Why the Church is to Blame for What’s Wrong in the World

13 August, 2014 — 11 Comments
This is a guest post from Mark Pierson, author of The Art of Curating Worship: Reshaping the Role of Worship Leader. He has been a Baptist pastor for decades and is currently the Christian Commitments and Church Relations Manager at World Vision New ZealandLast month I critiqued singing in church services (Church music: a wicked sin? & Majority resort: church singing). In this post Mark introduces his definition of worship:

I’ve decided that the Christian Church is responsible for most of what is going wrong in our world. I’ve been thinking about it for a long time and it’s the only conclusion the evidence (admittedly all anecdotal) will let me arrive at.

Kid-on-Gaza-beach-Kashfi-Halford-with-Mark-Pierson-insert

In particular it’s the public corporate worship events that the Church offers week after week that are to blame. Church services. These are the events that we depend on for the spiritual formation of the Christians in every church community.

There is no other event that shapes followers of Jesus more than the weekly worship event. Been doing so for centuries. Following Jesus has always been worked out in community (give or take a few pole-sitters and desert-cave dwellers).

Worship events form people

Worship events (I will use the term to describe any public, corporate worship gathering regardless of style or theology) ALWAYS form people. From what I am observing happening in New Zealand and around the world lately, that formation is producing large numbers of so-called followers of Jesus who give no indication they have the faintest idea about what that means.

To act like Jesus

World Vision New Zealand recently sent out a call for a cease-fire in Gaza. It included words from the Kiwi Christian who heads up World Vision’s work in Jerusalem, and West Bank. (Note JERUSALEM and West Bank). The torrent of “hate mail” has been deeply disturbing to me. Christians withdrawing their support of children living in extreme poverty in other parts of the world because the supporter perceives WVNZ to be preferring suffering Palestinians rather than favouring “God’s chosen people”.

Veteran radio DJ and announcer Simon Barnett says the harshest criticism he has received in his career has been from Christians.

Rates of partner abuse are reported to be running at the same levels inside and outside the Church.

Responses like these convince me that the Church has been very successful in forming people through its worship, but sadly not forming people to think or act much like Jesus.

Desiring the Kingdom of God

In his solid but enlightening book Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation Jamie Smith aligns many worship events with consumerist trips to the shopping mall – providers of experiences that reinforce rather than challenge the dominant cultural values.

Worship events that claim to be Christian must be forming the hearts and desires of their community after the Kingdom of God. (Read that sentence again to save me repeating it.)

What is the Kingdom of God?

Our preparations for worship and preaching and prayer should be taken very seriously, much more seriously than currently in most churches. We need to be confident that everything we do and say in a worship event is working together to form people’s hearts and desires to align with the values of the coming Kingdom of God that Jesus modeled for us a few years back.

As I understand it, Christians and the Church (made up of churches) are called to model here and now what the Kingdom will be like when all of life is finally caught up and transformed as part of a new heaven and a new earth.

This Kingdom where there will be no bullying, no violence, no hatred, no abuse, no sickness, no poverty, no prejudice, no rape of people or the environment, no greed, no injustice, no unforgiveness.

This Kingdom that has been modeled and signposted by followers of Jesus living the best they can in the old unredeemed world.

What is worship?

Because we don’t take the design (curating) of our worship events seriously enough we get what we plan for. GIGO used to be a familiar term in computing – garbage in, garbage out.

To help me in my curating worship that is more deliberate about how it is forming worshippers I’ve developed a couple of basic definitions that I work from and measure my planning and curating against:

“The church exists to sustain people in their following of Christ in the world.”

Anything else is non-core business. Not wrong, but not essential.

“Worship is the practices of a people in response to the Trinitarian community of God, engaging heart, soul, mind and strength.”

If our worship events don’t equip people with practices to sustain their spirituality outside of Sunday mornings, we have failed them.

Mark unpacks these definitions in Chapter 2 of his book The Art of Curating Worship: Reshaping the Role of Worship Leader, which is available online through the Amazon Kindle Store for $9.99.  The James Smith book Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation is $12.24. Click on the covers below to purchase. 

     

Image: Kid on Gaza beach by Kashfi Halford on flickr.com, Creative Commons. Insert: Mark Pierson.

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  • Chris

    Thanks for a thoughtful post Mark. This needs wide distribution and discussion!

  • dalecampbell

    Dale Campbell likes this.

  • Dave

    Thanks Mark,
    Great post and I appreciate your candidness. It’s a pretty heavy call to say that the Christian Church is responsible for most of what is going wrong in our world. However, I assume you mean ‘responsible’ rather than ‘causative’, in that the Church has often failed to effectively model the Kingdom of God?
    I agree that the public corporate worship events that the Church offers week after week are to blame for much of this failure. You say that such worship events form people, however, I wonder if it goes both ways, in that, people also form worship events. That is, we get what we want, and what we want is delivered! The problem is, what Jesus modelled is pretty hard and therefore any worship event that delivers such may not go down too well. As Chesterton said, “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried”. Maybe the same is true for worship events.

    • Hi Dave – Mark has replied to your comment further up the comment feed (just in case you missed it)…

  • not a wild hera

    I could not agree more. Thank you Mark and Mike.

  • disqus_aUV4kk8nVj

    More food for thought, Mike – and Mark. Thanks for your thought provoking article but, Mike, could we perhaps have a bit more of the positive stuff that Christians do, or try to do? Or is a blog only supposed to focus on what’s wrong so readers are challenged. Kate

    • Hi Kate. I see what you mean about a lack of positive stuff on my blog – that’s partly to do with the nature of my research interest, which is to expose the nature and reality of current church and society connections from an outside-the-church perspective. However, I think you’ll appreciate what I plan for next week, which looks at some of the amazing good Christians do…

      I see this week’s guest post by Mark as very positive as he is encouraging engagement in the Kingdom of God, and he points us towards how that might be achieved: healthy worship.

      I look forward to seeing your comments after next weeks post!
      Mike

      • disqus_aUV4kk8nVj

        You won’t believe this, Mike! I just wrote the longest comment on your “positive” blog this week and when I tried to post it, I lost the lot!!! It’s a bit late now to try and do it again so I might have to try and re-do tomorrow – or I might even have to pass, depending on how busy my day becomes!! Sorry!!

        • Hi Kate – how frustrating! You’ve mentioned that happening before. I’m not sure what’s causing that. One thing you could do if you have a big comment to make, is type it up first in a new email message or document, and then ‘copy and paste’ it into the comment box (and then delete the email message or document once the comment has successfully been shared).
          Mike

          • disqus_aUV4kk8nVj

            Thanks, Mike! Yes, I have done that before and it’s nothing to do with your blog page – it’s just ME not knowing what I’m doing (especially when the clock’s telling me I should be in bed). I might have another go later ………… and haven’t checked the “positive” blog yet but I appeared to be the only one who’d commented late last night. Kate

  • mark pierson

    I am not sure in this context what the difference might be between “responsible” and “causative”. It would be easy to say that Putin, Hamas, Hitler and a very long list of others, are responsible for the messes in our world. But they don’t claim to be followers of Jesus; builders for the Kingdom of God. I do.

    We are all in the same boat of “humanity”, and all equally sinful. The difference is that I and 2 billion others claim to be followers of Jesus. If 2000 years of Jesus’ followers worshipping faithfully week by week and following Jesus in ways taught and modelled by those worship events has produced what we have in the world today then either we all got it very wrong and this Jesus thing isn’t what its cracked up to be, or we got it wrong in the ways we developed over time to educate and train and transform his followers. I’m sticking with the latter but understand why many go for the former.