Real, Relevant, Relaxed
Recently I attended a church, the motto of which seems to consist of this trinity of ‘Rs.’ It is a new congregation, or an attempt at one. I know this is supposed to be a formula that will “Reach” people - yet another ‘R’ - so I was not surprised to see the formula.
I was a bit surprised to see what some apparently think these words should mean in a church context.
It was relaxed. Relaxed, that is, until a bad attempt at a rock bank took the stage in the front of a fairly small room and began to make enough noise to damage your hearing. Then it was a little tense - at least for those of us not already hearing impaired.
As I said, it wasn’t even a decent rock concert. The lead singer seemed to have no idea how to get his voice to move to any note near what should have been the melody. He had a side-kick female singer who appeared to have a fairly good voice, but was so eager to sound like her version of a rock star that she distorted and contorted her voice into a very unpleasant sound.
The drummer was good at his craft, but in the small room, far too loud for “relaxed.”
At one point the band attempted to sing “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing.” What came out was an almost unrecognizable bit of musical gibberish instead of that grand old song.
Although you could sing along if you wished, this was clearly a performance band. There was no chance to hear the congregation singing over the ruckus of the instruments. Perhaps it was a good thing that the minister reminded us that we didn’t need to attempt to sing along during these “worship sets.” We were granted permission to engage in other worshipful activities around the room. I considered the worshipful activity of “plugging my ears for God” but decided otherwise.
I suppose that was all an attempt at musical relevance. The band apparently tried to dress in a “relevant” manner. What came out of the attempt was something that looked hauntingly like the 1970's. I didn’t know that was particularly relevant today - maybe I just don’t know REL when I see it.
The minister was a nice young fellow wearing sandals and no socks. I suppose he was shooting for the first-century “walking with Jesus” look. His sermon was not bad, but it was one of those let’s-not-get-overly-theological sermons which focus on how we feel. I know, I know - theology isn’t relevant, while feelings are very relevant. But I think the REAL Christian faith has much more to offer than that.
The little new congregation did have one interesting idea. The congregation - what there was of one - was invited to ask questions about the sermon. But strangely, the only way we were invited to do this was by sending a text message to the minister’s cell phone during the sermon. We were not invited to write our question on paper, or to raise our hands at some appropriate time.
I kept wanting to ask, “How difficult would it be to let one of us twenty people in the audience just ask you a question?” The room was small. I didn’t quite understand that, but I suspect that it would be somehow unreal or irrelevant to ask a question with my voice rather than by “texting” it. “Texting” is all the rage, you know.
Then came the time of communion via the Lord’s Supper. After the announcement that this was about to take place, over the sound system came a very strange sound. At first I thought it a CD that was skipping, or a faulty digital music file. A few odd notes tumbled out, and then repeated. It was not exactly music - more of a serious of random notes with random rhythm. Much to my dismay, this little sound began to repeat. It repeated during the whole communion time. Music that expresses beauty can be appropriate during communion. These weird sounds were not beautiful. They were not even in the neighborhood of beautiful. And they were very annoying.
We were invited to a table in the front of the small room. There, awaiting us, was a large stemmed glass full of “the fruit of the vine.” Beside it was what appeared to be some broken-into-pieces very stale dinner rolls.
We were supposed to partake via “intinction” - dipping the bread into the fruit of the vine. This is something that has popped up in the history of the church, in the past mostly as a way of serving communion to those who are sick. Again, not a big deal, but what’s the point? Is this somehow more real, relaxed, or relevant?
My problem was with the leavened bread. With the background of the Lord’s Supper in the Passover, where all leavening had to be removed from the premises, there is good reason based in symbolism to use unleavened bread for the time of communion. I think that is relevant, and fairly real, though it might not be relaxed - I’m not sure.
Just how “relaxed” are we supposed to be in the presence of God Almighty, Who is, as the Hebrew writer says, “a consuming fire”? That’s real, but it’s not very relaxing, it seems to me.
Overall, the experience was disappointing. It was clear that this church was designed for a certain subset of the twenty-somethings. The problem is that the vast majority of the area around this church is not composed of that certain subset of twenty-somethings.
Perhaps this group, and others like it, should ditch the somewhat phoney “relevant” and the out-of-place “relaxed” and stick with the real - real, heavy-duty Christianity that should make people uncomfortable and awestruck - not just relevant and relaxed.