Church is good for sketching

This post is inspired by, though not really about, to an entry on ThinkChristian titled Church as a Spectator Sport. The brief spot talks about how easy it is to be invisible in larger churches if you want to. Indeed, such anonymity requires little effort in the mega-church setting.

I must admit that I’m a bit jaded with the whole Sunday morning church scene right now. I might have mentioned this in passing once before on this blog, but since it’s come up in conversation twice this week before the ThinkChristian commentary I’m giving it some more attention.

The common, predictable non-denominational church service just isn’t doing it for me. It’s become as rote as more traditional liturgies were accused of being by Evangelicals during my childhood. However, I’ve muddled through this sentiment over the last two years or so, and what I’ve come to realize is that every believer is at a different point in their spiritual walk. “Duh,” you say. And yes, I already knew this, but I hadn’t observed it’s relationship to regular assembly and fellowship as it’s done in America. Routine and communal reading of Scripture, prayer and communion are good and necessary disciplines, but the same kinds of liturgy aren’t always going to speak to every church goer at every different point in their life.

Churches aren’t able, I understand, to appease the whims and details of every Christ-follower’s present spiritual position through the single hour Sunday morning venue. Liturgies are established with good reason. Discipline isn’t always fun, exciting or even memorable, but it is necessary for us waffling humans. What I’m disappointed in, though, is how the church doesn’t seem to be aware of this concept.

Here I am, not feeling like I can either take away from or add to my congregation’s weekly service at this point in my life, and also not feeling like my church even knows about this deep-seated discontentment. Further, even if the church were to acknowledge this personal struggle the skeptic in me is convinced they wouldn’t try and do anything about it. Hopefully I’m wrong.

I like our pastor and he speaks well, but I can’t pay attention through an entire sermon these days. I like the music leader and know from face-to-face conversation he possesses a real passion for good music, but the music on Sunday mornings does nothing for me 90% of the time — as a listener or singer. The only part of Sunday morning liturgy that I look forward to is communion, which we gladly take on a weekly basis (unusual for a non-denominational church). Making all of these observations and more, I still wouldn’t really be able to tell them what I want that’s different either.

I can hear the criticisms to this rant already. You’re selfish. It’s not about what you get but about what you give. Stop whining. Let me assure you these are all irrelevant criticisms. I, to the best of my fallible human ability, very earnestly desire to glorify God in regular-scheduled community worship. My point in putting these words down here is more to alert church leadership that there are people in your congregation who are in a place in life where the standard Sunday morning service feels awkward, un-fulfilling, unmemorable. Just last week a friend of mine announced he and his wife were looking at other churches. He basically feels the same as I do from what I could tell. They may end up back at our church, but are giving some others a shot. Please don’t think we’re trying to make trouble. We still love God as much as we can and want to serve, to be a significant part in furthering the Kingdom.

But something about church — and we can’t always put our finger on it — just isn’t engaging to us at this point in life. We keep going because we understand the need for community and discipline. So we end up, those of us who are artists anyway, sketching in our sketchbooks during the sermons and simply annoyed by the pew calisthenics during song.

Please acknowledge.

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About pcNielsen
Paul Nielsen founded The Aesthetic Elevator late in 2005. He owns a piece of paper, located somewhere in his house (not on the wall), stating that he earned a B.F.A. from the University of Nebraska around about 2001. While there, he studied studied architecture, graphic design and ceramics, graduating with a degree in studio art. Paul presently serves as communications manager for a small non-profit doing their print design and marketing. He spends as much time sculpting in his studio as possible — which is not nearly enough. Visit his website at pcNielsen.com.

10 Responses to Church is good for sketching

  1. Church used to be very good for sketching, though I had a lot of 1/4 views and ears in my sketchbook. Then I found myself arriving later and later to avoid much of what you speak about. Then one day the pastor openly mocked anyone who did not vote for G.W. Bush, I stood up and walked out in the most visible way possible. I haven’t been back since.

    The church I loved was a charismatic church that evolved over time into a strict evangelical toe-the-republican-party-line kind of place. It went from a God Works Every Where Isn’t THAT Great! kind of place to a place where everyone and everywhere and God all had to fit in the literal box.

    Not even sketching could make that good.

    Now I get ill every time I go to a church that fits nicely in the Evangelical-Republican Box. So, when I do go, I go to high church Anglican or RC. I would love to find a nice little charismatic liturgical church in my area that is civilized enough to have services on Sunday afternoon and have room for artists. And women.

    Love your blog, keep blogging honestly.

  2. Tim J. says:

    I think the problems you are having are exactly why St. Paul felt the need to say “Let us not give up meeting together”. It *is* a sacrifice to continue that effort week after week and year after year. It always has and will always be so. Perhaps, immersed as we are in our consumer culture, it is difficult not to look at the liturgy as a product and we as the consumers, but we do have to continually resist that, because it is a falsehood.

    Speaking as a fellow pew sitter, with not much control over these things – the only space I can be responsible for is the square yard I inhabit. If the worship is dull in that space, it’s my fault.

    We humans have an amazing capacity to get tired of the Same Old Thing, even the beautiful things. I expect there are people working in the Louvre who get tired of the art, or more likely, just don’t notice it anymore… the same art I would crawl over broken glass to see.

    “A child kicks its legs rhythmically through excess, not absence, of life. Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, “Do it again”; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough… It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again,” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again,” to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike: it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.”

