Friday, October 13, 2006

Membership and Bowling Alone

Today I went to my first Rotary luncheon in Santa Barbara at the invitation of a church member. It's been a long time since I last went to a service organization lunch. Some guys in Minneapolis belonged to Kiwanis and would regularly invite me as their guests, and usually ask me if I was open to joining. I always begged off, saying that I could not regularly commmit to a weekly lunch with anyone other than Martha (and she sometimes gets bumped!). I also would state that members belonged to a variety of organizations and I did not want to favor one over another. But underneath it all is the fact that I don't find deep value in those organizations. I like them and appreciate what they do for blindness, juvenile diabetes, international cancer cures, etc. But I'm not a big-group joiner.
Today's speaker (whose name I forget) was a type AAA guy whose wife died of cancer and now is raising funds and awareness of cancer fighting through Rotary. But what began to glow was that Rotary was his ultimate purpose. He was so glad he did not take the wrong step and join Kiwanis. He said "Kiwanis" is an ancient Native American word that translated means "I wish I would have joined Rotary!" He waas passionate about Rotary bringing his life ultimate meaning.
Then I beggan to wonder if that's how a lot of 20-somethings see church membership, like another Rotary, Kiwanis, Lions or Gideons, a club for old guys (poeple). The hair color was distinctly grey and bald. There was a certain fixed liturgy about the luncheon; a raise dias, a large rotary seal, a banner full of pendants from other groups, a bell that announced certain features: guests, announcements, introductions, invocation, a song (patriotic) and creed (pled of allegiance). A keynote speaker brought the "sermon" and the "offering" was collected at the back from members. They did provide a better meal than Sunday morning worship services usually do and many members went out of their way to intorduce themselves to me, to welcome me and hope I would come back. It was all good. But I'm not sure I want to join, but support from a distance.
The community around me at the luncheon was there for the two hours and then went on their way. They functioned as community around a planned event (trips, golfing, Halloween party, etc.). It looks so much like the way many view and participate in church; an organized group that provides events and services I want.
But isn't the Body of Christ more? Isn't that the essence of the emerging conversations? Isn't that where Donald Miller, Sarah Cunningham and Doug Pagitt are going? Hmmmm.


At 8:01 AM , Anonymous Gary Means said...

I hear you, brother. I long to be part of a body that actually is a body, where community is practiced not just preached. I am really tired of being part of a white, middle-to-upper-middle class Christian club where everyone is "fine, thank you."

I guess that's why the emerging church is so attractive to me, with their high emphasis on being both missional and an authentic community. I am as much a part of the problem as anyone though. What am I doing about it? Not enough. That has to change.

At 8:04 AM , Blogger donnjohnson said...

Thanks Gary. I think a next conversation for us believers is about your last comment "this has to change". How do we ramp up the meaning of membership and community so that it ring with integrity? Certainly not more programming and busy-ness. But how?

At 4:31 PM , Anonymous Isaac said...

I shy away from these new fangled emerging churches. Their hip music, cool locations, and active whatever-they-do rings a tone of MTV "Extreme" phoniness.

Im not trying to attack the emerging church movement - but as for me, i cringe at the thought of hanging with "hip" Christians at some coffee shop before we all run out and bike 10 miles. In fact, it was a program like that in my youth that helped turn me off to church alltogether.


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