In Australian society there are still over two-thirds of the population who believe in a God figure in one form or another. Yet, for the vast majority church has become superfluous to their every day lives. So why don’t people go to church? According to research done in the Australian Community Survey (1999), 42% of people said they don’t go to church because it is too boring or unfulfilling. Now, some might say that there is more to church than entertainment, but if we unpack that comment there is a critique on the way churches operate and present themselves that we would be wise to investigate.
At the same time that some churches are diminishing in size and influence, there has been a proliferation of worship experiences that are technologically and musically professional; aimed at the aged groups (under 50’s) that are traditionally missing from Australia’s big three dominations (Roman Catholic, Anglican and Uniting). Often the style of worship becomes the dividing line between age groups. What one group finds meaningful and fulfilling, the other finds either boring or superficial. It then becomes a struggle to cater for the needs of the large group of older church members, while at the same time creating a contemporary worship experience that connects with a younger demographic (which is essential to the longevity of the church).
Yet, even for those people who attend church, only 7% attend church on a weekly basis and 20% on a regular (e.g. monthly basis). Why is it that we struggle with having a regular commitment to a church community? I know that it is harder today with the wide variety of other commitments to fit in an every Sunday commitment, when sleeping in, having time with family or having time to do other jobs around the house falls to a Sunday because it is the only day left for rest and recreation amidst or busy week. We live in such a physically wealthy society, but we all seem to be time poor! We all have so many good things that we can do, that we all are faced with the problem of how to prioritise our time and, frankly, taking a few minutes a day for prayer and reflection or a few hours out for church on Sunday loses out.
Having spent the best part of the last 10 years studying, I know how easy it is to be weighed down by deadlines and stresses; the harder you push towards completion, the further away the finish line seems to get. My problem was when I did not take time to step back and gain a different perspective on my problems, the harder I pushed, the less I achieved. Now, this sounds like study techniques 101, but it is true about life as well.
Jesus had more stress on him than most of us realise. As a popular figure, he was sought after by so many people who had ulterior motives. Even his best friends were more concerned about what they could get than what they could give. So, Jesus had to take time to get away. He often went off by himself, even in the early hours of the morning, to pray and get refreshed from God. It seems a bit hard to imagine that God with skin on (the incarnate Jesus) would need to have time out. Yet Jesus needed time to be refreshed, to get God’s perspective on the day that had passed and the day that was to come. Jesus as a member of the Trinity needed to stay connected with the Father and the Spirit, he needed the relationship…he knew that this ultimate state of community was essential for his everyday life.
Like Jesus, we are made for relationships. Community is something that we all strive for. That’s why younger people today are so connected to their smart phones. It is through texting, facebook, twitter, skype, instagram and the like, that they can stay connected to their friends and peers. However, my concern with the proliferation of electronic gadgets and the busyness of our modern society, is that we are losing the face-to-face contact that most of us desire. This brings us back to the question of our priorities. We need to work to pay the bills and the mortgage, but the time commitment and stress commitment often has detrimental impacts on other areas of our lives. For those of us with families, then there is the wide variety of activities that we desire our children to be involved with, things like sport, music, dancing, scouts, play groups…not to mention the after hour commitments to school related activities. Our lives are so full that half the time we are rushing from one activity to the other, while the other half we are just too tired to do much more than just survive.
Then there is church. What is a church? It’s not a building, it’s not an organisation, it’s a community. Communities can form around special interests and the special interest for ‘churchie’ people – is Jesus. People who belong to a church community, of one form or another, have this in common – they believe in Jesus and have committed to following his example in word and action in the wide variety of activities and interests that make up their lives. One of the key concepts of church comes from the Greek word ekklesia which describes a community of people who are called out for a purpose. What greater purpose than to follow the example of Jesus?
Jesus took time out to spend time alone with God each day. He needed to be refreshed and to constantly regain God’s perspective. If it was good enough for Jesus, then for those who profess to be his followers, it should be good enough for us too! Jesus was also committed to his community (but not just his band of followers). He genuinely cared about the lack of wine at a wedding; the grieving parents with a dead child; the social outcast; the sick, the hungry and the dispossessed. Most importantly he saw no separation between the physical, emotional and spiritual needs of his society. His message of God’s love, forgiveness and reconciliation is good news for us – especially in the busyness of the 21st century.
To be a follower of Jesus challenges us to get a different perspective on life. To do this we need to follow through with our beliefs, to follow the example of Jesus and be committed to being a ‘Jesus’ type example in all the communities where we live our lives. However, this is impossible to do if we are disconnected from regular time with God and regular support and encouragement from others who are part of the church too. So, rather than become an optional extra in the list of many competing activities, being committed to having this ‘God time’ should be the focal point, that helps us keep every other thing in perspective and energises us to overcome all the challenges that our busy schedule throws our way.
It’s a challenging thought! But one that should not be dismissed lightly. Jesus shows the way…are you willing to follow his example?