by Brock Benson
Orientation. How many people hate the concept? I know it was not particularly one of the highlight experiences I enjoyed as I attended Student Orientation at Seminary. Probably because there is so many images of wasted time and space taken up through hours on end of sitting through meetings and assemblies in which I didn’t feel were of much immediate value. I know in the long run they were a necessary evil if you will but overall I would guess there are not a lot of us who look forward to orientations. Whether its orientation for the new school we are attending, a new job, or some kind of other training, there are not a lot of us that get super hyped about a good orientation seminar. And if you do happen to be one of the ones who do get hyped for an orientation please let me know your secret.
Even though I may have a lack of desire for orientations I do see the general purpose for why they exist. Whether it’s a company with its employee’s or a school with its students, the idea of an orientation and the purpose for having one is to help those in attendance understand what it means to “orient” themselves around what they are getting ready to enter into. For the student who needs to know how the campus is laid out, what the schedule is for certain course offerings, or the employee who needs to know the rhythm and reasons for the company policies and procedures, there are multiple reasons why orientations are good things for schools and places of commerce. They help the ones who attend get adjusted and familiarize themselves around the experiences they are getting ready to enter into. A recent question I have been struggling through is why don’t more people “orient” themselves around the life of the church, her activities, programs, events etc.? It just honestly frustrates me every time I think about why more people aren’t doing that. To me it makes perfect sense because I was raised in the home of a pastor and as you can imagine our lives were “oriented” around the church and her calendar. And to be fair there was so much God taught me and is still teaching me through the experience of being raised in a pastor’s home now that I’m a pastor. But as I lead a flock of my own now there are things I’m starting to ask about long term church strategy I’ve never quite asked or wondered before. Quite honestly it feels as if recently God’s showing me my question about why more people aren’t “orienting” themselves to the church may not be the right question.
To bring a little bit more continuity to what I am trying to express let me digress just a moment on church strategy. In many of the ministries I have been around in my short amount of life I would say the majority of them employ a similar type of strategy. Meaning each church had similar programs, events, and calendars. Some of them obviously had bigger budgets so the programs, events and calendar’s may have been a bit better or fuller but overall they looked the same from my limited vantage point. And again my opinion was it seemed to me like the strategy as it was seen through the calendar was so those churches could orient themselves, their schedules, and overall their lives to the things the church was doing or putting on. After all we have to stay active as church for our membership right? Now here is the catch if you will. Most of the time church leadership gets depressed, upset, frustrated or a litany of other emotions when they plan things and only “the few and the faithful” attend them. Inevitably time and time again unhealthy judgment begins to take place and metaphorical stones begin to get tossed by the F&F crowd towards everyone else who isn’t in their crowd. I know because I’m a long standing member of the F&F crowd who has thrown his fair share of stones. After the stones are tossed is it any wonder that those who are bruised, beaten, and hurt end up limping away to find help elsewhere? Thus the cycle of church splits, church hopping and overall frustration continue to manifest themselves…. This struggle I believe is highlighted in a greater detail in the smaller church world like I serve in. So what gives? Why the continued mess and heartache?
Look before I go any further I am not claiming to have the answer but I believe God has shed some light into my heart with maybe just a bit of why this is such a struggle and maybe some suggestions for myself and others in similar positions like I find myself in. Last Thursday I was invited to attend a luncheon for Church Planters where the guest speaker, Nick Lappara, spoke on the topic of vocation in the Biblical story. The talk was incredible! One of the big takeaways I walked away with was until we see our vocations tied directly into and with the Missio Dei (mission of God) our struggle with the sacred/secular divide which is so common within my heart and everyone’s heart will continue. To put it more simply we live with the constant nagging that there is this divide between my Sunday/Church life self and my “natural/normal” life and desires….. And the historical church honestly hasn’t done a great job at helping her parishioners work through this angst. (We should be helping people see there isn’t such a divide when you trust in the gospel. People must see God works through our desires and makes them glorifying to him.)
Upon further meditation of this talk it occurred to me the same struggle is attacking the church through how she implements strategy and the calendar. In a completely different talk a few weeks prior I was watching Perry Noble, a well known Pastor in South Carolina comment on church strategy as a whole and how the common church calendars didn’t really reflect the Missio Dei well. And I am not quoting him verbatim but in a sense he said with the typical church set up of Tuesday night visitation, Wednesday night Bible study, Friday night softball, and Sunday morning and Sunday evening worship and the often Saturday seminar/Bible study, when are we giving people the opportunity to be authentically and organically around lost people within their community? Pragmatically it’s hard for that to happen if in all of their free time they are at the church doing something….. I am not trying to bash church programs, events, or anything else because everything has its place and purpose. My genuine hope is to start a conversation about what it means for a church to structure her strategy more upon the missio Die and less upon her calendar.
I don’t know what this means completely but I do know I’m tired and frustrated in trying to convince people to be a good Christian one must “orient” their life around the church and her calendar happenings. Honestly I am very guilty of calling and leading people to be more involved with our events than I am the gospel and our God. I don’t believe the former approach and strategy is working and I don’t believe it’s Biblically faithful within the dispensation we find ourselves in.
As we consider the Biblical account, it’s important to recognize Israel lived in a theocracy of sorts. There was no divide in the church and state when they worshipped and followed God. Today we live in a time period where this separation exists. I’m not a political advocate of this separated system because it’s not God’s system. And one day God’s system will be back in order according to Revelation 21. But for now it’s my calling to try and lead and live in such a way that embraces the missio Dei within the dispensation I’m in. Theologically I believe in the distinction of Israel and the Church. The church hasn’t replaced Israel. Yet for the first time I’ve kind of come to realize unknowingly I adopted a strategy of church life and ministry which acts and advocates as if the church does replace Israel and as such everything in life must now be oriented around what the church does. Jesus told us to be in the world but not of the world. Jesus set in motion a different strategy within our dispensation by the ministry he exhibited and the mission he left us with. Did Jesus and his followers attend the temple and practice Judaism? Yes! – teaching us that there is a purpose to gathering for worship. But he also did something more in the gospel. He showed us the gospel starts in the temple but goes beyond it too. How can the church teach people to orient themselves around God’s mission more faithfully and less on her calendar?
Perhaps I’m creating a false dichotomy. Or maybe I’m identifying one that’s just really uncomfortable to talk about amongst church leadership. We all struggle because of sin to not make up and have church agendas, goals and calendars that are self serving in some way. And often times the churches we lead will drift into having agenda’s and missions that are more about us then about God’s mission. I remember Matt Chandler telling a story in a message about a professor who said something pretty sobering. The professor said something to the effect of as a Pastor you will find that what you hate about your church is what you hate about yourself spiritually. Not sure how that really applies here other than to point out that no church and no calendar is perfect because the people who lead them aren’t perfect. Therefore it’s right and good to overall ask ourselves what are we calling people to “orient” themselves to? Our church or our God?