. They’ve finally produced a video that isn’t appropriate to show at church or at youth group. So guys, why bother?
  • Philip Yancey returns to Christianity Today with this question, Is America Going the Way of Europe in Turning Its Back on Christianity? Using the example of the Netherlands, he shows that dramatic change can occur within just two generations.
  • Follow Pete Wilson’s ten day trip to Kolkata, India — he’s back now — by linking to his blog and scrolling back to February 9th and reading forward.
  • Random link: I really enjoy Stuff Fundies Like.  This site has a lot more edge than that other Stuff…Like blog, and is, in reality, more like a Fundamentalist version of Growing Up Catholic. (Or if you grew up in the Evangelical world, you might call this, “Killing Me Softly With His Blog.”) If it’s not part of your online routine, check it out, and go right back to the beginning and read every single post!
  • More serious random link: I don’t know any blogger who has faithfully kept the pro-life agenda on the front burner like La Shawn Barber.  Blogging since November, 2003, her blog is a history of events in that movement, and textbook must-reading for anyone who wants to understand this issue.
  • Here’s how Drew Marshall described Chad and Sarah Markley: “They grew up in the church, got married, fought everyday, then began to get wasted and party on the weekends just to escape and cope, even while Chad was leading worship in their church. Eventually porn crept into the marriage. Eventually Chad became a workaholic. Eventually Sarah had an affair with Chad’s friend. Eventually one of Sarah’s friends told their pastors. Eventually…” This couple survived her three-year affair and discussed it openly on last week’s show — online audio available Friday — and continues to discuss it at her blog.
  • Here’s another general link, not to a specific post, but I think this blog deserves an award for its most unusual name.  Check out Jamie, The Very Worst Missionary.  (Loved her Feb 3 post for her son’s 13th birthday.)(And the rest of her honesty and transparency.)
  • Warning to all concerned: Never show up at The Creation Museum in Petersburg, Kentucky on Date Night with a same sex date. (Typical date night pictured at right.) And tickets are non-refundable. But step back for just a moment: Why do they even have a date night?  (“Hey Lisa, we’re going to the Creation Museum tonight.” “Oh Mark, you pick the most coolest places.”)
  • If you gave up sports a long time ago, but you’ve still got a thing for statistics, here’s more analysis on the differences between the old NIV and the new NIV.
  • Let me see if I’ve got this one right: Your kids go door to door selling “magabooks” (half magazine, half book) which answer the musical question, “Will My Pet Go to Heaven?”  All for just $14.95 U.S.
  • One last general link here, from which yesterday’s post here at Thinking Out Loud was stolen borrowed; reiterated here because this grandfather of all blogs has been around since January of 2000. Yikes! It’s in its twelfth year! Check out GraceWorks.ca
  • Tomorrow begins the fourth year of this blog! How will we celebrate? Stay tuned. (Actually, I have no idea at this point…)
  • Our closing picture this week — I know you would have preferred another shot of Adam and Eve at the Creation Museum — is from Cathy at the USAToday blog, Faith and Reason.  Just so ya know, the church is Catholic and the retail is $39.99 U.S.

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