My Eastertide children’s message series will be “Why Church?” wherein the purposes and practices of the church are explored and explained. I have a brother and sister that absolutely love Holy Communion. They call it ‘bread time’. As they kneel at the altar, they look up and smile. Their enthusiasm always leads me to give them a big piece. I wish we had bigger cups. Notably, these kids are bright, curious and cheerful. They come with a disposition that has brought hope and levity to the congregation. I’ve tried to do some Christology with them for Lent. That has been quite difficult really, and I’m glad to be moving on. Some ecclesiology with children might be more fruitful.
Of course, it’s not the kids alone that need to ask and answer “Why Church?” It’s the adults and the leaders. It’s The Church as a whole. I think they call this Apologetics. But this is not to be an apology: who wants to be part of any group that’s always feeling down about itself. It gets old. Instead, let’s apologize, as in define, defend and differentiate the purposes and practices of The Church. I am thinking in terms of a catechism. People ask questions, The Church provides answers. Here are some of the questions that I think need investigating:
- What are sacraments and why do we have these sacraments?
- Why do Christians need The Church?
- Why does the world need The Church?
- Why do we confess sins?
- What principles guide The Church in our addressing social matters?
- Why do we pray?
- Why do we tithe?
- Why do we have clergy?
- Why is fellowship necessary?
- Why does the Bible still matter?
- What does The Church have to say about suffering?
- What principles guide The Church’s interaction with other religions?
- Why do I need God/The Church to bless my marriage?
- What principles guide The Church’s interaction with sinners/criminals/wrongdoers?
- What principles guide The Church’s addressing of war?
- Why are there so many old people in church and so few young?
- How do I know God loves me?
- Why is The Church so hypocritical?
- How do I know God’s will?
- What is the Holy Spirit?
I am thinking of these as big questions for The Church universal but NOT rhetorical. Church leadership as a group ought to make a concerted, collective effort to begin answering these questions publicly. No one cares about the healthiness of our congregations. They do not care what ancient denominational title is on the sign. They want to know if we can answer their burning questions. It is about theology and the activities of faith, not about business practices or growth models. My denomination has been declining domestically for decades, largely because of our tunnel vision on How questions, to the detriment of addressing the Why questions that keep people up at night and plague people in times of despair. “[T]he gates of Hades will not prevail against [the church].” That’s Jesus’ promise, and I know his grace is sufficient for us. So let’s not be afraid to say this is who we are and this why we exist.