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Taking it Down to the Studs (Mike Glenn)
By Mike Glenn
One of the things my tribe – Southern Baptists– do well is disaster relief. Whenever a river overflows its banks or a hurricane makes landfall, these volunteers show up in their yellow hats and trucks and begin to help rebuild what the storm has taken away. I thought about these disaster relief volunteers as I watched the news the other night. There were stories about hurricanes coming ashore in Florida and a horrific fire in Maui. There were floods in the northeast and another hurricane hovering off the eastern coast.
With all of these disasters, I wondered how they would decide where to go first. Is there a ranking system for natural disasters?
Have you ever worked in a disaster area? When you show up, you and your team are overwhelmed by the power of nature and the devastation left behind. Houses are leveled. Power lines are down. Trees have been blown around like sticks. You can’t believe the power of the wind and rain.
Second, no one knows where to start. For a long time, it seems that the team is just moving trash and debris from one pile to the other. The debris is pushed in stacks blocking roads and alleys. The first objective is to just find a way to get to the places you need to work.
Don’t you wish we had a disaster relief team for organized religion and denominations in North America? We have certainly had our share of storms and disasters over these past few years. Prominent ministers admitting to affairs, sexual and spiritual abuse, and countless financial mismanagement revelations. These and other smaller, unknown, but just as damaging issues are the reasons many people don’t go to church anymore.
I know a lot of these people. There have been too many disappointments and broken hearts for them to continue being part of the local church. This is why I wish we had a disaster relief team for churches and denominations in America. I wish I could make a call and buses of volunteers would roll into town and carry off the debris, begin repairs, and care for those who were caught in the storm.
And in most places, we need to take damaged structures down to the studs. Whenever a disaster relief team comes into town, they begin to tear down damaged structures and for the ones that can be salvaged, they are taken down to their supporting structures. Houses shredded by the angry weather are torn down so they can be rebuilt. Anything that is damaged has to go: sheetrock, shingles, window frames, doors, and piles of soggy plywood are all thrown into garbage bins and hauled off.
What would it mean if the organized religion in the United States was taken down to the studs? I think about 80% of what we do in our churches can be hauled to the dumpster. I’m convinced that we spend a lot of money on programs, events, and other gatherings that make absolutely no difference in our churches or the lives of our members. What makes me so sure of this? Covid. When the pandemic quarantine forced many of us to close our churches, most of what we did was never missed by our members. I got calls from people wanting to know when they could come back to worship and others wanting to know when they could get together with our small groups. They didn’t call about anything else.
I think a lot of us would benefit from taking our religious life back to the studs. What are those things that are essential and necessary to our expression of faith? What practices actually help us deepen our faith and become more like Christ?
Worship is the first requirement. Everything else results from our worship. What we worship, and who we worship influences every other decision we make. Another word for “glory” is “weight.” Weight, of course, means mass and mass means gravity. In His glory, God is the only being with a gravitational mass strong enough to hold the aspects of our lives in their proper orbit. When we place anything or anyone else in the center of our lives, our lives spin out of control. Worship is the habitual practice of placing God in the center of our lives.
Groups are the second requirement. We need a place to work out what it means for us to be a follower of Christ. We need support and encouragement. We need practical advice on how to actually live out the great teachings of forgiveness, grace, and mercy. While these are beautiful concepts, they are difficult to live out. Most of us need a little help putting these concepts into real-life practice. Groups are God’s way of recreating broken families. All of us need a family. In the hard times, it’s family that gets you through.
We need some kind of mission. We need someplace where we deal with our broken world and in the power of the Risen Christ, bring hope to the hopeless and healing to the wounded and hurting. Our mission work doesn’t have to be complicated, it just has to bring the light of Christ to a dark part of the world.
Maybe if we made our faith walk a little more simple, we all would benefit. This would give us more time to actually BE the church instead of just GOING to church all of the time. Our lives are complicated enough, our churches don’t need to be.
What would be your basics?