I am a Lutheran, not a Methodist. I married one, however. Only last year. Not only is he Methodist, he is the pastor.
He hadn't pastored a Methodist church in close to 30 years. He left the Methodists after pastoring a church that went from a weekly attendance of 9 to 125, and the original congregation were upset about the changes. Be careful what you ask for.
I left the Lutheran church when I started college for the same reason most people did. It bored the hell out of me. I really feel bad saying it like that, but it's the God honest truth. I'd loved Jesus all my life, I'd let my light shine, I had not hidden under a bushel, and Jesus loved me, this I knew - and I was still bored to death in a service.
I didn't feel the hearts of people in it. THere was very little human about it. Of course I'm not the only person who feels like this, but sometimes I think I'm the only one that says it bored the hell out of them. Literally. I replaced church with some things that should've put me in hell if I hadn't eventually found Salem Gospel Tabernacle. Nah, not that bad. really.
Just like the American public who says they believe in God, the Lutherans and Methodists also seem to really believe in God but I can't feel it in that way that makes you know and feel it on the inside.
It feels like lip service. And intellect. And denial. Not denial about their faith in God, but denial they don't experience God. I often find myself questioning on Sunday mornings, while sitting as quietly as possible to avoid appearing too rebellious a pastor's wife, if they think saying the Call to Worship and the other liturgical practices we lumber through are a demonstration or proof of faith? Or if they experience God in this practice in case I'm missing something. It's not that I dislike the liturgy because I appreciate some of it. What I don't appreciate is the controlled and contrived nature of service's order and the inflexibility to changing it to better pique the interest of the younger generation. I'm not talking about rock and roll bands or espresso machines, but rather, more mystical or spiritual practices and reverent music, for one.
What has confused me incessantly is how people in these churches experience any of the struggle that comes with any spiritual journey when they don't grapple in any authentic way with the questions. What I mean is how is it possible for people to sit in a service, or a Lenten study, etc., and listen to someone preach, teach, and exegete and never challenge it, wrestle with it, or perhaps, simply not fully understand it? This is the most baffling culture I've ever witnessed, but at the same time, the most obvious one for observing why things aren't looking up in this church.
Instead, we sing worship songs that make us feel happy or songs that praise God with adoration - which rarely feels sincere or connected, frankly. We read a pre-written call to worship saying how unworthy or grateful we are, we ask for prayers for people we know who are suffering but never for ourselves, or reveal anything about our own lives to each other; and then the pastor talks about a subject he is passionate about - or not - without engaging the audience in any way, except for the obligatory joke. Everything ends on a high note, and off we go with a handshake for another week of living.
The entire service proclaims what is so, without leaving any room for those who might not feel that kind of certainty to relate to any part of the experience; the prayers are generally said by the pastor or liturgist, losing an opportunity for people to participate, be challenged, and risk vulnerability in other ways.
This year I've tried to make small changes, or attempts at connecting people incrementally at a heart level. It's like pulling teeth. Even repeatedly asking people to ask for prayer for themselves for everyday challenges brings no response. They are so embedded in their way of doing things that they don't dare take the smallest risk. I'm tempted to change the service dramatically for a couple of Sundays, requiring them to take some of these steps in another context. They'll be so glad to get back to their familiar practices that they'll submit to one or two concessions or requests.
Doing something apart from the familiar is scary, and risking looking foolish can create a sense of terror in some people, but it is less than we ask young children to do in pre-school. It is ridiculous that we should be afraid to make small changes in a place where God lives. There should be no safer place on earth.
Clearly, this is an issue of being safe, and creating an environment that feels safe is the first priority for every church community. This doesn't only need to happen in the sanctuary, but in every environment that people are gathered regularly.
I was in a administrative board meeting recently when it was pointed out that a participant in the Lenten series the year before did not return because they had been called on during one of the sessions. The board director made a point to mention that it was I who had asked the question.
I facilitate severe conflicts for a living. I am a mediator and peacemaker in very difficult and polarizing situations. I also owned an inpatient alcohol and drug rehab. The last thing I am is confrontive or threatening. If I asked a question, it was surely either a simple and innocent question, or it was a feeling and compassionate question intended to draw out some meaningful dialogue. If this church community is so threatened that they protest being called on in a group of mostly family and friends, and if I have th eperson right they grew upin this church and her parents were in the room,then the church is doing something wrong. This is a fairly clear indicator that work needs to be done. There is something wrong in Denmark, and it involves trust and letting go of control.
When the participants are controlling Bible studies to the point of a pastoral team not being allowed to call on people at times, there is a deeper problem than meets the eye.