Dave Fitch posted Against Decaffeinated Belief: The Sunday Gathering as Missional almost two weeks ago now, and I’m finally sitting down to chew on it. I really have to sit down with Dr. Fitch one of these days over a pint of beer for some thought-stimulating conversation. I like what he’s on about in this post.
One of my D.Min students (at Northern) writes about the problem of decaffeinated belief in his thesis proposal. He says that many of his denomination’s pastors
…agree that a growing number of worshipers are talking or sitting through the congregational singing writing notes during the special music, showing up 10-15 minutes late, not worried about interrupting anything or anyone. One pastor shared that a congregant stopped attending worship opting to stay home and worship with a church on television. When asked about this, the congregant responded, “Why does it matter where I watch the service?”
Decaffeinated forms of church are presumed void of their power, their essence… they promise a boost but don’t deliver. This is quite an indictment on the consumer-church mentality that has been increasingly pervasive in Western Christianity over the past few decades. Technology has probably made this worse. Where once the megachurch might broadcast the weekly service in a television show, now the in vogue model is “multi-campus,” where the senior pastor preaches at the main site and the sermon is closed-circuit broadcast live to the other locations. Is it any wonder people are asking why not just watch from home? It really does beg the question of what the point of the Sunday morning meeting is.
And yet in his post, Dave Fitch begins to suggest that the Sunday meeting itself is not anti-missional… a very different tune than the one you hear in a lot of the missional versus attractional discussion taking place nowadays. Some have completely rejected the Sunday gathering, about which he writes,
I think this is a mistake. For the missional church communities require a regular practice for the shaping and forming of a people into the Life with God, the Mission of God. Missional people do not grow on trees. If then we would see people formed into the Missio Dei we must order our worship so as to be encountered by the living God. We must learn how to preach not as information but as proclamation and invite people into the Mission. The real presence at the Table must be the center of our gathering, our lives and our community. If we would see people formed into the Missio Dei, our gatherings must take on liturgical shape, a way of inviting people into the prayers, confessions and affirmations of the alive relationship we have with the living God of Mission. We must learn how to listen, interpret Scripture for what God is doing among us and in the world, hear God and then respond to God. This should be the character of our Sunday morning gatherings.
I like his suggestion of the liturgical form of worship for the corporate gathering. The liturgy in this context can be seen as an anchor to keep the gathering God-focused as it progresses to the Table rather than attempting to fill it with all manner of relevant-chasing ear candy. The suggestion represents a needful challenge for us who are engaged in rethinking the shape and format of church in the present days. Perhaps we’ll find a way to revive the old decaf into the high-octane brew we really need.