Monday, May 24, 2010

The God of the Mundane: Part 6, The Mundane Church

There was not a lot of work involved in my initial thinking about the idea of a Mundane Church. The idea was already working on me. While not entirely sure where it came from, I am certain part of it had to do with my leaving a very traditional PCA church and then being part of a suburban baptist church in the midwest. The change was jolting. But it took awhile for me to see the effect it was having on me. The change from experiencing virtually the same thing week in and week out to having something new and different every week was difficult in ways I could never have imagined. It would be nice if I could tell you a better reason for thinking about these things, you know like...I have studied trends and history and this is what I came up with. But that is not the case. While the reality may be that I have formed the ideas of the Mundane Church around my own history, it does not feel that way. It feels as if I was being formed by the idea of the Mundane Church.

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Last week I told a friend of mine I was working on this post but I needed to put more work into it because it sounded combative. Let me be the first to admit how I have failed at this miserably. Regardless of how much I edit, this post has a combative edge. But I also must admit a great deal of the battle is with myself. My own desire for a "worship experience" and to create one as a pastor for others to be wowed by is not foreign to me. There is a daily combat I am engaged in when I think about what believers need and what I want them to see me do.
I cannot be alone. Surely there are others feeling the pull of a culture that wants everything to be big and full of awesomeness. And yet at the same time wants a church that is not trying to be awesome, just faithful. Similarly, is there anyone else who wants to watch a movie full of explosions and mad-wicked effects and then half-way through the flick, you long for a film of substance - of the BBC Masterpiece Theater type, full of great dialogue and a script thick with reality? Maybe it's the tug of the world that was and the pull of the world that is. Have you ever looked forward to a worship experience only to find yourself in the midst of it yearning for something which in comparison could only be called "mundane?"

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Who wants to go to a Mundane Church? The Mundane Church is not ever original. And never could be called cutting edge. You won't see it running after fads. Caring nothing for the entertainment zeitgeist, it is tragically low-key. It will not borrow from the business world. It places its hope in the preaching and teaching of the Scriptures, the administration of the sacraments and the relationships of those who are a part. It is not a slave to the calendar. The Mundane Church yawns in the face of programs and special events (which have ceased to be special because they are ever-present). It believes every gathering for the worship of God and his Son in the power of the Spirit is of immense importance. And yet the Mundane Church is not merely a gathering but a scattering of those who work and play and eat and drink and have sex and watch TV and give and buy and laugh and cry and serve and fail and triumph with the Spirit's help. The Mundane Church is anonymous and therefore thought of as failing. Week-in and week-out it does the same old thing it did last week. The Mundane Church will not attract the press or those who are looking for the next big thing. At the Mundane Church, there is God and Jesus and those who need them - empowered by the Holy Spirit.
There may be nothing more extreme than a mundane church. Radical because it stands athwart the tide of the day where celebrity is needed, encouraged and invested in. Crazy because it has said 'no' to the prevailing wisdom of the day which looks sideways upon those who are not 'with it.' Progressive because it serves in quiet confidence knowing there is no need to blow the social media shofar for every single. thing. it. does. Where does the quiet confidence come from? It comes from knowing it is doing what it has been called to do...testify to the glory of the gospel of King Jesus and his gracious reign.

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I have a theory. What if our lack of desire for a Mundane Church is in proportion to our lack of desire to think about the mundane parts of our lives in light of the gospel. In other words, against the backdrop of concert-like worship experiences it is hard to see the spiritual significance of sweeping up the dried mac-cheese your 4 year old cast aside the night before and counting your drawer when the bank closes. Instead, the rock-hard mac and cheese gets in the way of doing really spiritual things like reading books by the latest and greatest...or even a blog post by a fairly obscure pastor in Alabama. And now that the bank drawer counting is out of the way the Christian life can be got on with. It is easy to think about Jesus and his grace and his love and care and our need for him when you are singing the newest and greatest worship song. But perhaps if our services were a little more mundane, the digging of the months-old french fries out of the seats of your mini van could stand tall in the pantheon of spiritual exercises. I wonder if our worship services have primed our spiritual pumps and we can now no longer look into the daily details of our lives and find anything but boredom.
We have it backwards. We think the concert-like worship services fit in well with our lives because we are used to that kind of music...the cds are sitting in our car right now. But the fact is our lives are so full of mundane moments, hours and days that are nothing like the euphoric time on Sunday morning, we cannot even imagine those mundane moments as significant. And I know, we cannot ever imagine those mundane churches as significant.
Even more, what if we stopped living as if worship was significant because of what we felt but instead because of Whom we worship. You see, we place the energy in the extremity of our emotions and call it "awesome." When all along there is God, awesome and holy and sovereign over every single thing. Which makes not only our worship services significant but everything else also. And the everything else is the reason for worship.

