Recovering true church traditions
With declining attendance and aging populations, many churches have wondered what happened to those good ‘ole days when the pews were full, Sunday school classrooms were overrun with children and youth groups were vital energetic expressions of new faith. While some churches are enjoying these good ‘ole days now, others are wondering what happened to church life as we knew it.
When people invoke the word “tradition” in order to hold on to an element of church life, such as a style of music or a format for worship, we have to wonder which era of tradition they are clinging to. Is this the tradition of the 1970s, the 1950s or the 1930’s?
I believe that tradition is important, but we have to go all the way back to the beginning of the church, found in the book of Acts, to recover the true tradition. Those disciples who walked with Jesus had to learn how to live together in community and how to live out their mission to spread the word of Jesus and his healing love to the world. They didn’t borrow money to build fancy buildings or start new programs or argue about which kind of music was the “right” kind. Instead, they went out into the neighborhoods and started changing lives of the people they met.
Not everyone listened, so they shook the dust off their sandals and moved on to the next town. But they were people on the move. They shared their possessions in community so they could all be part of the mission to share the saving love of Jesus with people who would have been considered outsiders.
We need to return to the tradition of the early church. I believe that this can exist alongside our traditional churches, but only if we recover our true purpose in reaching out to others. John Wesley believed the way people became formed in their faith was as part of a small group of people that nurtured each other in their personal and social holiness. What if every person in every church formed a group of three or four people, regardless of whether or not they were affiliated with a church, and set out to have church outside the walls of the church using the traditional elements of worship?
Traditional elements are gathering, proclaiming the word, communion or response to the word and sending forth. Even a small group meeting in a coffee shop could have church this way. They would gather in fellowship, study and discuss a passage of Scripture, remember the love of Jesus in table fellowship and then be sent forth in an act that transforms the world. A knitting group could gather for these elements of worship and make prayer shawls to give to those who are sick. A men’s group could gather for this type of worship and then go rebuild homes damaged by the tornadoes. Young mothers could gather and be sent out to reach other young mothers and their children, inviting them all into this worship and table fellowship. These groups could meet in homes, coffee shops and walking trails and could reach those who are not walking into our church buildings.
As we become more absorbed into the screens of our televisions, cell phones and computers, we are hungry for face-to-face encounters and deeper spiritual engagement. We are hungry for an encounter with God. Take a moment today and pray for the ways that God can use you to spread this divine love.