in praise of the in shape church

I recently started going to a doctor in Grandview who is focused on the whole person, and creating wellness, too.  Called a patient-center medical home, not only do I know I’ll be taken care of when I’m sick, but when I’m feeling fine, too.  Recently, I was told by my new doctor that I have an issue with my cholesterol.  Not that I have too much of it, really, but more that I have small, dense cholesterol that’s worse for my heart.  No big surprise, the ways I was told to manage it best were diet and exercise, so that I’m a little smaller and in better shape than I am now.

This little tidbit got me thinking about churches.  I’ve always had some kind of beef with megachurches (and I suppose I’m saying that as a caveat as well as historical revelation), be it because they didn’t really play music that people could sing too, that they were too glossy of a production and not more reflective of humanity, or if it were just that they were just too big for their own good.  Now I think I’ve my finger on it – I think big churches have gotten too fat.

If I had a dollar for every increased benefit one receives if they are in shape and in a reasonable weight range, I could have someone run off my extra pounds for me.  Cardiovascular health, better sleep patterns, increased memory: the list goes on and on and on.  We value “in-shapeness” in our body because it enhances every other part of our life.  It makes our machines run with greater efficiency.

Paul notes that we are a body of believers put together to serve a common purpose, and while the context of this passage is more related to the connectedness that all people have irrespective of their background, the analogy serves a good purpose.  If we become a body with separate roles, it makes sense that at some point, a church can only have so many ears, feet, eyes, and hands.  This is what happens in megachurches.  If I want to sing in front of the church some Sunday, a bunch of social roadblocks limit me because hey, we already have all of our worship singers, but thanks anyway!  These groups subsequently become more cliquish until before you know it, no one else comprises that body part.  Instead, that person becomes a blithe marginal churchgoer, reducing his relationship with God to a couple truisms and sing (as my grandfather coined them) two or three “7-11” songs: seven words repeated eleven times.  To me, that person becomes the fatty cells of the church: they serve a vital function, sure, but most of the time, it is too much and it is injurious.  What is a shame is that if that person had decided to find a church that was more agile and light, he could have been the voice he knew he could be.

My church, for instance, only has a couple hundred in attendance, but we all know each other, and we have many places for churchgoers to fill roles.  If you want to sing, go ahead!  we have a traditional choir and a worship team as well.  Do you want to be on a committee that helps with environmental issues?  Do you want to play on a kickball team?  Do you want to read Scripture to the church?  Work with kids?  We have all of those, and we haven’t created cliques that limit others from doing those things.  I’d like to think Boulevard is in shape.  And that’s not to say we don’t have a little fat (everyone needs a little fat), but I believe those folks choose to be the fat, and aren’t relegated there because someone else had managed to be the eyes and ears first.

Size doesn’t always have to do with shape, though.  New Salem Baptist where I attended had many more regular attendees than Boulevard has, but there were many places to connect to.  Ultimately, however, I felt that it wasn’t right for me, and went back to Boulevard to serve.  I want to serve in a small, lean, in shape church.  I’ll serve in a welterweight versus a heavyweight, but I know they both can go many rounds and are going to continue to work out.

The megachurches, however, seem to be like high school linebackers at 40, dreaming about the days when they could lift cars and knock the competition to the ground.  They became lazy and unfocused, and before you knew it, the former linebacker was his bygone shape encased by decades of sloth and fat.   He tries to find ways to be relevant and cool, but he can’t escape what he’s become.  Only the hard work of training will get him back.

It all depends on whether he realizes he needs to or not.


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