By Stephen Mattson
Most Evangelical churches in America follow a pretty predictable formula regarding their service structures, order, and the way things are run and facilitated.
First, there’s going to be someone designated to meet you upon arrival and make you feel welcome at the church—a greeter, usher, or maybe even a deacon who is responsible for hospitality and processing visitors.
There will probably be a lobby with free coffee, maybe even cookies and donuts, and potentially an information table, visitor booth, or welcome center.
The service itself will begin with either a brief welcome or introduction, and then most likely there will be musical worship—hymns, choruses, or praise songs.
No matter what the size, location, or denomination of the church, the average Evangelical will probably recognize most of the songs, because everyone, everywhere, uses the exact same pool of worship songs: Hillsong, Bethel Music, Chris Tomlin, Kirk Franklin, etc.
Then, depending on the order, there will be announcements, an offering, prayer, maybe communion, and possibly another song or two. All this will be facilitated by one of numerous people—a pastor, worship leader, or volunteer—and it may be either modern or liturgical in style, but something like this will definitely happen, because it always does.
It may be either modern or liturgical in style, but something like this will definitely happen, because it always does.
Sure, there might be some variety, occasionally a video illustration will be shown, a guest speaker brought in, a different stage design, or some sort of entertaining interruption from the usual routine, but for the most part, most Evangelical churches have a familiar pattern.
Eventually the congregation leaves, and then it—“church”—happens all over again a week later.
But sometimes when churches go through the motions—singing a few worship songs, passing the offering plate, communicating announcements about the latest singles get-togethers or teen bible studies or parenting group events, months-long series on generic Christian topics—you can feel frustrated and even burned out.
Because it all seems so irrelevant.
Wars are being fought, civil rights are in jeopardy, politicians are elected and dismissed, the economy is constantly in flux, and here we are, listening to the translation details of a Hebrew word and how it relates to an ancient prophecy found in the book of Isaiah.
Not a single word is mentioned about the people, places, and things that most impact the world around us—government corruption, corporate greed, military aggression, racism, xenophobia, sexism, and social justice issues that are facing society right now. Things that are shaping and greatly impacting the lives of not just ourselves, but also our families, relatives, friends, and neighbors.
Specific politicians aren’t called out. Corrupt businesses aren’t called out. Government abuse isn’t called out. Nationalistic prejudice and hate isn’t called out. Martial bloodlust isn’t called out.
Instead, we hear Christian clichés about hope, peace, and love spewed for the millionth time, which is especially disturbing when it’s done at the expense of ignoring the plight of those around us.
Because for every rare sermon about racial inequality, political injustice, economic corruption, national scandal, and pressing current event there are countless sermons on the book of Leviticus, or the importance of tithing, or the Sermon on the Mount, repeated over and over and over again—without any practical relevance to reality, to the world we live and breathe in.
The Bible is studied, but there’s no application, no action, and no love. The life of Jesus is described without being emulated, preached without being practiced.
And this is what church looks like for millions of Christians across the world on a weekly basis: routine, mundane teachings, apathy, and lots and lots of talk about the Bible, Jesus, and “Christianity.”
To do anything else would be controversial, risky, and uncomfortable.
And this is what church looks like for millions of Christians across the world on a weekly basis: routine, mundane teachings, apathy, and lots and lots of talk about the Bible, Jesus, and “Christianity.” To do anything else would be controversial, risky, and uncomfortable.
When was the last time your church directly commanded you to help refugees, advocate for immigrants, empower the poor, fight for the oppressed, stand with the marginalized, sacrifice for the weak, denounce sexism, embrace the maligned, and hold those in political power accountable?
Because that’s what Jesus did, and if your church isn’t following His example and instead prefers to remain silent, passive, or even hand difficult responsibilities off to a third-party, it’s failing.
The fact is, while various churches choose to silently stand by and turn a blind eye, or even accommodate and promote the evil that permeates our society by rationalizing it as some form of Christian virtue, the world continues to evolve, act, and move on without us, continually questioning the moral, spiritual, and practical relevance of Christian communities that seemingly can’t offer any.
God help us.
Stephen Mattson is the author of The Great Reckoning: Surviving a Christianity That Looks Nothing Like Christ.