Agitators, subversion, & the Sunday service

A couple of weeks ago our church conducted a panel interview on a Sunday evening. The panel consisted of two couples who recently walked through some significant physical trials (actually, the trials aren’t really over for either couple). For nearly an hour we were privileged to hear fellow members bear witness to God’s faithfulness and goodness in miserable circumstances.

By all accounts the evening was very profitable. I was struck, however, by the report of a comment from an unidentified member–something like “I wish we could do this on Sunday morning.” Stodgy traditionalist that I am, I can’t seem to muster a visceral response in the absence of further testimony indicating subversive intent. [Make no mistake: proof or no proof, anyone who would suggest a change to the regularly scheduled Sunday morning program is subversive–and an agitator.] Even so, this isn’t the first time that someone has countenanced a Sunday morning makeover so I thought it might be helpful to tease this out a bit.

I assume that the thinking behind “I wish we could do this [i.e. extended personal testimonies] on Sunday morning” consists of two interrelated parts: (1) if we did this on Sun morning we would reach more people (2) if we did this on Sunday morning it would have a big impact on our church. It seems axiomatic that (2) is the key thought in all of this. After all, you wouldn’t really care about reaching more people unless you’re convinced the message would have a big impact.

But the assertion that an hour’s worth of personal testimony would have a big impact on the church is subjective and relative. Subjective because we measure “impact” or “effect” in so many different ways (laughter/tears, positive feedback, etc.); relative because almost anything can be big so long as you find something small to set beside it.

And that brings us to the real rub in all of this: to call something big you must call something else small. So how shall a church tag their activities (and their impact)? What practices in our corporate gatherings will we label “small” and what practices will we label “big”?

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Author: Jonathan P. Merritt

Happily married father of six. Associate pastor for education at Edgewood Baptist Church (Columbus, GA). Good-natured contrarian and theological Luddite. A student of one book.

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