Nashville, Tennessee has never been accused of having too few churches.
Here in the buckle of the Bible Belt, we come just about as close as I’ve ever seen to having a church house on every corner, and it’s not uncommon to grow up without ever so much as meeting a person of a different faith or no faith at all.
I think many would consider Nashville a “churched” culture.
And though I’ve not spent my whole life attending church services on a regular basis (having started in high school), I have always considered myself a “Christian”… if by nothing other than osmosis.
I suppose if there’s enough of it in the air somewhere, you eventually just catch it.
I’ve been learning, however, that not all flowers live near beehives, and not all creatures that live in the ocean have gills.
The older I get and the more people I meet, the more I learn how many people consider spirituality by osmosis a foreign concept. Either they lived too far from the swarm to have been pollinated, or, perhaps, they were just as deep in the ocean as I was, but needed to come up for air.
The fact-of-the-matter is… Well, it just came pretty easy for me, and I stuck with it.
I’ve always loved church since the first home Bible study I attended, to the first Fall retreat with a youth group, to my Christian college, to my first job in a church, and beyond… it’s been relatively easy for me to love.
I made a claim earlier that may not be entirely true… I do think I’ve heard at least one person accuse Nashville of not having enough churches.
Dave Clayton of Ethos Church has made mention of the fact that the majority of Nashvillians do not regularly attend church services. In spite of the number of churches per capita (arguably the highest percentage in the world), and the number of empty seats in each, even Nashville is falling short of truly being a “churched” culture.
Clearly not everything swimming in our little corner of the ocean has gills… because something ain’t stickin’.
A few conversations I’ve had over the past few months have reminded me just how odd a duck I am for sticking with church. You see, it’s always an interesting point in a conversation with a new person when they ask me what I do… I usually chuckle and say, “I am a middle school youth pastor.” (because people outside the Churches of Christ think the term “minister” is a little weird.) as I try to predict the many varied reactions that I may receive in return.
Some of the most popular responses are…
“Really!… Huh… ok.”
“Huh… So what do you, like… do?”
Although no one has ever been rude in their reaction, it has given me a great look at the way other members of our ocean view the church.
However, it was a recent reaction, one that I’ve received a handful of times, that really got me to thinking…
“Oh really!… You know, I’ve been looking for a church since I moved here, and just haven’t found one yet.”
‘You know… that’s funny, because I passed about forty-five of them on my way here.’
Have you ever thought about the number of people who may be knocking on churches’ doors, and just never find what they’re looking for?
Sure, some of those people might just be looking for a place to be anonymous, somewhere to send their kids to preschool, or a place to check a box on God’s ‘naughty and nice’ tally sheet (not that those are all bad if they eventually grow into bigger things, calm down, I’m making a point)… but what about the others?… the ones who are truly hungry to live a better story, whether they even realize it or not.
What are we feeding those people?
You know, dolphins and whales don’t necessarily want to leave the ocean, and I feel certain that even the loneliest flowers still hope a bee passes by so they can carry on their family name. But sometimes the water’s polluted, and I hear the bees are dying out.
The Church needs to take responsibility for the dissatisfaction of it’s visitors.
No, church isn’t McDonald’s, and the customer isn’t always right. But, the truth is, the Church isn’t always right either.
If people have genuinely grown tired of the false narratives of the world, then we need to be certain that the one we offer them as the community of the Living God is at least a little more interesting* [read: “transformative“].
If the Story of God as we present it is not life-altering, then what is it?
If the Story of God is not more than a way to get rich, popular, successful, or powerful, then what is it?
If the Story of God is not more than post-life insurance, then what is it?
Because it’s a lot easier for me to sit at home and eat Cheetos on the couch than it is to put on a nice shirt and go listen to some boring old man talk about the end times and make me feel bad about myself.
I believe that the Story of God is far greater than any of those false or incomplete narratives, because I worship a God that actually cares less about making bad people good than he does about making dead people alive.
Nashville may be teeming with church-goers, but I worry that it can sometimes be a struggle for the uninitiated to stumble upon disciples.
So… may we long to be disciples, not just church-goers, so that those travelers, weary of lesser stories, may find rest.
May bees never grow tired in their search for only the purest nectar, and may whales grow gills so that they may dive deeper than ever before.
May we all be better, and may we all live sweeter. May we all encounter a living God and walk away resurrected.
May we live all the days of our lives.