Wednesday, April 04, 2007

"MSD" (Multiple Service Disorder)

Since I know Brannon is busy (!!), I thought I would start a new conversation. Peace to you all in the name of Christ during this Holy Week.

A rapidly growing trend in contemporary churches--and yes, particularly in the Church of the Nazarene--is the eventuation of what I will call "msd": multiple service disorder. The church my wife and I just moved from recently built a second "campus" in addition to the main church building (located some 8 miles away in a much more secluded area, yet where houses will soon be surrounding the building on every side--a brilliant seeker-sensitive move if I've ever seen one). Once this move was finalized the two-service church then shifted to an option of three services: one in the main sanctuary and one in the gym of the old building, and another at the "north campus." After a trial run of this model, the decision was then made to make *four* services (an additional service being added to the north campus building), each one with its own "campus pastor," eventually leading to the requirement of, at times, at least three preaching pastors to make it to all of the services (even in the previous three service model, the pastor was being stretched thin).

There are obvious reasons MSD takes place: church growth, seating capacity, old building is falling apart (i.e., mold, or asbestos, or not electrically grounded properly, etc.), or--what is more often the case--an accomodation of different "styles" of worship. Such an accomodation has indeed been allowed to take place for many centuries (the early church writings on the rituals of baptism and eucharist are a handbook of the multiplicity and richness of early Christian worship); my former pastor described this proliferation of differnece as akin to different languages--a beautiful image for a church-attempting-to-be-catholic (small 'c'). I wonder, though, about the possibility of true, living, eucharistic unity in a church that is made up of four smaller churches. If these smaller churches behaved as local members of a larger body, that would be one thing--but, really there isn't too much relation between them (save for the choice of certain individuals to place themselves in the differing contexts, to learn new languages). At what point does the threat of division--due to the fact that not every language can be spoken in one place at once--lead us to simply a different kind of division? Those of you who are aware of the debates going on about worship styles already know I'm knocking on the door of consumerist choice, here. When a "consumerist option" seeps into our "life together," how can we be but divided amongst our various choices? At some point, don't we have to settle into the fact that we ourselves have been chosen?

One more quick anecdote on, what seems, the other end of the spectrum. The church we are now attending currently has three services--the dividing lines of choice seem a little clearer here: "traditional" service, "contemporary" service, and "liturgical" service. The decision has been recently made, however, to collapse these three services into one (the original building was built with the capacity to expand, so a few walls need only be destroyed, and whammo! new building with more capacity). From what I understand (I'm new, so I don't have any real insider info), consultants were brought in about the decision, but the congregation was never "consulted." Doesn't this seem as much a recipe for division to you? A bold move on the church's part, and I don't know the reasons, or how they actually plan to incorporate the three styles into one, or any of those details...but, shouldn't we talk about our life together before such vast decisions are made?

My point is quite simple: with or without "MSD" (I promise that's the last time I'll ever use that), is there any way for us to escape the impending division that surrounds our ecclesial life? The visible unity of the church body is a gift of the Holy Spirit--to divide the body of Christ is indeed the refusal of that gift. Healing, restoration, and reconciliation have been given: why do we persist in sin? As we approach the Cross of Christ, I pray that our divisions--"our old humanity" [Rom. 6]--may be crucified, that His death will be victorious for us, and that resurrection and new creation will take on true life in our congregations and communities this Easter season. Perhaps there is actually something required of us here: an obligation we cannot fulfill, yet to which we are nevertheless called.

UPDATE: I need to clarify a couple of things.
1) "MSD" (sorry, I lied!) is not itself a syptom of division...that was kind of my point about the second church moving into one service; there are a host of reasons that lead to division in our churches. I am well aware that both churches are trying to be faithful, and are actually trying to avoid division.
2) Unity is a concern for us because it is the same thing as love (nearly every father who discusses the unity of the Church says this). The visible unity of the body of Christ is a demonstration of our love for one another (just as its absence shows the opposite). As a church who believes in perfect love, unity must forever be our concern.

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