From Connections: A new creation: Building the next church

By Darlene Warren

BIG SANDY, Texas--In the beginning God created the church, and the church was without form and complication. And darkness was upon the face of the congregation. Then God said, "Let there be someone to turn the lights on." And God created the deacon.

And God said, "It is not good for the deacon to be alone. I will make an help meet for him." And God created the usher.

If you've never taken the time to ponder the great articles of faith on which we base our religion, maybe we should take a few moments to do just that. Can you articulate to someone unfamiliar with our tenets why we do the things we do: why we conduct services the way we do? Is it biblical? The Bible encourages us to "prove all things." Let us review.

"And God saw all He had created, and, behold, it was very good."

All God's creation had been admonished to "be fruitful and multiply." From that dictum sprang greeters, parking crews, attendance takers and money counters.

Rent by the head

Some have faithfully adhered to that instruction. In one congregation where I attended for many years, you couldn't swing a dead cat without hitting a minister, let alone a deacon. They truly took on a life-form of their own.

Instead of being without form and complication, church became structured and configured. As deacons and ushers proliferated, they began to generate their own language. Slowly over time phrases like "chain of command," "organization charts," "attendance card" and "head count" crept into our conversations.

Instead of just illuminating the building, we became a church dedicated to taking attendance as though we were charged hall rental by the head.

Holy days posed particularly stressful challenges for those on the organization chart, what with the hustling and bustling of collecting the offering, calculating the average per-person donation and computing whether the percentage of income was either above or below the previous year. But from the beginning it was not so.

Put those chairs in a circle

In contrast, I think it would do us a lot of good to look at things from a different angle for a while. Do you remember how excited you became when your teacher would walk into the classroom and announce, "Okay, class, everyone put your desks in a circle"?

Most of that excitement came from just being able to break the monotony. We probably would have gotten just as excited if she had announced, "Okay, class, everybody out back to dig a ditch."

Once we had the chairs in position, we could put the minister on a dais in the center of the chairs. From there he would call forth from the audience one participant at a time to answer biblical questions befitting the particular subject of the day.

The participant would have three lifelines to aid him in answering each multiple-choice query. One lifeline would be to poll the audience, one 50-50 (whereby two wrong answers are removed, leaving one correct and one incorrect answer), and one chance to call a friend who was attending an in-home fellowship.

Interactive service

Who Wants to Be a Minister? could transform our services into something new and exciting.

It warms my heart just thinking about how the brethren would cheer on and encourage the lucky fellow. It would be such a participatory way of doing things. Of course, if he missed the first question he would be doomed to a life of shame and embarrassment.

If that approach seems a little too revolutionary for some, we could keep the chairs in a circle format but instead of allowing only one participant at a time we could all be involved by judging each other on how well we completed assigned tasks given us by the local minister.

We could call it "Church Survivor." By forming alliances we could vote those out of the circle we felt did not work well with the rest of us. The church, we could say, has spoken.

Wait, have we already done that?

Chair and chair alike

Then there are those who hold the position that Sabbath services could be so much more relaxing and enjoyable if you could be assured that even if arriving late you could locate a chair to serve your particular needs.

That's why I have always been partial to the idea of securing your chair from the rack at the front door, much like you do your songbook. Set it up where you are the most comfortable, then return it to the rack on your way out.

This could be thought of as just a physical sampling of working out your own salvation.

Or you could bring your own chair from home as insurance against unforeseen circumstances such as an overflow crowd, losing that ever-elusive back-row seat or finding yourself voted out of the circle. It always pays to come prepared.

Whatever your preference may be, remember to have a great Feast, and give a deacon a hug.

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