    G.K. Chesterton – from “Orthodoxy”

  3. TAE says:

    Tim,

    I know I used words like “predictable” and “rote” in the post, but I don’t really think the sameness is what’s bothering me. Note that I also pointed to a very regular occurrence as the one thing that I look forward too, communion. And the only think I can ever think of in my confusion on this issue that seems reasonably able to fix it is to attend a church with a more traditional liturgy than I’ve grown up in. But I haven’t done this yet.

    You say “If the worship is dull in that space, it’s my fault.” I’ve heard this accusation before, and was trying in my ramble to suggest this also wasn’t the problem. At least, I’m not convinced that it is. I say this in particular with respect to the music. Yes, music style is highly subjective, but am I supposed to change what I like in order that my disenchantment isn’t my fault anymore? Can I change what I like? There is such a thing, as much as we might not like to admit it, as a poor church service. They are led by fallen people just like us.

    I agree though with your citing Paul’s exhortation, and referred (without reference) to it in the post when I said “regular assembly.” We do need discipline regardless of what’s interesting to us, as I already said.

  4. Tim J. says:

    I really wasn’t trying to accuse. Honest! Who *hasn’t* felt this way?

    Most of my problem with the music and other aspects of worship is that we have seemingly given up the pursuit of real beauty – a high and hard discipline – in favor of that which is easiest and most familiar. It has to be something everyone can sing, or a building liked equally by everyone… which is to say, a building that everyone finds equally dull. but no one could really hate.

    I can’t really speak to your personal situation, though, not being familiar with it.

    Your last comment brings up an interesting question; can we change what we like? Should we try?

  5. TAE says:

    I didn’t mean to suggest you were making a personal accusation. Don’t worry, no offense taken.

    And I meant to say I like the Chesterton quote. Course, what’s not to like about him. It helps us think of God outside of our stupid little box. Good stuff.

  6. Arnold says:

    I have a problem with routine – I so easily get into it.

    If others in your congregation feel the same way, perhaps you can approach the leadership with the concern & some suggestions for change.

    Weekly communion is not all that unusual for a non-denomenational church. Christian Churches and Churches of Christ observe communion weekly (that is, if you consider them non-denominational).

  7. Lee Forrest says:

    My wife and I were talking about this very subject last Sunday. We attend a large church that teaches the Word of God instead of following the theological trends of the day…for that I am thankful, but we are at the same place that you are. It is like you read my mind as you wrote this entry.

    We left a church last year, as your friend did, and ended up at our current church. We stay at this one for reasons including their solid biblical foundation and our children love the children’s ministry. We have wondered at times if we should look again, but that is not the answer…so although, we are in the season of life in which “church” is not doing much for us, we are praying that God will continue to use us and work with us within our church.

  8. nataJane says:

    This is such a fascinating topic! It is so prevalent and common in churches around the world today… sadly. I have personally been on both sides of this problem and thank God that I am not sketching nearly as much as I used to during worship services.

    I grew up in a fundamental Baptist church and discovered that drawing was a wonderful way to pass the time that seemed to drag oh, so painfully. I questioned what was being taught (as, I believe, we should do) and agreed with about 97% of what was being preached, but attending church was a dull practice that I felt required to be faithful to. (This was in a very small town that didn’t really have any other options)

    At the Christian college I attended for four years I was required to attend the campus church which increased my drawing skills. Again, I agreed with much of what was being preached and sung, but as much as I tried, I could not force myself to enjoy it, or feel like it was any kind of “worship” to my God. And believe me- I tried. I thought I was being selfish, I thought perhaps church wasn’t supposed to be a place I “wanted” to go, but that we must all go because it is our duty. I tried every angle. But after four years, I was SO glad to be able to leave the last service and never go back.

    It was after this that I found another Baptist church being led by a man who had been at my college for several years, but had left it for various reasons. The first service I sat, sketch book in my lap, expecting to fill another page as the message began. But to my surprise- I didn’t draw a thing! I attended the church for months and never drew again in a service.

    What was different? The songs had the same words. The preaching was the same doctrine that I knew to be correct. I think the thing that was different was that the pastor had a passion to see his congregation GROW in Christ. His enthusiasm was contagious and made the rest of the service make sense! This was not just the place that we go on Sundays because it is the thing that Christians are supposed to do, it was where our thirst for more was being quenched. We learned. We grew. We came back for more.

    This church is not a charismatic church in the common sense of the word. We did not clap and dance or roll down the aisles or anything (not that I’m saying this is wrong, we just didn’t do it.) It was not an emotionally-charged, surprising place to be- it was honest and genuine. It wasn’t meant to be a form of entertainment. It was a place of true worship.

    I don’t think you are selfish to want more. I don’t think you should sit in a church and be bored. I don’t think you should change what you like or believe. I cannot tell you exactly what your church’s issues are, but I know that it doesn’t have to be that way. I know that you need a pastor who stands firm with his convictions and wants to see souls saved and see his congregation GROW instead of be entertained. And I know that you need to want to grow and be convicted.

    So many non-denominational churches are just babies in Christ who never grow. And I know- I’ve attended tons of them when I was looking for a church that was right for me. Mega churches might provide a thrill for a while, but if you are not getting any spiritual meat, you will become complacent, and stagnant. You are not wrong for wanting more, or for looking around for what suits you. Church should leave you feeling spiritually full and satisfied. Most of all you should feel like God was honoured with what transpired.

    Okay, so this post just got huge really fast. (sorry 🙂 I really hope that you do find what you need. Whether it be a change at the church you are at now, or a different one… Because church should and can be a place you WANT to be.

  9. Pingback: Why she walked out of church « The Aesthetic Elevator

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