Thursday, May 7, 2015


I think I agree with so much of what this Presbyterian is saying, although I think it does in fact apply to many Protestant denominations in particular. But Catholicism has tried to imitate Protestantism in many of the things that the Rev. Dannemiller seems to critique.  

The Church Is Not Your Home

An atheist walked into three churches last Sunday.

I know. Sounds like the beginning of a great joke. In fact, you could probably come up with an awesome punch line.

But it's no joke.

A recent Christian Today article tells the story of Sanderson Jones, the leader of Sunday Assembly -- also known as the "atheist church." Jones' mission was to attend three London church services in one day. But he wasn't there to debunk Christianity. No. In his words, he was just "learning from the pros."

Jones walked away with a great appreciation for communion and prayer. While he was not converted, he was most affected by the way in which churches welcomed him and gave him a sense of belonging.

I believe Jones experienced what every single one of our churches is trying to offer. We all want to do the work of Jesus by welcoming others like guests in our home. I've heard that phrase a lot lately as my own church seeks to reach the community in more meaningful ways.

Like guests in our home.

It's a wonderful analogy, isn't it? We roll out the red carpet for houseguests. We offer them our best food and drink. We break out the fine china. Heck, we even let them use the special towels that normally stay locked behind some sort of invisible force field in our bathrooms, never to be touched by an actual family member.

In this sense, Jones is absolutely right. Christians are pros at welcoming. If welcoming were an Olympic sport, churches would be Michael Phelps, only with coffee stations and tuna hot dish. But here's the problem:

I'm afraid the mindset behind our welcoming spirit might slowly, subtly be killing our church.

Don't get me wrong. I am not saying our churches should stop welcoming visitors. And I'm not saying church shouldn't feel like a place where you belong. What I am saying is that we need to stop viewing our churches as our homes. And here's the reason.

While I am very welcoming to my guests, I also see my home as mine. A possession. You probably do, too. And so I create rules and expectations to protect it. I'm kinda' particular about the grass. The mower lines should run diagonally. And the spoons should never "spoon" in the dishwasher. Kids should never eat in the living room. And I'm fairly certain that failure to use a coaster is acceptable grounds for divorce in 36 of the 50 states. These rules are our custom, and we're unlikely to adapt quickly.

When we do have parties for others, we relax these rules. We also vacuum the carpet, mop the floor, and scour the kitchen to make things bright and shiny for our guests. All the messy stuff stays behind closed doors or tucked away in closets, just waiting to pounce on someone who mistakenly thinks it's the entrance to the bathroom.

Finally, while those parties may be absolutely fantastic, I have to admit that they usually only happen on the weekends, and they are normally limited to friends of friends who we know will enjoy each other's company. But during the week, the house is largely empty, save for immediate family.
Sound familiar?

Our churches do amazing things. We go on mission trips. We sponsor charities. We bring the gospel to people desperately in need of a "good news" story. But the truth is, when we think of the church, we see it as ours. Like our home. A possession.

And it has to stop.

We have rules and traditions that start to take on a God-like quality in the way we worship them. Then we wonder why some see Christians as rigid and inflexible.

We primp and prime for the big party on Sunday and greet folks with big smiles, while hiding the messy realities of church life in the closet. Then we wonder why some see Christians as lacking authenticity.

We spend roughly 82 percent of our church budgets on staff and buildings that are only open a few hours per week, mostly for programs designed specifically for our members. Then we wonder why some see Christians as selfish.

When I work with congregations, I often ask the members what they love most about their church. And 9 times out of 10, the response is, "It's like a big family."

And every time I hear this, I cringe a little.

Again, please don't misunderstand me. Families are beautiful. My own family is incredibly welcoming. At the same time, we're also loud and boisterous and overwhelming. We have inside jokes and tired old stories. If you're spending Thanksgiving with us for the first time it can be downright exhausting. And exclusive. As an outsider, you are left to try and quickly understand decades of history and assimilate quickly.

And we ask our church guests to do the exact same thing.

We absolutely want them to be members of the family. We invite them warmly. But rather than meet them where they are, we ask them to meet us where we are. The result? Those who are drawn to us, and therefore drawn to Jesus, will be those who tend to worship like us, believe like us, and look like
 us. Threading the impossibly narrow eye of the needle.

And we wonder why church membership is declining.

But here's the good news. We need not take up such a heavy burden. Christ never asked us to own His church or His building. No. Man was simply the rock it was built upon. Consider the scriptures:
The Earth is the Lord's and everything in it. The world and all its people belong to him. (Psalm 24:1 NIV)
We are here to support God's creation. As stewards. And it's time we recapture that call. As church leaders, we must begin to see ourselves as caretakers of sacred ground rather than owners of a house.
Because the church is not our home. We do not possess it. We shouldn't try to tame it any more than we should try and reign in nature. Consider the parks where gates are wide and all are welcome. This is what our churches should be. Open to all at any time. Some people come to work. Others come for recreation. Still more come to rest.

The caretakers of such spaces don't care why you are there. They only want to assure that, no matter the reason you have come, you will feel the beauty and magnificence of Our Creator. They also hope the beauty you experience will be so real, so palpable, that you have no choice but to share the experience with others. Like vacation photos of the Grand Canyon that never quite do it justice.

