People describe the Christian faith as a “personal relationship with Jesus.” But in the church, how have we gone about encouraging and developing that relationship with Christ? Sadly, our church services, classes, and programs rarely pursue that relationship like, well, like people would pursue a real relationship.
It’s not for lack of good intentions. At some point, years ago, we somehow got the idea that the church is in the information business. The God information business. We knew a lot of good information about God, and we felt compelled to share that good information with other people. So, we looked around and asked ourselves, “How do information-keepers disseminate information?” Well, for mathematics, literature, history, and other academic subjects, people set up classrooms and have “school.” The teacher with all the information stands in front, lectures, and recites information. Pupils sit quietly and passively while the teacher goes through his or her lesson plan. Seeing this model of information dissemination, the church began to follow and imitate the tactics of the academic world.
The academic mold even drives church architecture. We place seats in neat rows facing the front of the room. Elevated platforms accentuate the focal point, the prominence, and the power of the lecturer.
We’ve bought into the idea that the church’s job is to dispense God information. Our “professors” go to Bible school and seminary to accumulate the facts. They, the professional God tellers, then return to their towns to preside over classrooms of silent students.
The trouble is, faith is not an academic subject. Our faith is a real, living relationship. I touch on this point more in my book ‘Why Nobody Wants To Go To Church Anymore’.
Joani and I have been married for 30 years. Our bond is not an academic subject. Our relationship did not develop through a series of academic classes. Had that been the case, our relationship would’ve been dead on arrival. Had one of us stood and lectured, while the other passively listened, our love could never have grown. Had one of us handed out little worksheets to fill in while the other spoke, our dating life would have crashed at Date #1.
Our relationship is not built on mastering loads of historical facts and bits of information about each other. In fact, to this day, we still can’t do a great job of keeping each other’s relatives straight. Our love is not built on an academic historical exercise. It’s developed and deepened through an ongoing series of shared experiences, rich and honest conversation, and working through the thick and thin of real life together.
So, we must ask, what is the Christian faith more like: an academic exercise or a living, loving relationship? What if we could fashion our church services and programs to be more like a living room of friends than like a stiff history class? What if church looked a lot more like it did 2,000 years ago?