Now I understand all the practical, logistical reasons why churches go to multiple services:
- “Our auditorium is full and so is the overflow room with piped in video.”
- “Our parking lot is full.”
- “God has sent us all these people and therefore we have an obligation to serve as many of them as we possibly can!”
- “Our building search committee is working their butts off, but just hasn’t found us a new facility yet!”
I got that, and I understand the pressure you’re under. But I want to go beyond these pragmatic practitioner concerns to something deeper (after all this is Think Theology) – something more foundational. What is church? Now Kenny has already done a pretty extensive job here of exploring the definition of Ekklesia (the word from our Greek New Testament that is typically translated “church”) so no in depth word study here. Just this: in essence, Ekklesia means An Assembly.
The fact of the matter is that “wherever two or three” of Jesus’ followers gather (for prayer, fellowship, worship, teaching) we have ekklesia – an assembly (of believers). In the Pauline churches many of these assemblies took place in houses (e.g. Rom. 16:5). But I am not a house-church purist! I believe that, even in the Pauline communities, there were also probably larger corporate assemblies as well. And this is likely exactly the setting for what I like to call Agape Gone Wild, where the celebration of the Lord’s Supper turned into a free for all, instead of a “Love Feast” in the church at Corinth (“when you come together” – 1 Cor 11:17f.). We tend to think that a new church begins with their first “public” worship service on “Launch Sunday.” But according to our “assembly” definition of church it actually began about a year earlier in the Pastor’s basement when that fledgling church plant team began to meet (assemble) regularly in Jesus name for prayer, vision, training & equipping, study/teaching, mutual encouragement and worship (long before anybody ever found a building, humped speakers, printed flyers, or stacked chairs “7 high.”)
So why are you picking on me and my church for having multiple services, Brad? Here’s the deal: according to my working definition of Ekklesia here, if you have multiple services, you in fact have multiple assemblies (i.e. more than one church)! I know, I know: “No, we’re one church with multiple meetings!” I’ve even heard it argued (in a multi-site context) that “We are one church, with two locations!” May I respectfully disagree: if you have multiple services, you may be one organization with multiple meetings, but you are not one assembly (i.e. one church) – you are rather 2, 3 or 5 assemblies (churches) depending on how many services you offer. And that my friends, is the crux of the error in ecclesiology that I believe so many of us fall into in our thinking about the church: we think of the church as an organization [a hierarchical, human organization complete with a top down organizational chart with one guy/gal at the top (who in most cases is not named Jesus) that looks a whole lot like the org chart at my work; not a living breathing organism, consisting of Jesus’ followers gathered for prayer, worship, teaching & fellowship (and then scattered for mission)]!
A few final practical thoughts on why I think multiple services could be problematic:
- They reinforce the already rampant consumerist/entertainment mentality of the people walking through the doors into our churches. “What show did you go to? The 9am show? I always go to the 11 o’clock showing!”
- They break up the unity of the church (assembly) into multiple sub-churches. I’ve actually warmly welcomed a “visitor” to a previous church, only to later find out that they were an elder that went to a different service. We were part of the “cool people” that went to the Saturday night service! Does that tell us anything!?!
- Our architecture doesn’t help either! We sit in rows all facing one direction toward the “stage” where we see a band “perform” and hear a professional speaker deliver a monologue (rather than sitting in circles/groups facing the “one anothers” of the community, participating in worship, and an interactive time of discipleship/teaching). Where is the focus here!
Seriously now, I’d like to hear from some of you Pastors out there (now that I’ve raked you over the coals). To what degree do you see yourself primarily as an organizational leader? To what degree do you see yourself as someone whose primary responsibility is to disciple others in how to live as a follower of Jesus. And to what degree do you see your job as equipping those others to go out and make more disciples themselves? How many people are you personally meeting with on a regular basis for discipleship outside of your Sunday sermons (don’t get me wrong – weekly sermons can be an important part of the discipleship process)? And how many people do you currently have in the training/equipping pipeline to be sent out on mission/as church planters? And here’s the real kicker: what percentage of your time, effort and church budget reflects those activities above? And, contrariwise, how much of your time & effort is taken up by staff meetings, church business, and the growth survival and preservation of the organization, rather than investing in people?
Don’t get me wrong guys/gals. I love you Pastors! As I look back at my almost 30 years of following Jesus, it is two or three of my Pastors who have been the most influential in my own personal faith journey (spiritual growth) toward conforming to the image of Christ. But it was my Pastor out west who said to me ‘You go to Bible College for 4 years, and you think when I get out of here, man, I’m gonna be prayin’ for people all the time, doin’ ministry – it’s gonna be great! But then when you get to your first church, you find out that full-time ministry is a lot of admin.’
What do you all think? Please let me know in the comments below!
[Quite frankly, much of this blog I consider to be “thinking out loud” (in the lab of the internet)…]