Maybe you’re fine with the state-of-the-church (insert the hundreds of reports, studies, interviews, books, articles, etc. painting a rather bleak picture).
I’m looking for a new way to think about Church. A new way of being the Church.
Brian Swanson, a good friend and a great student ministry leader, shared a metaphor for the Church in the most recent edition of our church’s electronic news magazine, The Wire. His article, “Party with the ‘rents!” (see pgs. 20-21), invites us to consider what it could look like when we shift away from seeing Church as a restaurant, instead holding up Church as a picnic.
Without repeating every word of his article, I want to continue the discussion with you.
Here’s a brief overview…
In a restaurant someone:
- Opens the door
- Takes us to our table
- Takes our order
- Cooks our food
- Brings our food and attends to our needs while eating
- Clears the table and keeps the restaurant clean
- Washes the dishes
- In a restaurant we pay to be served. It’s a gathering of consumers.
At a picnic:
- Everyone brings something to share
- Some pick the site
- Some organize games
- Some cook
- Some get the food laid out
- Some clean up
- Some tell stories and discuss life
- At a picnic everyone contributes. It’s a gathering of community.
What does this have to do with the Church?
I have been guilty of perpetuating an ecclesiology that breeds consumers.
The worship space is designed to be comfortable and attractive. Special attention is paid to the lighting, the temperature, the seating. The music is performed by paid professionals or at the least very high-quality volunteers. The messages are packaged to be intriguing yet palatable. The ministry is done for you or to you by the folks paid to do so. The door is held open for you. A program is placed in your hands. You can be escorted to your seat. You listen as folks sing. You listen as someone speaks. We pass a plate which feels a bit like paying for the entertainment you’ve received or expect to receive. Church looks a lot like a restaurant and your participation is to pay for what you get.
Cynical? Perhaps. Accurate? Too often.
I have been wrestling with what it looks to be Church in a different way – Church as a picnic.
I see this picnic church when all participate in some way (see Brian’s example of families coming together for food and fun). Here offering is understood to include more than the money we give for some service, but as the giving of our whole selves. Yes, some are paid to prepare a message, sing a song, answer the phone, keep the building clean. But, the whole community participates in ministry. All teach by their actions inside and outside the gathering. All share their lives with each other and with the world. All accept the invitation to come and see AND to go and do. Everyone understands themselves as gifted and called. Everyone seeks ways to be in ministry. As such, a picnic church is active and alive. A picnic church is mobilized and energized. A picnic church looks and feels a bit like what I imagine the Acts 2 church looked and felt like. A picnic church is hard work.
And that is why we have so many restaurant churches around. It’s so much easier to sit and receive than it is to share and serve.
Here’s the rub…I’m thinking Jesus is a picnic kinda guy.
He did plenty of work, but he did so as a way of training his followers so they would understand the work they were being invited to do. I don’t think it coincidence that so many of Jesus interactions recorded in scripture feature gatherings of people, sharing of meals, community building.
So I’m challenged to get in there and get dirty. I’m encouraged to pour myself out. I’m inspired to think of others at least as much as I think of myself. I’m invited to the picnic with the understanding I’ll bring something to share.
And so are you.
It might look like a family social facilitated by a student ministry team. It might look like a family mission trip. It might look like families gathered to offer worship. It might look like a picnic.
I’ll bring the chocolate covered chocolate. What will you bring?
Life is better together,
In the spirit of full disclosure, the restaurant vs. picnic discussion started with a time of sharing with one of our colleagues, Jamie Roach. Thanks for the insight Jamie! We are learning and growing and being transformed as we explore these metaphors together.