December 26, 2013

Boxing Day

I read a tweet today that said: "Merry 2nd Day of Christmas!" I thought about it for a moment, and then remembered the Christmas Carol, "The Twelve Days of Christmas." Yes, today is the day when we are supposed to give two turtle doves to demonstrate the giving of this season. Yet, yesterday, December 25th was the day when the world (well, almost all of the world) exchanged gifts and celebrated Jesus' birth (or the commercial holiday now associated with it). It is weird when you think about traditions and how they impact your life. I thought about today being the 2nd day of Christmas and wished I would have grown up in a place where a gift was given on each day of the celebration (like Chanukah). How special it would be to have one gift to enjoy on each of the twelve days?

If your family is like mine, it took approximately 15 minutes for us to unwrap all the gifts under our tree. We don't have little children anymore, so it was the four of us (my 80yr old parents, my 20yr son, and myself - oh yes, and two cats, who helped destroy bows and ribbons). The morning was enjoyable, but we ripped through everything so quickly, that it seemed to be anticlimactic in some ways.

Day One begins on Christmas Day (December 25) and runs through Day Twelve (January 6) or Three Kings Day (the visit of the Magi). I like the idea of enjoying Christmas and celebrating each day by remembering the Nativity story and the progression of events that took place between the birth of Jesus and the visit of the Magi. I think it would make the season more special to focus on each aspect rather than to read the story from Luke, sing a couple carols, light some candles and then dive into the presents!

I titled this post "Boxing Day" because in the UK and Canada (and other locations), December 26 is traditionally celebrated as the day when servants and trades people received gifts from their employers. It is a secular holiday, but also is known as St. Stephens day. It is a day for rest and relaxation (in some places) and for shopping sales in others (especially in the USA).

I guess the reason I titled this post as such was to articulate the fact that I am missing traditional Christmas celebrations. So much has changed in my life. The world has changed. The Church has changed, and all this change has caused many of the traditions we grew up with to change as well. I don't like this kind of change. Tradition is a good thing, it give a framework of reference to us, and it reminds us of the past, and of our history (good and bad). I love history, and I love traditional historic events and commemoration/celebrations. I miss the old fashioned way we celebrated Christmas. I miss the emphasis of Christmas as being the birth of Jesus Christ. I miss the solemn reflection of Christmas.

The photo at left was taken during our Christmas Eve service at church. The musicians on the stage include my son (piano). The music at the service was so loud that it hurt my ears. I normally like praise and worship music, and I like contemporary Christian music. However, on Christmas I like to sing traditional carols and light candles and have the old fashioned celebration I remember from my childhood. I listen to contemporary music every Sunday at church -- but on Christmas -- I wanted to hear quiet and thoughtful music, not rock and hard drums.

I thought about the fact that our service probably attracted a number of visitors to the church. I looked around and I saw a lot of people who I didn't recognize. They were not comfortable with the music and they didn't seem to enjoy the service. Perhaps they were looking for the traditional message and carol's too?

Our church is changing. The focus and the spirit of the church has been in change for the past ten or so years. There has been a lot of upheaval going on and staff have left (been asked to leave) and then replaced with new staff chosen by the lead Pastor. I get it, really I do. Whenever a new Pastor comes in, there are usually some staff changes. Unfortunately, almost the entire staff has changed. The emphasis on community is still there, but there is a hard edge to it. Our church is in trouble financially, and membership has declined since the new Pastor came on board. While we had good attendance at these services (more than normal on Sunday), I don't think most of these visitors will come back next week.

What do you do when the church changes around you and you feel out of place?

I have been through a number of changes like these over the years. I have been through difficult change (where a Pastor admitted to adultery and was replaced thus causing a mega-church to split in half and then through attrition, later die out). I have been through pastoral changes, some natural (retiring pastors) and some through leadership decision. I have never been in a church, though, that changed from one kind of a church to another -- like my church.

