Skipping Lecture, Skipping Church

I stopped going to class during the first week of class.

I was surprised at the extent to which this fazed some of my friends and classmates. I’m still kind of surprised, in retrospect, because now over 75% of my class no longer goes to lecture on any sort of regular basis, and the professors have a hard time even enforcing “required” sessions because everyone has realized how much more time-efficient it is to study on your own, especially if using active recall software like Anki or Firecracker.

I gravitated toward other hardcore skippers, and we worked well in parallel and became fast friends. It got to the point where I found myself annoyed whenever I had to go to a lecture or listen to it at “1x,” without the 1.5x, 2x, or 2.5x speed-up option we had for video-captured lectures. Why am I wasting my time, I’d think. This is unbelievably inefficient.

It was only a matter of time before the distaste for lecture-style learning extended to church as well.

And where I once would have taken up a pitchfork at Donald Miller’s views about church and the fact that he stopped regularly attending five years ago, I now understand his viewpoint uncomfortably well. He said he stopped going to Sunday services because, much like I felt when eschewing the lecture hall for the computer lab, “I just don’t learn that way.”

And he’s right. Although there’s much to be said about the history and legacy and cool-ness of listening to a talk by a world-renowned expert in a certain field, it’s hard to say whether it’s really the best for learning. I’ve come to see listening to lectures as more of a luxury, something like a TedTalk, something for first year students who have all the time in the world.

For the most part, I’ve tried to avoid letting this mindset seep into the way I view church sermons, but it’s possibly a losing battle, because I can’t help but wonder: if I’m not willing to trust in a given format for learning minutiae like the 7 million different drugs which can cause dry mouth, why on earth am I trusting it for the far more important task of empowering God’s church to do his work in a world that so desperately needs it?

This particular quotation from Miller’s recent article in Relevant particularly spoke to me:

“The agency to be an apostle, to be a disciple of Jesus is given to one person in the room, or maybe five or six—and that’s the pastoral staff. And I would love to see a model of church where the pastor stands up and says “you are all pastors.” Just buy a box of sheriff badges and give it out and read Hebrews and say, “you are a pastor, and this Sunday meeting is time to equip the thousands of little churches that will leave here and take place in your homes around your dinner table.”

That, I think, would terrify most evangelical audiences. We don’t want that kind of agency because it gives us responsibility. If I’m a disciple of Jesus, a real disciple of Jesus, I can’t give my pastor the agency for me. I have to take it in my relationships with my neighbors and the way I do communion.”

I have felt this increasingly over the past couple of months, my first months in years in which I haven’t been actively involved in ministry as a daily rhythm of my life. It was so easy to find those opportunities in college and high school, but now I’m realizing that they won’t fall in my lap anymore. I have to go out and seize them by the jugular.

But that’s me, abashedly ENTJ, the “CEO personality type.” I will go out and find ministry, or I’ll shrivel away trying. But that’s not everyone, or most people, or even me most of the time. And maybe that’s why most of the church is having so little impact.

I say most because there are always those five of six, as the quotation above mentions. Or for a church the size of mine, maybe twenty or even fifty. The last couple of months I’ve been itching and twitching to get into that fifty, to see some action, dammit !

But I’m realizing that this model is fundamentally flawed. Why should the church be 1%, 99%, with all the risk and reward of ministry sequestered in a tiny group at the top? Why am I trying to get into the 1% when the real problem is that this stratification exists in the first place?

Why is the church for most of us just a thing we go to instead of who we are, the warp and the weft of our daily lives? Why are our days built around mostly forgetting about Jesus instead of being the nation of priests he called us to be, and superimposing our careers on top of that far more important identity scaffold?

As usual, not much in the way of useful answers but lots in the way of frustrated befuddlement and my own work-in-progress. Anyway, I don’t think I’m strong enough to pull a Miller and ditch the Sunday gatherings, even if I find their format flawed, because as imperfect as Sunday is, it’s the lifeline I have right now.

But meanwhile, something increasingly on my mind: how to flip the classroom in the church and give us all a little more agency in our learning.

I don’t expect much to happen anytime soon; the church changes even slower than Harvard, and that is seriously saying a lot because this place is beyond stuck in its ways. But per the entry below, deep culture change takes time…this is a deep change worth making, I think, so I hope the church can put in the time and prayer needed and see what God makes happen.

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