“CAN YOU PLEASE DO SOMETHING ABOUT ALL THAT RACKET?”
An elderly gentleman complemented me after my teaching, saying “That was the finest sermon I’ve heard in seventy-five years.” This was several weeks ago after the Brew Cue (our evening service at a local brewery).Wow, I thought. That’s high praise. I’m always surprised whenever older people enjoy Westwinds, since the loud music and persistent commotion typically turn them off. “I only wish,” the gentleman continued, “you’d do something about all this racket.”
He’s not alone.
Many people at Westwinds love our engagement with the community and our solid biblical teaching. They love our lean structure and our focus on youth and kids. But long-term churched people have a difficult time with our “racket.” I don’t just mean the volume of our music—though, I suppose, that’s part of it—but also the throng of people in our lobby, the coffee spills in our auditorium, the kids zipping around the outside of the building , the crazy aesthetics hanging from the ceiling, the stuff written all over our walls, and the mess painted on our parking stalls. The overall effect is, as one woman put it to me last week, “like coming to a bazaar. It’s bizarre.”
I’ve got good ways to talk about how our liturgy is different, and our mission, and even our differences in staff culture and narrative theology; but, I think these last few weeks have intensified my need to clarify our approach to Christian spirituality.
In short, I think that old man was right. Worship ought to be a R.A.K.E.T.
Re-orienting. Somehow Christian spirituality has gotten away from focusing on Christ and on his mission to heal the world. We’ve become infatuated with Christian “things”—whether worship things or justice things or commercial things or political things—and forgotten who Jesus is and why he’s come.
We talk A LOT about Christ at Westwinds, and that’s very difficult for some people to hear. It’s difficult for them when we teach the way Jesus did—through stories—and love the people Jesus loved—the outcasts and misfits and weirdos—and even anger the people Jesus angered—the religious professionals and caretakers of the faith. But this is not aberrant agitation on our part; we’re committed to living for Jesus, like Jesus.
People experience disorientation at The Winds because we’re moving them away from “Christian things” back to Jesus Christ. We’re reorienting our faith around him and his mission to heal the world.
Attentive. You can seem holy because of what you know, but the true test of your spirituality is where you focus your attention. We are what we do with our attention. The Spirit of God nudges us through life, constantly prompting us to take seemingly insignificant actions that often fit into God’s larger plans. Typically, we miss these opportunities to cooperate with God, or only notice them after the fact. But Christians who are dialed in to the movement of God’s Spirit are washed in stories of random encounters that became major happenings, of small gestures that turned into life-changing friendships, of thoughtful considerations that transformed perspectives and opened doors for ministry.
God rarely shouts. It you want to hear what he’s saying, you have to pay attention.
Kinesthetic. Worship, service, discipline, holiness, and faith are all things that we do. They should be obvious from the outside. Somehow, over time, we’ve so emphasized the interiority of our faith that we’ve neglected behaviors to match. But our faith needs to be as much about what we do as who we are, since our character and allegiance are revealed through our habits and practices.
We design our services to ensure there’s always something for people to do—something to fill out, somewhere to go, some motion to copy, some practice to emulate, some exercise to try—in an effort to countermand our congregational passivity. After all, we learn best when doing accompanies hearing and seeing. We want people to following Jesus, not just with their hearts, but with their hands and their feet, also.
Experiential. We don’t want to simply speak of God, but to encounter him first-hand. We want to give people opportunities to try new spiritual practices, consider new ideas, and pray in new ways. We want our worship experiences to feel both sacramental and popular, both accessible and mysteriously holy, both common and transcendent. We blend ancient Christian teaching with pop culture and contemporary music in a kind of bricolage that differs remarkably from the usual rock concert faire. We design worship to elicit “bowing” and provoke “wowing.”
Transformational. Christian spirituality is about transformation. You must change, continually, until you die. You will never be good enough for God, but you will always be prompted by God’s goodness to become better. Christian people live with a sense of eschatological authenticity—we live according to the people we know God made us to become. We press into the divinely destined design of our lives, knowing God wants us to become the best possible version of ourselves.
This is why our church can sometimes feel simultaneously welcoming and intolerant. We’re hospitable to all people, and we celebrate change. So, when someone shows up with major problems, we’re happy and glad they’ve arrived and are willing to submit to God’s Spirit. As long as they keep changing, we keep cheering. But, when someone shows up who’s disinterested in being any different than the way they are now—long-term Christians, sadly, are usually this way—then we tend to be dismissive. We either don’t want anything to do with them, or we try and push them to keep changing. I understand why this is confusing for some people, especially those who consider themselves “good.” But goodness is a relative term. God defines goodness as obedience to his Spirit and a willingness to be transformed increasingly into his image. Even good people aren’t good enough to no longer need God.
Never forget that God made you to become like him, and we’ll always be there nudging you onwards and expecting the same in return.
The elderly gentleman I referred to earlier never came back to the Brew Cue, and we’ve never had any further conversation about Westwinds. I hope we’ll get the chance one day, because I’d like to explain the R.A.K.E.T. I’d love the chance to remind him that the same guy who kicked over tables in the Temple would probably be kicking up his heels on the dance floor.