This past Sunday I had off. As a pastor, this is rare. I had considered what I would do on Sunday – mostly debating where I would be worshiping. But then a field hockey tournament was in the works for one of my daughters. It happened to be on Sunday morning. And so I decided to take her to the tournament. I would get to see her play and I needed a rest from the routine for a Sunday.
I didn’t expect to have a religious experience at a field hockey tournament, but that’s one way to describe it.
Let me set the stage for you. It was rainy, windy, and not warm at all. We left at 7:30am to make the one hour trip down to the tournament. My daughter would be playing in four 25 minute games throughout the morning.
Given these circumstances, I was wishing that I had been in worship.
But then we arrived at the event. And I saw the multitudes there. They were dressed in a variety of outfits – some in jeans and boots and winter coats. Some in shorts and rain ponchos. All with umbrellas. Parents as far as the eye could see – hundreds of people. They were all there, waiting, watching, cheering. And getting wet.
As I looked around, I couldn’t help but think about the fact that here were hundreds of people who went out of their way to get up early, drive a good distance, stand in the rain and wind, and be there for multiple hours. All without complaint. There was swag to buy – on top of the fee we all paid to have our daughters play in the tournament.
I thought about this in relation to church. Would these same people get up early on a Sunday, drive a good distance to get to church, sit through a long service (or heaven forbid, a long sermon), and put their hard earned money in the offering? What was different about the field hockey tournament from church?
Here’s what I concluded – if church wants to be concerned with drawing more people in, we could change church to be more like an sports tournament. We could also make it more of an entertainment experience. In some ways, sports and entertainment are the same thing.
We could give people something to cheer for and against. We could focus on the us versus them aspect of religion. We could have refs to yell at. We could have swag for people to buy to show their support for their religion.
We could do all that in an effort to get more butts in the seats and more money in the offering. We could and I venture to say that there are some who actually try to do these things.
But a church isn’t a sporting event or an entertainment experience. Nor should it be. Thank God for that.
When church is focused primarily on filling the pews or how we are doing financially, we have forgotten what we are about and what our measure of success is.
We aren’t called to fill the pews. There’s nothing wrong with filling the pews. My hope is that more people will hear the Good News of Jesus, so I certainly hope for more people in the pews. However…
We aren’t called to fill the pews like a sporting event or entertainment experience where people passively watch, or at most they yell or cheer at what is going on – never really being a true part of the sport or entertainment, but always just watching.
We aren’t called to fill the pews with passiveness.
We are called to make disciples. Discipleship is costly – far more than a tournament fee and some swag. Discipleship takes way more time – far more than an hour drive one way to an event. Discipleship causes us to go through storms – far more than rain, wind, and cold, rather the storms of our own life and the lives of our community of faith.
Discipleship isn’t passive. It’s very active. It calls on us to take what we learn in worship and use it in the world. We are invited to take what we experience and hear in worship and use it as part of the unfolding of the kingdom of God in our midst. Discipleship isn’t about a set time period or location. It is a way of life. Discipleship isn’t about us versus them – it’s about loving everyone. Especially the people who will not reciprocate our love.
Discipleship often isn’t about drawing in large crowds either. It is building relationships and sharing lives. It is building community.