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The argument for "relevance" makes sense to me. Mainly because I have wielded it like a weapon of violence on the innocent. But also because I think it is mostly right. I mean, we all want our worship services to be understandable to some degree. But see, again here is the thing, what if we have the relevance argument backwards? What if relevance was not under the tyranny of the moment? What if we took a long view of relevance assuming that some things (most things?) of significance have their significance hidden from us for a season. Or a generation.
We live in a world rife with the immediate. And the church has co-opted liberally. We cannot even imagine a philosophy of ministry where the preached word does not have to excite anyone as it is being preached. We should be glad if it does! But sometimes we are not moved for days, weeks, months and years. And usually this is the case when tragedy strikes or failure breaks in on us without warning. Then what we once heard or heard every week finally dawns on us breaking into the dark night of the soul.
But this kind of thinking is foreign to the church that is running from anything that reeks of the mundane at break-neck speed. Thus the blazing guitars, the lights, the branding, and the inevitable provocative sermon series on sex.
This is not to say you must expect music ripped out of the 17th century and a sermon full of the King's English. But you can expect those who are looking for a tremendous worship experience to possibly be bored to tears. The Mundane Church looks for the power to reside in the ordinary means of grace and not in explosive events, life-changing 6 week series and once in a lifetime experiences.

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Eugene Peterson says, "The enemy of the church we want is the enemy of the church we have." I agree, though my agreement is like a freshly opened bottle of wine. Fragrant. pleasing to the eye. Eager. But not yet ready to pour.
Perhaps what would be helpful as we think about the Mundane Church is for us to see all the elements and thoughts above as possibly occurring anywhere. Some here and some there. Never all in one place. The challenge then is to look for them where you are and be comfortable with them. Be comfortable with the mundane in the midst of an ecclesiastical world yearning for another big bang. Be very comfortable with pastors who think locally and act locally and minister locally. And never speak at conferences. Look for the mundane and be thankful that right there, there are bits of your church which have not yet succumbed to what might be ridiculously called "exciting."

20 comments:

Johnny! said...

Ain't nothin' more mundane than leaven working through a lump.

Ed Eubanks said...

Nice post, Matt. I think you're on the right track.

It sounds like what you're looking for is generally what is found in the historic liturgies of the church. (I don't know if that's a direction you've explored at all; if not, may I recommend that you look at Hughes Oliphant Old's Worship: Reformed according to Scripture and/or Jeffrey Meyers's The Lord's Service?) These liturgies offer essentially what you say: the same pattern of worship week by week, with little or no variation of the pattern based on calendar, etc.

In my view, these are useful and ministering over the long-term precisely because they are, in your words, mundane (by that I take it you mean they are plain and "routine"-- not earthy and worldly, right?) Anyone who has beheld (as I have) someone who is asked to pray in public stammering and eventually offering a thanksgiving for the food (when there is no food) will realize the power of liturgy. It becomes a pattern of instinct. (I wrote a longer post on the value of liturgy on my blog.)

The key thing to realize, though, is that in the consistency of the pattern there is great, great room for variety and even innovation. That 18th Century Bach piece was once a new pop tune. I was just listening to a Kyrie Eleison by John Rutter, written in the last 15 years or so; it is so different from a Bach, yet it would fit perfectly in a liturgy that included the Kyrie.

There should always been new prayers written (yes, written), new songs and hymns composed, new sermons preached-- and all of these should be interjected and introduced into the classic liturgies, as a means of keeping worship "relevant".

I'd like to see you pen more thoughts about where this is taking you.

Johnny! said...

Rereading. I love this post, Matt. As always, I blame Finney.

Have you read The Anxious Bench by John Nevin? He was arguing for the mundane cathechism against the revivalism of the so-called Second Great Awakening. He was already dealing with these same issues in seed form.

Matt Redmond said...

Johnny,

Thanks! I have been enjoying related blog posts as well. They have been very helpful.

I have heard of Nevin's book but have never read it. I'm going to add it to my least. Between you and your wife, my list is growing fast.

Dawn E said...

"When the music fades all is stripped away, and I simply come" ~that other guy :)

I think it is less about what you see and more about truth. That mundane church we share in common was built on truth. That is what we long for. When the pomp and circumstance overshadows the substance...well, our hearts long for the substance, the real. I was so excited to attend a church with "my kind of worship music" when we arrived in our new town. I was quite surprised as I sat there in the concert-like surroundings that the thing I craved most was that mundane church of which you speak. However, the church I currently attend also has loud music and a band, but the difference is it's not about them, but all about Him. Many people are talented and able to perform but few are gifted with being a lead worshiper--to coin a phrase by Louie Giglio. I know this is not exactly what you are talking about...but my ramblings upon reading your post. I think the important thing as a pastor team is to resist the temptation for the next big thing and seek hard after the heart of God. He is the truth we seek, and pursuit of Him on the part of all pastors comes across to those of us in the pews regardless of style.

Sonic Forte said...

Concerning relevance, 1 Corinthians 14:23-26, though in the context of orderly worship, is rather about the mundane functioning of a church body. Our primary goal among other Christians is to encourage and uplift each other by the power of the Holy Spirit:

"If, therefore, the whole church comes together and all speak in tongues, and outsiders or unbelievers enter, will they not say that you are out of your minds? But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or outsider enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all,the secrets of his heart are disclosed, and so, falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you.


What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up."

This should be the baseline goal of all gatherings. If what we construct as grandiose worship is there to edify ourselves, then it misses the mark. If it edifies the church to follow Christ, then it hits the mark, regardless of whether our culture finds it be mundane, or cutting edge.

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I just like your thoughts and your blog so much!

Matt Redmond said...

Thanks Stephy! I really appreciate that.

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