The Church in the Freezer

The Church in the Freezer image

Church is certainly more than who shows up and what takes place for 75 minutes on Sunday morning.

But, for many, it is certainly not less.

Perhaps for you that 75 minutes is like the foyer of a home that leads to many of the other rooms of the house. From the threshold to the foyer and beyond, you find fellowship, training, ministry, direction, discussion, challenge and comfort both in and well beyond that 75 minutes on a Sunday morning.

However, for those who perceive ourselves to be time-poor, it may be the home itself. And such may be our perceived time-poverty that some of us only make it home only every second week or third week.

So for those for whom it’s the whole home, as well as for those for whom it is but one of the rooms, that Sunday gathering is critical to both and, therefore, to the whole. And the time-poor argument may simply evaporate if that 75 minutes is so good it makes us hungry for more.

Are we making that 75 minutes all it could be? Are we making the most of all the gifts of the members of the family who love that home?

The Other Six Days

I know I’m not alone when I say that I identify more with struggle than victory, more with failure than fantasised success and with moments of unguarded honesty more than over-guarded self-disclosure.

I want preachers to show me where the Spirit of God through the Word of God they are teaching me has worked them over, brought them under conviction, driven them to repentance and poured God’s love and mercy into their hearts in overflowing joy, relief and renewed obedience. How has it impacted the preacher for the other six days?

I want every aspect of the service to reinforce this Word; segues, songs, prayers, confession and creed. The way we read and speak as well as what we read and speak and sing are crucial.

I want to hear from other brothers and sisters as to how they are grappling the challenges of living as a disciple of Christ in a culture of decadence, deceit and denial.

What would happen if family members shared from the front some of the moral dilemmas they face as they tiptoe near the thin grey line of ethical ambiguity, and sometimes touch it, or even cross it. Christian doctors and nurses have been telling me ever since the 1970’s that they face issues like this. Would not sharing this sort of stuff with the congregation across a range of professions, not help us all to connect Sunday with the other six days – and connect us more with each other?

With careful preparation, briefing between preacher and testifier, would such segments not illustrate the Word, deepen congregational love, concern and prayerfulness and give everyone greater permission to drop our guard and be a little more authentic with each other about our failures, wounds and worries?

Would not relational distance shorten, people warm to each other, conversations over refreshments go to a whole new level of depth and understanding and application of the Bible we have heard preached?

The Other Six Gifts

The suggestion I have just made feeds into my conviction about the wasted gifts we have sitting in the seats. 

In my blog, The Church In The Furnace, I made the point that our churches have talent to burn. By that I mean that there are very gifted people in the church family whose gifts could be enhanced and harnessed to enrich the lives of every member much more than what currently happens in most church meetings.

When I observe the Senior Pastor, Minister (Lead Pastor, I think, is now the title of the month), lead and preach, and also pray, I get deeply worried. Two out of three is a big enough concern. Three out of three sends off the sirens. Laziness? Authoritarianism? Self-perceived omnicompetence?

My experience has been that our churches are filled with competent people whose giftedness in public praying and leading will only augment the preaching ministry.

But, this is to barely scratch the surface, of other gifts that could be unleashed. What about people sharing their lives with testimony segments, of coming to Christ or of specific examples of God’s sustaining grace in Christian ministry in ways I suggested above. 

I’ve always been a great believer in having a special five-minute segment during public meetings where there is opportunity for this sort of thing. If times an issue, have five minutes of less singing or keep the notices to a disciplined minimum, or make sure the segues are sharp, without mini-sermons pre-ambling every detail on the run-sheet. 

A church family of a hundred adults will always have 40-50 members who are wise, prayerful, articulate and not preparation-averse. They are legion and they are quietly chomping at the bit. Segments could be wide and varied; testimonies, struggle-stories, book reviews, film reviews, social analysis, world news, special prayer focus, link-missio. updates etc. 

We could easily fill 50 Sundays without repetition or overlap. It just needs imagination and preparation. All these gifts are being well-preserved in the freezer but let’s defrost the saints and serve them up for everybody’s edification.

The other Six Tribes

Here is where we need to get our churches out of the freezer.

We know that like attracts like. Kind attracts kind. Tribe attracts tribe. It’s why we’ve always divided down generational lines. It has determined your ‘church-belonging’ choices. Even in small towns where the generations meet together, it’s tribal. The tribe, or the common factor, being that this is the only church that meets every week. Believe me,  if the country town church grew and split and started a second congregation, the temptation to divide down some tribal line (generational probably) will be irresistible.

We’ve all played lip-service to the poly-tribal unit principle over the decades but we’ve driven a relentless mono-tribal unit principle agenda in church planting and church growth. “We start mono-tribal and mature to poly-tribal,” has been the mantra but rarely the reality. I’m all for this pragmatic approach in evangelism and church planting. But is it so comfortable to stay tribal that we fail to mature? And are not mono-tribal communities so sterile? 

My experience has been that over time they breed envy. When we are so like each other in socio/generational/cultural terms we focus on what others in our tribe have that we don’t have. But my richest experience of local church life has been when the tribes have reached across the divides, gone the extra mile and shared each other’s recipes. When we focus on creating poly-tribal communities there is no end of mutual engagement, learning, sharing of our differences in our diversity/unity in Christ.

How can we do this when the wider communities we live in are so mono-tribal? There’s no easy answer to this. It should never be an excuse because we chose that community. Scratch the surface and there may be more diversity than we think. At least asking that question may get the conversation going.

Does it sound too much like too much hard work? Rather, let’s just wait for heaven, when together with brothers and sisters from every tribe and tongue, shape and shade, culinary and cultural nuance will be singing and sharing and eating and laughing at the great banquet table of the Lamb.

But if that’s going to be so good, so perfect, so worthy, so glorious, why not capture a taste of it now? Wouldn’t such an experience be worth all the preparation and hard work?

Let’s defrost the saints and set their hearts on fire with the other for the other six days, with the other six gifts and to reach the other six tribes.

David Mansfield is the director of the Archbishop of Sydney's Anglican Aid.

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