Trappings of Church?

Warning: written while hot under the collar.

Wanting spirituality without the trappings of church is like wanting democracy without the trappings of representative government. It’s like wanting an education without the trappings of a school or university. It’s like wanting the love and community of family without having to clean the toilet or take out the trash.

I understand that there are countless people who are turned off by “the church” for countless good reasons. What I don’t understand is how people can blithely believe they are providing the so-called spirituality people seek without any trappings. Recently I read on Disciples News Service a story about a couple, a minister and his wife, starting such a venture. He left a Disciple congregation feeling a call to a new kind of ministry. It’s called Pneu Project. Pneu is a Greek word for life, spirit and breath.

The main tenants of the project are:

  • We exist to share Jesus with people who don’t go to church.
  • We believe God deserves better. (followed by something about becoming the most creative, caring and effective organization….which means INFRASTRUCTURE; more about that later.)
  • We believe everyone is included. . . No restrictions, no politics, period. (Okay, that is REALLY political. Everyone means gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, transgendered, etc. Everyone means Libertarian, Democrat, Republican.)

 Infrastructure: Without infrastructure, the trappings of church:

  1. There would be no seminary where the pastor got his theological education
  2. There would be no Committee on Ministry to insure he was “safe” to do ministry.
  3. There would be no Pension Fund for him to have a secure retirement.
  4. There would be no legal protection for him if ever accused of unethical/illegal actions.
  5. There would be no accountability to be related to the whole body of Christ beyond the one circle of community.
  6. There would be no accountability to actually be the body of Christ in a hurting world which does require Christians get up off our butts and do something about the poverty and hunger in the world. It’s not enough to feed the hungry; one must also ask WHY people are hungry. That, my friends is a political question. We cannot get off that hook so easily as to say, “Well, we’re just not going to be political.”

 I’m weary of the way criticisms are launched from catapults of casual arrogance with ammunition of vague generalities like, “trappings of church”. Yes, congregations have allowed committee structures to supersede ministry. There are also congregations whose committees are DOING ministry, getting things done for the sake of building the kingdom of God.

Yesterday I was reminded by the words of a colleague that one important part of infrastructure that helped our congregations stay in tune with Global Ministries has weakened over the years: Disciples Women. Congregations and the Global Ministries relied on this part of the body to keep the connection strong between missionaries and church partners around the world and the people in local congregations in the U.S. and Canada. Our collective effort to be a presence in the world is weaker because this “trapping of the church” no longer functions in more and more congregations. And nothing else is filling the vacuum in these congregations, ours included.

Other words for trappings include: accessories, trimmings, frills. I don’t know precisely what Pneu Project will look like, but I hope it will include the accessories of lay Elders and Diaconate, the trimmings of valued musicians who are paid for their time and creative efforts, the frills of a group of committed, visionary lay leaders with gifts of administration (yes, that’s a spiritual gift!) who will spend time meeting together to manage the often unexciting but necessary bits and pieces of community life.

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