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I went to see Lyle Lovett in concert the other night.  He was playing here in town just a few miles from home.  The first time Heidi and I saw Lyle Lovett was over 20 years ago while living in Austin. He’s a Texas boy you know, about the same age as me.  He was playing at The Backyard, a rustic outdoor venue about a mile from our Austin home.  We like concerts close to home! The concert here was held at a local high school performing arts center which is quite nice.  I humored myself to realize that Lyle Lovett and I have performed on the same stage because I have spoken on the same performing arts stage at a high school assembly there years ago.  I didn’t get paid though. 

On the night of Lovett’s concert, the center was packed with close to a thousand fans.  I might have been one of the younger dudes there and I’d guess most were over 60 years old! Lovett has an unusual vocal and writes some particularly humorous songs.  One of my favorite songs is titled “Church,” and is about the preacher who kept on preaching judgement while everyone was getting hungry, not only hungry for food but for the preacher to stop preaching!  It is really a fun song most of us could relate to (you can find it on Youtube...check it out).

A sample of the lyrics:

And the preacher he kept preaching

He said now I'll remind you if I may

You all better pay attention

Or I might decide to preach all day

And now everyone was getting so hungry

That the old ones started feeling ill

And the weak ones started passing out

And the young ones they could not sit still

How many times have we wished the preacher would just wrap it up so we can get on with it?! I can only imagine how many times people wished that of me when preaching!! I couldn’t help but think about church while sitting in the audience at the concert in the same performing arts center where an actual church meets on Sundays.  When did communities of people we called “churches” soon after Christ begin sitting like an audience to watch a performance of sorts.  Sure, early Christians did sit and hear from teachers, and some even attended a synagogue service perhaps. 

There are plenty of examples in the book of Acts of believers gathered together sharing meals, singing, praying and if they had something to learn it might have been taught, shared, discussed or even debated.  For the first few hundred years, “church” was people gathered in small communities, whether in big cities or tiny villages, sharing life together.  Slowly, letters from a few of the apostles began to circulate and there was the spoken word passed on, an oral tradition of what was remembered of what Christ did and what he said.

Finally, after seasons of persecution Christianity became an approved state religion thanks to the Roman emperor Constantine.  Now the money, gold and art poured in and the hierarchy formalized Christianity.  Of course, a lot has happened since Constantine and the canonization of the New Testament which occurred around the same time. Doctrine and theology subsequently formed and was more or less unofficially canonized.  I’m not an historian (if that wasn’t obvious already) but you get the picture. 

Back to Lyle Lovett.  While watching his concert I thought about how many church services today are much like a Lyle Lovett concert. You must have a nice facility, greeters at the door.  Where you choose your seat and where you sit is important to you.  You don’t purchase a ticket for church but really…you do.  Technology and media is critically important. There must be a well-rehearsed contemporary band backstage ready to go with instruments set up on stage giving the congregant a sense of anticipation that some good worship music is about to be played.  Lighting is important and maybe a little fog to catch the light rays shining down on stage helping to create a mood.  We come in and sit in rows all facing the stage anticipating what will be presented.  Lyle Lovett had a fantastic group of four talented and amazing accompanists.  But still, we came to hear from the one guy…Lyle Lovett, like we often do in church.  You know…the one guy. 

That’s what we do on Sundays.  Could you imagine walking into a church service on a Sunday and having the preacher give a 10-minute preparatory message of instruction and then send the congregation outside to go be alone with God….to seek God…to question God…to hear from God…to cry with God…to laugh with God…to not hear from God?  And the preacher thinks to himself or herself, “Man, I’d rather allow the Spirit of God to spend more time with these people than hearing from me directly for 45 minutes!” He might doubt though, “Yeah, but does the Spirit really work that way? Doesn’t God need me to say most of the words and then we’ll see if the Spirit might add something?” 

OK.  Forgive the tinge of sarcasm here but what I’m wondering out loud is how come many church services today try so desperately to compete with the popularity of the Lyle Lovett or a million more fold, the Taylor Swift motif of attraction or entertainment? Our younger generations, for the most part, aren't buying it.  Shouldn't it be that the church gathering be the place where the soul communes, contemplates and anticipates the engaging work of the Spirit which means entering into the mysterious all the while facing something else besides the stage?    Then at some point,  as Lyle Lovett sings in his song “Church,”

To the Lord let praises be

It's time for dinner now let's go eat

We've got some beans and some good cornbread

And I listened to what the preacher said

Now it's to the Lord let praises be

It's time for dinner now let's go eat

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