I get frustrated with my church sometimes, feeling that maybe our priorities aren't in the right place on everything. I suppose the logistic problems inherent to running a giant church make everyone wonder if what we're doing is in any way close to what God wants of us. It's tough running a church in an area where a church is not a body of people, but an institution. That viewpoint colors your whole perspective. I was reading Donald Miller's Prayer and the Art of Volkswagen Maintenance today, and the first chunk of the book concerns the megachurches in the Houston area, where Miller originates from. He and Paul, an easy-going Pacific Northwest native, take a roadtrip and talk about faith and God while chugging across barren deserts. I came up short at this passage:
"Pretty big church, is it?" I ask.We have three separate gyms at our church, for a total of five basketball courts. No bowling alley, though, unfortunately. The orphans will have to go without.
"Yeah, it is. We've got about 200 people there."
A smile comes to my face as Paul's definition of large collides with mine. "Two hundred people would make for a large Sunday School class in Texas. I hate to break it to you, but unless a church has a gym and a bowling alley, they're not fulfilling the work of the Lord. A church has to have a gym and a bowling alley because people play basketball and bowl and if they do it at church they are more likely to accept Christ. Widows and orphans especially, they play basketball a great deal."
There's a flipside of all this, though. I just spent a week as a small group leader at a youth camp our church runs, and there's just something to be said for doing things right. If you were to say to me "you don't need a full worship band and a professional speaker and a rec team to organize team events, and you certainly don't need horseback riding and paintball and ziplines for the kids to ride, God can do great work no matter how uncool all our stuff is," I would absolutely agree with you. But while you and I can make that case from here to Tuesday, this last week, 350 kids truly met God, and had the time of their lives doing it. They sang songs and jumped around and God cracked the ceiling and came down among us.
I promise you, it was something to see.
The other high point, I don't work at this church, which canceled their Semi-Automatic Assault Rifle Giveaway Youth Event this week. Not because giving semi-automatic weapons to teenagers is a bad idea, of course - in fact, they're gonna hang on to the gun, keep it around the church for a year, then give it away next year. Oh, did I forget to mention that this an annual event?
This is church in America. There's always some church out there making every church look bad, and another doing things that seem impossible to live up to, and we play Keeping Up With The Joneses until we find ourselves building mission-oriented hot tubs behind the sacristy without ever noticing the homeless people sleeping in our doorways. It's the "More Toys, Better Faith" philosophy, and it's often effective and usually disheartening, sometimes simultaneously.
But for this week, at least, I got to see the bright side. I got to see God move, which I think is something he does whether we build him a shiny house or not; but if he chooses to do it in bowling alleys with Trinity-stamped pins, then I'll show up for every frame.
Plus, I really do think I'm a better bowler than your average orphan.