There are glimpses of this in our own communities. Some churches operate food pantries. Others have given up their buildings altogether to provide transitional housing for those on the margins. I think of a recent Monday night at my own church, where a dozen homeless men slept in a fellowship hall, while

Alcoholics Anonymous met in a preschool classroom, and a community development meeting took place in the sanctuary. Not a single event for church members.

But the family of God was there.

So I pray today that this will be our call. That we may tirelessly look for ways to be caretakers of the church where we serve. To look for ways to use our buildings and our gifts not for ourselves, but for others. And in so doing, may the light of Christ show through our generosity. Our openness. And our selflessness. Reaching out to the family of God.

Welcoming them home.


rcg said...

You are not being a steward if you let other people dictate what you do with the resources.

JusadBellum said...

One point that needs to be made is what a parish is for?

Why DO we have huge beautiful churches?

What's the point of Confirmation again?

Was does "ita misa est" mean?

If a parish is not educated and formed and driven to bring the Gospel to their whole zip code, they're preparing to ultimately light the inside of a bushel basket and eventually wither and die.

The MEANS (big building, liturgy, hierarchy, etc.) are for the sake of the END which is restoring all people to a loving relationship with Our Lord.

If that's not your goal then you are not doing Catholicism.

Anonymous said...

Ite missa est....If one wishes to dazzle us with Latin, he or she should spell it correctly.

Fr. Michael J. Kavanaugh said...

I'm not exactly sure what Dannemiller is getting at.

Yes, we can become too focused on maintenance, allowing mission to get sidetracked from time to time.

But it is also true that maintenance can underpin mission. A decrepit building or furnishings or woefully out of date religious education materials aren't good for mission...

Yes, we can become a bit too exclusive in the way we look at ourselves and our religion. All religions need periodic readjustment in this regard.

As the Jews were confronted with their own notions of just who the "Chosen" people were, we have had to come to terms with this in our overly triumphant use of "Extra ecclesiam..."

Rood Screen said...


Are you dazzled by common, even if misspelled, Latin phrases?

Rood Screen said...

As a former Protestant, I just find this to be standard, boring Mainline homiletics. The method is simple enough. First, you startle everyone by saying we've got Christianity all wrong (e.g. this isn't your home!). Then, after several thought-provoking examples, you conclude by saying that "we" are already doing everything right (e.g. homeless in the "fellowship" hall, AA meetings). It makes for good drama, but not much else. But there's better drama on TV and in the Holy Mass.

If churches are the houses of God's presence, and if we are the Father's adopted children and Christ's adopted siblings, the churches are our homes.

George said...

Below is a link to a story of a pastor doing what he believes he must, despite opposition. This is happening in the most liberal large city in the most liberal state in the country. Think about how much grief this priest would suffer even down here in some parishes in our more conservative state of Georgia. Yet his parish is thriving.

Pastor and Archbishop not backing down (so far)

Anonymous said...

JBS, I am dazzled by YOU. Every time you speak...

Anonymous said...

JBS - Check the definition of sarcasm.

Malcolm said...

I tried something of the sort a few Sunday’s ago.

With all the recent bru-ha-ha, I thought it was best to leave my church and behave like most of my fellow Catholics in the Church – just not go.

And – I had the idea of why not just jump ahead 100 and see what the Church will probably look like – why not see what Thomas Cromwell’s thing is all about.
Plus certain sentimentalism got the better of me around Easter Sunday and I attended a very nice Episcopal church service (and it was the 1979 BofCP variety). And, golly-gee, I rather liked it.

I couldn’t make myself go and receive their Eucharist – but it was nice not to hear percussion instruments throughout the service and a homily that mentioned the name of Jesus Christ.

And they were very nice people; maybe I was just happy to hear “I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say” instead of the usual post-Christian fare.

Rood Screen said...


Thank you for the dazzling compliment. And yes, sarcasm is the highest form of humor, while puns are the lowest.

JusadBellum said...

Great. You were paying attention Anonymous and know the correct spelling of Latin.

Now, since you are educated, perhaps you'd share your insights about the topic at hand?

rcg said...

Anonymous was brilliant as an adolescent. And still is.

George said...

"But rather than meet them where they are, we ask them to meet us where we are."
Christ meets us where we are and beckons us to come to where He is at. He has given us the gift of free will however and so we can, if we so choose, refuse His overtures.Without the right spiritual attitude and interior state of soul,and without the co-operation with the Holy Spirit, one can meet another person "where he is at" and end up re-locating oneself where he is at.

" Those who are drawn to us, and therefore drawn to Jesus, will be those who tend to worship like us, believe like us, and look like us"
Of course. If we have right worship and right belief, is that not then the objective? It is not required that they "look like us."
There is only one flock and one Shepherd. Christ tells us in Scripture that we are to be one as He and the Father are one.

"We shouldn't try to tame it any more than we should try and reign in nature."
It is those of a weak and corrupted faith who seek to tame and bend her to where they are at.

"This is what our churches should be. Open to all at any time."
I believe that our Church is open to all. What the Church is NOT open to is a re-definition of the Faith and revision of dogma according to personal conviction.