Thursday, November 18, 2010

Gym vs. Church

So one of my top 5 favorite things to do on this planet is go to the gym. I am at the gym almost everyday of the week (barring sick children). I go, spend time on me, with me, see some fun people, have some fun chats, do something great for myself and leave an hour later with muscles bulging, feeling fantastic from my sweat induced adrenaline rush.

Except for the sweat induced adrenaline part (depending on your denomination of course), it sort of sounds a lot like church doesn't it? This of course leads to the question:

What is the purpose of church?

Do we go every week to spend some time on me? To make sure I'm doing well? To see those fun individuals we only see at church? To find out if Tommy is potty training yet or if Sue is passing 7th grade? Are we trying to ensure our spiritual muscles get a great workout and then head off for the rest of the week, hoping to not atrophy too much? Why O why do we do this to ourselves?!

Do you know what happens when you only go to the gym once a week? Well, there's probably a lot of technical explanations of what occurs when you put your body through one rigorous workout a week and do nothing in between but the bottom line is nothing happens. Nothing. Sure if feels like something is happening. You go, lift some weights, run on the treadmill, maybe even do a step class but all you've done is started the engine. The car doesn't actually go anywhere if you don't shift to first gear and give her some gas. What you have accomplished here is a starting point. A beginning.

You leave the gym with this great workout under your belt and you are feeling great. You head out to eat because you're starving after such a great workout (also the same with church!) and you stop by your favorite restaurant. You probably consume as many calories as you burned but that's OK... you'll go back soon.

You wake up the next morning, really feeling it, your muscles are tender and sore, your joints are probably a little stiff. You plug along through your day and your body loosens up a little and you start to feel really good about what you've done for yourself, after all you can feel the difference. Waking up the next morning however, isn't as pleasant. Everyone knows that day 2 is the WORST! You can't move. You're so tight and so sore that you can't lift your arms to brush your teeth & instead of sitting down gracefully you fall into chairs. You definitely take the elevator that day and limit any and all physical activity hoping that the pain will soon subside.

Day 3 is easier but not as easy as it should have been. The best thing for a sore, stiff body is movement. So a little activity would have helped you feel like new on day 3... but here's to day 4. Now you're feeling just a little twinge here and there. Man, your workout was so awesome that it lasted you 4 days. That's incredible!!!

Day 5 and 6 pass without any thought of what happened on days 1-4 or what will happen on day 7. Then arrives day 7 and your realize, hey, I haven't been to the gym in a few days, I better get on it. Lather. Rinse. Repeat. You get the idea.

Well, drawing the direct parallel is a little silly I guess since I'm not proposing we all go to a Sunday morning style worship service every day. But instead let's draw a parallel to a different way of thinking about church and see if we get somewhere. After all, who wants to go to the gym year after year and see nothing change?? Isn't the point of the gym to get stronger, faster, slimmer, healthier, sexier??

(By the way, the answer is ABSOLUTELY!!!!)

So how would we be able to parallel church to a successful gym routine? Well, we begin by acknowledging that everybody should do some exercise everyday, which means going to the gym everyday or living a life that offers opportunities to workout constantly. That might look like someone who lifts weights on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. Takes the children for bike rides on those same days. Maybe runs on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays and does Yoga and flag football on Sundays just for fun. Wow! That sounds like a lot, but that individual is going to change their body. They are going to be getting leaner and stronger, faster and sexier as they continue to build on their workout routine.

The point is the more chances you have to move the more you get better at moving, the more you enjoy it and the more productive the movement is. Eventually that beginning, is so simple it's your warm up, and you move into such complexity for the rest of your workout that you don't have time to worry or gossip or slack off. You're wrapped up in the product of the moment, enjoying the experience of pushing your limits and seeing your limits expanded.

So putting this into practical terms for 'churchyness' might mean on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays you pray with your family or close friends for your neighbors and co-workers. You might also spend time cleaning up trash in your neighborhood or visiting a sick or lonely neighbor on those same days. Mondays might be a gathering for dinner and football with some 'unchurchy' friends. Wednesdays are a perfect day to invest in local children with some tutoring, mentoring, baking or playing. Fridays can be your day of rest, practicing a sabbath and enjoying those God has surrounded you with. Add a worship service and coffee with a friend to talk about your week and you've got a wonderfully organic 'churchy' week. It might not look like much, but it is life transforming!

So what's the point of this, you might be thinking to yourselves right now.

Well, we all know what time of year it is. It's the holidays. So hopefully this post didn't just make you feel guilty about all the junk you're about to put into your body over the next 8 weeks. Hopefully it helps you see that it's a great beginning. See right now, it's extra great to be at the gym. The people that are there on a regular basis are so enthusiastic about working out to make room for the goodies we'll all eat and to not gain weight this holiday season. But in 8 weeks the gym will be taken over by people hungry for a beginning.

New Year's Resolutions are front and center in January (the worst month of the year to be a gym rat in my opinion) but people are motivated! They come to the gym looking for something. They aren't sure what they are looking for but they know that it has something to do with feeling better about themselves, enjoying what they are doing and seeing a change for the better. Often times, they were looking in the wrong place, or didn't make the connection they needed to realize they were in the right place and as Valentine's Day rolls around they begin to give up or feel discouraged or just plain lose interest. Well, sometimes those new members continue to pay their dues and that keeps the gym functioning nicely but it's not actually the purpose of the gym. The gym has failed them. The gym has lost it's chance. Now it has to wait until next year, when the people are ready to begin again, and hope that it has better luck. Isn't there a better way???

Do you see the parallel here? We set up our churches to be attractional, to offer great things to the consumers in hopes of meeting their unknown needs. They come in knowing they need something but not really sure about what. We treat them as customers, hoping to gain their offerings and all the while are over looking the fact that we indeed know what they need. We spend so much time trying to figure out how to best offer our greatest discovery to them that we miss our opportunity. They might still come occasionally, helping the church look successful, but they didn't find what they were looking for so we've lost our opportunity. We have to wait until ... ... ... when??? Churches don't burst at the seems in January. There aren't many New Year's Resolutions that involve going to church (at least that I've heard of). So we sit, and we wait... or do we?

We can get active. Choose the missional lifestyle and go to where people are. Meet them where they are and spend time with them. Love them. Be with them. Experience life with them. Remember Jesus told us that wherever we go, He too will be there with us. Doing church this way may even allow people that didn't recognize they were looking for something to find it... to find Him.

So which is it, Gym or Church?

1 comment:

  1. you write very well. I am reading this as I sit in a coffee shop thinking about the gym I will go to tonight and how it will function as a meeting place for the church tonight. For it is there that I will meet with a couple young men who I am discipling. We will workout for an hour addressing our physical fitness and then sit at a table for an hour addressing our spiritual fitness. Thanks for these insights.