Sunday, February 19

Beyond the Walls of the Church

We live in a 24/7, on demand world. If we want something, we want it now. And, typically, we can get it now. If I want to talk to somebody, no matter where I am, I can pick up my cell phone and call their cell phone, no matter where they are. Or maybe I just fire off a quick text message. With cable's new "on demand" feature, I can watch tv shows or movies whenever I want to. I don't even have to wait for a starting time any more. After Christmas, I found myself a little frustrated because I could got to the mall after 9 p.m. anymore. In their song "I Want It All," Queen summed it up well. "I want it all, and I want it now." (Queen, "I Want It All," The Miracle, 1998). And with our technology and culture, whatever we want is usually available now.

This expectation is actually a problem for the church. For years, we have been trained that when we talk to people about Christ, or when we invite unchurched friends to some kind of outreach or activity, our goal is to get them to show up at church on a Sunday morning. Or even in our own lives, we often view church services as the primary source for encountering God.

The result is that we give the message that God is only available at certain, set times. This can be a major problem in a 24/7, on demand world. Pastor and author Steve Taylor talked about this very problem in The Out of Bounds Church. He wrote that he realized his church was giving the message that the only way to access spirituality at his church was to show up to a Sunday morning service. They were essentially saying "the best way to get more spirituality was to visit our shop. But good luck in catching us, because we are actually open only one hour each week." (Steve Taylor, The Out of Bounds Church, Grand Rapids, Mi: Zondervan, 2005, p. 95.)

It doesn't have to be that way. The Truth is that God is accessible every minute of every day, no matter where you are. He is the ultimate example of "on demand." He never closes, never sleeps, never goes anywhere, and never is in the middle of a hole in his cell phone coverage.

The problem is that many people don't know how to experience God anywhere other than church. The question becomes, where do I go? How do I set the mood? What do I do? The truth is, you can find all kinds of resources, all kinds of ways to actually experience God right here on the internet. Check out the links section, over on the right. There are a number of interesting places you can go, and I'm adding more all the time. Let me highlight a couple.

Check out the Labyrinth at The Labyrinth is designed as an experiential way for you to pray and meditate on Christ. It's an online version of a prayer labyrinth, where you will find a number of rooms. In each room you will find music, visuals you can manipulate, and a voice giving you ideas to think about, and direction for prayer and meditation. It covers the spectrum from preparation to confession to building your relationship with God to touching the world.

I also recommend the Church of Fools. This is an actual church that you can visit any time you want. There is artwork for contemplation, music suitable for meditation or prayer, a pipe organ that will play hymns you can sing along to (the words even appear on the screen, in case you don't know the lyrics), and you can even type your prayers and watch them float toward heaven.

In our world, in our culture, we have to show the world that God is accessible to them when they are looking for Him, not just for an hour and a half on Sunday mornings or Tuesday nights. Enjoy these resources. Use them to experience God when you're looking for Him.


lpangelrob said...

The key is to get all of the convenience of the 24/7 on-demand world without all of the shallowness of the responses. Accessibility is important, but not without the depth of thought that generally goes into all levels of spirituality. (See: Muhammad cartoons for a prime example of riots spread via text message and email).

How you do that? Now, that's an interesting question.

Tim Gleason said...

Very good question. I think one aspect of the answer is providing content need to make sure that the content has depth. What I post o this site has to have some spiritual depth to it. At the same time, I (or anyone else working on this site) doesn't have to be the sole creator of that depth. If there are good resources out there, we should use them. On the internet, that's easy - all we have to do is to provide a link.

Sometimes, this second part - linking to the resources of others - is a problem for the people leading some ministries or churches, because when you link to someone on the outside, you are giving up control over the message. There is always the possibility that the leader of a ministry doesn't agree with everything being said or done by another ministry. There's also the possibility that if I send you somewhere else for one thing, you might stay there for everything.

That attitude ignores the "pick and mix" nature of postmodern culture. Today's young adults are used to selecting and adapting things from lots of different sources into their lives. Spirituality is no different. If we don't provide options, seekers are going to go looking for them someplace else.

The downside to having depth of content is the time factor. It takes time to write posts that contain some depth. It takes time to explore and find worthwhile resources and experiences online to link to. But it's time that needs to be spend in our postmodern culture. If we don't, there's a big piece of the puzzle that is going to be missing.