This is the question I’ve been asking recently: Is it possible that we hold the church experience too high? Was the last one SO GOOD that all the rest don’t hold up? Do we really compare and contrast the Church Experience to the degree that one is the baseline and nothing else stands up? That’s what girls are supposed to say about boys, right? “He’ll never be what _______ was.” Or, maybe that’s what we say when we compare professors within a department, or managers within a company or artists singing the same tune? Probably though, not what a Christian is supposed to say about church.
If we are honest, isn’t this exactly what happens?
When I was growing up church was quiet. Sitting still and staying awake were required. Attendance was definitely not optional. Collared shirts and a skirt, also not optional. Old world hymns – songs with too many verses and a stale air of holiness filled in the gaps between scripture readings and sermons. (Sorry, Aunts that sing and treasure the ancient musical genius of these songs. Bare with me, I think I have a point to make.) Church was not high school kid friendly and it was downright boring. Now, Church isn’t about being entertained, but stay with me…
One Sunday it all changed. Church was loud. There were drums, guitars, keyboards and there was no choir. Jeans were welcomed, and there was laughter and celebration and noise. And, it was incredible.
Oh, and there was Rob Bell.
Rob Bell used the Bible in a Sermon in a way that I’d never seen before. The first time I went to this church, I literally couldn’t turn the pages fast enough to keep up with the pace of the message. Now, I am a Christian school kid that won multiple Bible drills throughout the years. If you aren’t familiar with this game, it starts with the one and only Mr. Brian Houston’s Bible class. He stood with a room full of high school students seated at their desks with a closed Bible in front of them. Mr. Houston said a random Bible verse, and the first student to pick up the Bible and locate the verse won. Fun game, one-of-a-kind teacher! But, I digress…The structure and style of a Rob Bell sermon was unlike anything I’d experienced before. He started with one verse and quickly covered 3-8 more during one sermon. He tied them all together and he explained what the metaphors meant in Bible time culture. This gave us a reference point and allowed us to more accurately understand what the point was and why the emphasis meant what it did. This type of sermon required serious Bible Drill skills. It was a history, geography, philosophy and theology lesson all neatly wrapped up and delivered as one message. I loved it! Alternatively, sermons growing up had always been based around one verse, and that one verse was read from Scripture at the very beginning of the message and then the Bible was put away. Two distinct Sermon styles, indeed. I can only wonder what it would have been about grandpa’s sermon style that stuck out in memories…
Church with Rob Bell was an invigorating learning experience that bore no resemblance to the Church experience I had growing up. And, recently, I’ve wondered if those experiences are the reason that I haven’t found a church home in the years since. Okay, let’s be honest, I’ve worked nearly every Sunday for the last 5 years and that seriously puts a damper on finding a church.
If Church is about worship and growing closer to God, does the dress code matter? If spending time in a community of believers to dive deeper into a relationship with Christ is the purpose, does the style of music matter? If learning more about scripture is a reason to attend a weekly service, does the number of verses covered each week matter?
There is one other difference between the church of my childhood and Mars Hill Bible Church, and that is where they were located. Growing up we had a fancy sanctuary and the building was well cared for and remodeled every few years. It was nice! Mars Hill was in a rundown, abandoned shopping mall. Was church about the building or the people inside? Which building in the community will stand the test of time? Which one will the next generation see as the Best in Town – a bank? a school? a business? a church?(Thanks to my Aunt Ruth for this thought/comparison!) So much more about this specific topic later.
Churches vary as much as the faces of the community in which they stand and I think there is a church for everyone. I miss everything about Mars Hill Bible Church with Rob Bell (and, Aaron Niequist, the worship leader, but that’s a different post!) Maybe I haven’t found a new church because I haven’t looked or because I worked every Sunday. But, honestly, I think it’s because I compare every single one to my experiences at that other church.
Why is she writing about this now, you ask??
I found Drops Like Stars on youtube. It’s a two and a half hour live film of Rob talking about one of his new books. It was … awesome. Below is the quote that keeps coming to mind, and what my next post will likely try to wrestle with.
“What is it about suffering that creates a sort of solidarity that wealth, health and abundance..doesn’t?”
Thanks for reading today’s rambling thoughts and journeys through memory lane!