No offense to Tina Fey and company (I really like attitude that comes across in Tina’s writing), but for me, the hey-day of SNL was during the 80s, when Mike Myers, Dana Carvey, and Chris Farley were all part of the cast. I especially liked Carvey’s regular characters. I liked Garth (“Party on Wayne!”). I liked his imitation of the first President Bush (“Not goooooooa dooooit. Wouldn’t be pruuuuudent.”). But I also loved Church Lady.
Church Lady hosted a weekly television program in which she interviewed various celebrities (usually including the weekly SNL guest host). After a little random banter, she would attempt to expose the sins of the guest. However, in a very insightful and subtle twist, she would not out-and-out accuse the guest of wrongdoing. Instead, she would utter her trademark passive-aggressive phrase: “Well isn’t that speeeecial.”
Dana Carvey has been off of the SNL cast for well over a decade, now, but church chat is still alive and well.
I’m not talking about the holier-than-thou style of conversation that Church Lady mastered, although its still prevalent among many evangelicals. I’m talking about the general banter that tends to ensue whenever the subjects of religion and faith come into play.
I’m guessing most of you have church chats all the time. They include statements like this: “I’m a member at x church.” “Where do you attend?” “Those folks over there are really active in their church.” “We really love our bible class!”
Somewhere along the way, church chat became the primary language of our faith. Its considered polite, proper conversation. No one gets offended by it. And, as a bonus, its often used as a subtle way of grading the sincerity of one’s faith. “F” Christians aren’t members of any church. “D” Christians are members somewhere, but don’t attend regularly. “C” Christians attend fairly regularly, but don’t do much else. “B” Chrisitans are “active” in their church. And “A” Christians have ascended to the pinnacle of church leadership (“He’s an elder, you know!”)
But I’ve been noticing something lately.
Jesus was not big on church chat. Its not that he didn’t know how to talk about the coming church. Its just that “church” wasn’t what rested at the center of his teaching.
Open your New Testament and start reading from the gospels. What is the subject of Jesus’ teachings again and again? Gospel. Kingdom. Discipleship. Imagine what scripture would look like if Jesus merely engaged in church chat with everyone he encountered:
“Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the coming opportunity to attend church.” (Mt. 4:23)
OR “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for they shall hear great preaching every week.” (Mt. 5:3)
OR “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they will really enjoy their bible class.” ((Mt. 5:6)
Am I nuts, or does church chat drain the very life out of the gospel?
There is a dramatic difference between “church” (by which I mean the prevalent, culturally acceptable way of “doing Church”) and Kingdom.
“Church” is a place you go once or twice a week. Kingdom is a way of living out every moment of your life.
“Church” is about giving 10% of your money, if you’re really pious. Kingdom is about laying down your money, your time, and your life for a broken world.
“Church” says “We’ve figured out what God wants, come and join us if you like.” Kingdom people see themselves as sinners who have come face-to-face with the mercy of God. They seek to go into the world to bring hope to others like themselves.
“Church” is concerned with the organization of ministries. Kingdom is concerned with a lifestyle of submission and service to others.
“Church” is a place where people who are highly regarded can be put in charge of things: budgets, programs, classes. Kingdom is a place where the least are the greatest.
“Church” is easy to define in terms of member lists, meeting places, and meeting times. The Kingdom is an eternal mystery that defies simple definitions and categorizations.
Its easy to know who the good “Church” people are. But in the Kingdom, wolves often appear as sheep, and spiritual titans are found in the most unlikely places.
“Churches” will end when people lose interest in them. The Kingdom will last forever.
This list could go on and on, but I think you get the idea.
I’m not saying that people should stop talking about “churchy” things altogether (after all, churches and church programs can be great tools in the advancement of the Kingdom). However, I AM saying that when church chat becomes the primary language of faith (rather than the language of the Kingdom), the gospel suffers.
God help me. I’m growing weary of church chat. I’m ready to branch out. I’m ready to adopt the language of the Kingdom when I talk about my faith.
What would it be like if, next time someone happened to learn I’m associated with Highland, I avoided the ususal stuff: “Yeah. Love my class. And Mike’s great, isn’t he? And aren’t the people friendly? Isn’t the staff great? I go to early service, you know.”
What if, instead, it went something like this: “You know the folks that gather at Highland on Sundays are an imperfect lot. We have addicts and former addicts. We have people who struggle with sexual sin. We have people who are sick. We have people that are poor. We have people who are wealthy, but drowning in debt because of bad decisions. We have other wealthy folks who are struggling with greed. And, yeah, the worship is great, and the preaching and teaching is great, and we love the staff. But what is really exciting about Highland is how more and more people are being filled with a burning desire to bring the presence of Jesus to to poor and needy of the world.”
What sort of reactions to you think I’ll get? Blank stares? Quick efforts to change the subject? Efforts to steer things back into more conventional “churchy” talk?
Lots of folks will squirm, to be sure. But who said the whole discipleship thing was supposed to be comfortable? If Chrisitans need to wake up to the reality that our presence in the world no longer resembles that of Jesus, perhaps church chat should be the first thing to go…