Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Buffet-style Christianity?

In church life, few things are more interesting than the carry-in, potluck community dinner.  More often than not, I find a new favorite dish this way -- and I'm assured of coming away with an interesting discovery, good or bad.  I've never been a picky eater, and I like trying new things, so the potluck dinners are right up my alley.  There is also something special about bringing a dish to a community table and bonding around a shared meal.  It has been said that the potluck dinner might be an additional sacrament of the church, and I think I might agree.

Most of what's great about a potluck dinner does not hold true for buffet style restaurants.  Though
this may challenge the stereotype of all of us native midwesterners, I confess to not being a fan of buffet style restaurants.  Most such establishments try to be all things to all people; the bragging points of the typical buffet restaurant almost always revolve around sheer size.  Invariably, buffets have poor imitations of many of their most exotic food choices.  And when I finally find one really notable item?  Its old and cold.  While the quality of the food at buffets consistently disappoints, we still end up over-eating anyway (or is that just me?).  Kind of a lose/lose proposition, no?

I've begun to wonder if local churches do not fall into the "buffet" trap.  Volumes have been written regarding the false notion equating greater size and success in the life of the church, so I'm not even going to bother to go there.  However, it is not only in size that we find some unfortunately similarities.  Even regarding identity, it is tempting to seek buffet-type attributes in our local faith communities.  

We attempt to be all things to all people, all the time.  We want to be a part of every new ministry fad.  We need every new small group and out-reach ministry.  We need every type of children's or family ministry.  We need to be on the cutting edge in worship style, even while we consistently honor all of our traditional worship traditions.  Most churches who try to do it all give a pale imitation of each, at best.  At worst?  Our attempt at "ministry buffet" causes us to lose our way entirely.

Far too often in church life, we equate being busy with being successful.  Much like the imitation crabmeat on a buffet, we accept a less than authentic call to seek justice.  Our instant banana pudding is our willingness to ignore quiet calls for help and mercy in our community because they don't fit our calendar or resource plan.  Instead of being satisfied with walking humbly with our God, we chase after the most recent theologically-flawed programing fad like stale, greasy tacos.

For a few years I taught an introductory course on missional church.  One of the challenges in teaching the course was to convince students that being missional isn't as much about "doing" as "being."  Our faith communities should seek to live a call from God to live the gospel together, not do as much as possible.  We can ask questions like, "What are the 2 or 3 most real needs in our community and neighborhoods?", "Where can we make the most difference?", and "What are passions of our people?"  These are the types of questions which help us discover our call and identity as missional congregations.  

When we seek to do every conceivable ministry, rather than that which fits the unique context, identity, and vision I believe God gives every church, we become too much like our buffet restaurant cousins.  And buffet-style Christianity is just as unhealthy.