My church is part of the Evangelical Covenant Church denomination. However, you would never know it. The name has been changed, shortened to one of those "one word" names. The pastoral staff is gone, and in their place, are new people (good people). The emphasis is on contemporary and postmodernism which says that the lost will only respond to the culture they know. In short, those seeking God will not come into a traditional church. They will only go to a church that offers Starbucks, loud music, flashing screens, and a "feel good" message.

Our Pastor is very sincere, and he gives a good message. He is young and very hip. The music is loud, and for the most part, good. There are no traditional elements present. Communion has only been reinstated recently, and then it is offered every so often, and not once a month. It is not communal, but self-serve. The reason we celebrate communion is glossed over and there is no solemn explanation of what Jesus did for us or why we are asked in the Bible to remember to take the bread and wine (juice) regularly.

This Christmas, there were a few carols sung during the weeks leading up to the Christmas Eve service. They were rocked versions of the traditional songs. We didn't light the advent wreath nor did we have children come and read the story of what each candle means. The services proceeded as they had always proceeded -- with the addition of a few lights and some decorations. I know we are struggling financially, but it seems like the no-frills approach is what the staff like. Our church has been at its current location for 23-24 years. It is a traditional church building/campus and we have traditional elements available to use.

I told my parents (who do not like what is happening to the church and who have been vocal about the change) that this is the new NAME church. We either have to like it or we can leave. Our church is right across the street from where we live. We can certainly leave it, but where do we go? I am afraid that postmodernism has crept into the CHURCH to such an extent that there is no place we can go where we will find traditional Christian teachings. Mind you, our Pastor is evangelical, and he preaches the message of salvation often. How can you fault a man of God who is preaching the good news? What I and others are complaining about is the loss of tradition -- the loss of the traditional aspects of Church that are familiar and comforting to us.

Our leadership has clearly said that the church doesn't belong to us, it belongs to God. They are correct in a way. It is God's church, but it is made up of God's people. I see several areas of concern for the way the modern church is evolving:
  1. Emphasis is on seeking the lost (yes, we need to do this)
  2. De-emphasis on traditional elements that the lost or seekers might not understand or would find offensive
  3. Preaching feel good messages rather than Biblically-based/Scripturally-sound doctrine
  4. Incorporating music, video and other social media as a means of communication
  5. Reducing traditional communication citing cost-savings
  6. Focused on outreach and missions (again a good thing)
  7. Loss of community and inward relationship building
  8. Only seeking to bring in new members
  9. Not concerned about losing old members
  10. No discipleship, no personal growth, no spiritual depth
I see this happening all over our city. I see churches springing up and flashing signs to bring the people in. I don't see a lot of community/relationship building. I see outreach programs, ministering to the poor, the disenfranchised, etc (yes, we are supposed to do this). I see members leaving the church because they feel they do not matter to anyone. They are looked over except when it comes time to pony up money for the next building campaign. I see sad faces of older members who are forced to leave a church they loved and supported because they no longer have a service that fits their style and their needs. They are told to buck up, and to accept the fact that the church is reaching young people now. Old people are told to go sit down and to write checks to send the youth to Hawaii or some expensive camp for the summer.

I see priorities out of whack, and I see the CHURCH is disarray. Yes, the church belongs to Jesus Christ. It is his bride, and it is who he cherishes most. However, the church is made up of people, all sorts of people. People from every background and every experience. It is not a one-size fits all homogenized church that only plays loud music and tweets! It is supposed to be a home, a community of believers, a place where worship happens because of changed lives. The church is supposed to be exclusive and not inclusive. If you recall from Scripture, the Bible clearly tells us that Christians will be known for their love. They will also be a light that draws men (people) to Christ. The church is supposed to be something different, something that draws curious people to it.

I am worried that when the Church becomes so focused on being culturally relevant, it will become nothing more special that a day out at the mall. It will lose its uniqueness and its traditions and we will find that people who seek God will end up choosing where to attend each Sunday -- do we go to the game or do we go to church?


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