Thursday, November 27, 2008
Eventism, Contemporary Christianity, Festival Life as a Means of Evangelism, and My Dilemma
I have been concerned about the state of Evangelical Christianity as an event based establishment for most of the 24 years I have been a pastor. I have written extensively about "Relational Christianity", as I have typically called it for the last 20 years, as a model of church life preferable to event based Christianity.
My thinking is this: As evangelicals we have understood that church is not a building. Most of us were smart enough to figure out that the frailties, banalities, and fallenness of humanity made it impossible for a corporate structure such as a denomination to be a definitive expression of "The Church," but somehow we still seem to describe church as an event.
Rather than something we are, church has become something we go to, and something we do. It is and event on a Sunday morning, or a series of events. It has become Eventism.
I still believe that this is true for much of Evangelical, Charismatic, and Pentecostal Christianity. I still believe that this is less than ideal, and sometimes detrimental to church life.
Despite viewing Eventism as detrimental to a holistic relationship with God, I am beginning to consider a new way of doing things - a way of doing things, which comes dangerously close to the very way of church life I have disliked for so long.
Here is my dilemma: I am looking at the nature of our culture, and the manner in which people gather. I see people running from event to event, and finding their source of fun, recreation, and renewal. This looks reminiscently like the fashion of spiritual gatherings in the Old Testament. There is no mention of church gatherings on Sunday mornings, and even the Sabbath was not set aside for sermons and worship singing, but rather for rest. Instead of church the people gathered in festivals throughout the year, and these festivals became the source of connection to the greater community of the faithful, and the center of Israel's religious life. Now the New Testament has a different spiritual feel. The people gathered daily at the temple in the first few chapters of Acts, and the first day of the week soon became a standard time of gathering for the followers of Christ.
The church I pastor is in the center of Salem, MA. 1 million people pass by our doors each year - most of them come in October during the Halloween based events. We have thousands who pass through our doors. They have a spiritual experience based upon a gracious attempt to relate to them caringly, and creatively, and then they head home to the various corners of the earth from which they came. We have crashed this festival Salem calls Haunted Happenings, and have created one of the best parties within the larger party in the whole city. This has allowed us to briefly pastor tens (if not hundreds) of thousands of people, even if only for a moment, over the last ten years.
I have wondered if we are in a new season lately. We have learned to crash the festival and create life changing experiences people want to be a part of. Could it be that it is time for us to create festivals, which people want to be a part of?
I have been part of a hundreds of Christian festivals over the 30 years of my following Jesus, but typically no one but church goers want to be a part of those festivals. Is it time for me to learn how to develop a festival, which the world wants to be a part of? Is it time to learn how to create the life-changing type of festivals like those of the feasts of Israel?
I think the answer is yes, and our location, and our mission as a church seem to say yes, but I tremble at the thought. Even as I tremble, I am attempting a couple festival type events as a means of pastoring the greater community of Salem (and beyond actually).
How this will contrast with, and perhaps create a struggle with my desire to break the habit of Eventism in the church is yet to be seen, but it is part of the adventure we are on at this time.
May God smile.