The Minneapolis Star Tribune recently published articles exploring the decline of church attendance. They suggest that key to this slow withering is the church’s lack of relevance in today’s world. While I don’t disagree, I believe the answers are more complex than that.
PRIORITIES - In my youth (okay, truth time: I’m a Baby Boomer, well into my 60s), one day was set aside each week as a day of faith and rest. Whether you attended a church, temple or synagogue, there was that one day each week when the majority of worldly activities ceased and folks were free to worship, relax, connect with family and friends, and enjoy gentle spiritual and communal pursuits.
But life got busier, so the grocery stores began to open on Sundays. Other merchants and businesses, eager to cash in, likewise created Sunday hours where none had previously existed. It wasn’t long before youth sports overflowed from weekdays to weekends to Sundays, and now families were hustling around town and around the country to get the kids to the next training, the next practice, the next game and the next performance. In amazingly short order, Sunday became just another day of the week, sans work or school. What was once held as sacred time for faith and family was lost in the drive to do more, be more, achieve more, and experience more.
While these goals are fine in their own right, in devoting increasing amounts of time and resources to worldly pursuits we lost touch with an integral part of ourselves: our spirituality. We fell out of balance. We managed to unwittingly but effectively edge God out of our lives.
The acronym EGO, meaning Edging God Out, is quite accurate. The worldly pursuits that supplanted a regular faith practice tend to be largely ego based – it’s all about me, it’s about us, it’s about the team, it’s about doing more. Life became less about any kind of relationship with God, however you understand God, and more about how you are in the world.
FAITH and FEAR - The claim that many traditional churches lack of relevance is not lost on me. It’s the reason I left the church of my youth decades ago. While I appreciate some of the values of my youthful education, I bristled at the stock response to nearly all my probing questions about church teachings. “You’ve got to take it on faith” I was told over and over. No intelligent discourse to explore my doubts about the veracity of what was being taught, just condescending, dismissive and oft times shaming pronouncements about my lack of faith. A blunt but far more honest response would have been “Just shut up and do what we tell you.”
Then there’s the fear factor that permeates traditional Christianity. “Just shut up and do what we tell you …. or you’ll spend all of eternity in hell.” How can one possibly know the Creator as the Source of Love with such a grim injunction hanging over your head? I couldn’t reconcile “God is love” with the possibility (or in my case, I suppose, the probability) of eternal damnation.
While some of the traditional teachings had some practical value – forgive, count your blessings, and the like - it was ultimately overshadowed by fear, hell and belittling condescension. Is it any wonder I fled the church of my youth?!
Not the Faith of Our Fathers. Thankfully, my exploration eventually led me to a different path. Somewhat surprisingly, my initial discoveries came in an executive development program. My career had taken me into business and management, and a friend suggested I’d find the seminar valuable. Was he ever right! It literally changed my life!
The crux of the class was that our thoughts create our life experience. If we don’t like how our life is playing out, we need to examine our thoughts for they drive our behavior, our actions and ultimately our experiences. It went on to teach how to formulate and practice personal affirmations to redirect or reprogram one’s thinking and hence one’s life. The possibilities were endless and exhilarating! No longer hopelessly relegated a mere candle in the wind (thank you, Elton), we were taught useful tools to direct our own course!