Sunday morning a couple of years ago…
Sunday morning is here again. God, I wish it were Monday. I pull into the parking lot, and it’s quite full. Any normal person would have noticed that this particular morning was just beautiful — bright, sunny, and warm with a cool breeze. I wouldn’t have noticed if it was storming with pouring rain. We were going to church, and that’s all I could think of. I enter the double doors.
People are oddly cheery today. Maybe it’s the sunny weather or maybe they’re glad to be out of the rain. “Hi, how are you?” I’m asked. “Horrible. I can’t find a job, I’m thousands of dollars in debt and my wife is infertile,” I would like to have responded. But the few minutes we have before the worship service is not enough time to discuss the depth of my life, so I say what is expected of me, “I’m fine, thank you, and you?”
This transaction of empty greetings and queries should not bother me. It’s the cultural norm. We people are good at keeping things superficial. I’m okay with small talk for people I meet the first time or don’t know very well. But when the same people you see every Sunday start sounding like a broken record stuck on small talk, it starts to get a little annoying.
We go into the sanctuary to find seating. I like to sit towards the front. A couple of more greeting exchanges occur. “Hi, how are you?” “I’m fine, thank you, and you?” Sometimes people like to spice things up a bit and throw in some comment about the weather. “It’s a beautiful day out there,” I’m told. “Aren’t we under a flood watch?” The worship team starts the music. That’s the cue for people who are talking to withdraw from their conversations and focus on the stage. And that’s when I begin to question everything.
So here I am, probably at my 200th Sunday morning service, doing the same thing I did at my first Sunday morning service. Is this what worship is? The worship team is singing a popular tune I’ve been hearing on our local Christian station. After the singing comes the call for corporate greeting. This is where the congregation is told to greet one another — a two- to three-minute block of time for more “How are you’s?” and “I’m fine’s.”
What is the point of this? We can’t possibly connect with people in a matter of three minutes, especially when you need to greet every person near you, which is at least ten or more people. I’ve figured it out, though. If I stay within my row and greet only the people in the front and the back, I would have at most 20 people to greet. That leaves me nine seconds per person! And if I’m running out of time, all I need to do is cut down my greeting to a simple, “hello,” which will automate the same response back.
After the greeting there are some special announcements and a video clip. Then the offering. This is the part where church members are called on to tithe, i.e., donate a set percentage of their income to the organization so that it can pay its dues — salaries, utilities, mortgage, big screen TVs, ministry funds, etc. A basket is passed around to collect the monies. My wife and I decided to use our tithe to support organizations like Compassion International so I pass the basket on. I’m sure some of the dedicated tithers around me find that disagreeable.
Finally, the culmination of Sunday morning happenings has arrived — the sermon. By this point, I believe I’m not suppose to be here, not just at this particular place but any place like this anywhere. There is something missing here, something that is unsettling to my soul. Is God telling me something?
The pastor begins to speak. I need to make clear that I know the pastor personally. He’s a great guy and has a passion for God and the church like no other person. His sermons are not bad and I’m sure there are people who are inspired and challenged by his words. But it is not doing it for me today. I feel like I’m experiencing déjà vu for the 200th time. I’ve heard this sermon before. I’ve experienced this Sunday morning before. Why in the hell am I doing this again?
The sermon is over, the worship team performs their last song, everybody goes to lunch, and I leave yet again with disappointment, frustration, and relational emptiness. No inspiration. No challenges. No deeper relationships. No transformation. You enter as a busy individual, participate in a busy religious Sunday morning ritual, and leave as a busy individual.
We’re told that church is a meeting point for Christians to reconnect, encourage one another, and get energized to continue doing the work of God on earth. But on this beautiful Sunday morning, I learned that I am even more disconnected and discouraged than ever before and that my reason for participating in this ritual was not out love for Jesus or the Church but out of guilt. I need to stop this. It’s hurting my soul. Worse, it’s destroying my faith. But I can’t leave the church. Wouldn’t that be wrong?
Several months later, Sarah and I leave the church (church with a little c, that is). It turns out Sunday mornings are indeed beautiful, regardless of the weather.
Although this post might offend some regular church attendees who know me, please understand that what I’ve shared here is my experience and should not be taken personal.