By Mark Nesbitt, Formation Pastor at Luminous Parish
As you are well aware, there are group of people who only show up for church on Christmas and Easter. The pangs of guilt they feel as these two seasons roll around, often prompted by a call or text from a parent, bring them back to the churches or traditions of their youth. Parking lots fill up; seats are harder to find; there is that awkward pause as you try to remember if you have seen a particular person recently and which greeting you should go for … “Welcome?”… “Good to see you again?” Lest you think this is a screed against the backslidden, fear not. This story is not about them. This story is about my wife and I, and how years of professional Christendom led us to fall into a similar, yet opposite, pattern. For years, when Christmas and Easter rolled around, we did not attend church. We were, and I shudder to even write this out … Anti-Chreasters.
Our years in ministry and the Christian subculture had us experiencing too many big, extravagant services in which the lead guitarist rises up from under the stage, feet spread, hand pointing skyward before ripping off a power chord to start the worship set. I truly wish I were kidding right now. When it became too much, we just stopped going.
Unfortunately, the church in the West got caught up in the excellence movement of the ‘80s and ‘90s, competing with “the world” for eyeballs and wallets, trying to out rock the concerts of rock and/or roll. We built auditoriums, put on shows, discovered smoke machines.
But when you overproduce, you move past the point of sustainability. When your staff begins to dread Easter, your volunteers dry up around the start of Lent and your regulars turn into anti-Creasters, maybe it’s time to talk about how far we’ve pushed the envelope.
There will always be more we can do. Always. However, the question that needs to be asked is, “Should we?” You can’t “program” or “script” for the time the young lady in the processional curtsied rather than bowed, or when our priest’s young son hugged his dad after receiving the Eucharist. Moments of pure humanity are lovely, and they are scarce. I can get slick, well-produced content on 15 different screens around my house. Actual relational connection is harder to come by. Don’t sacrifice joy on the altar of efficiency.
It is hard to quantify the refreshment that comes from experiencing Easter together in a way that does not leave staff and volunteers exhausted. When we finish cleaning up after our time together, there is a smile as we realize that we feel energized, rather than wrung out. Many of us at Luminous Parish come from other churches and traditions in which we tended to collapse after any big Sundays. Now, after a beautiful gathering in which we read Scripture, celebrate the sacraments and experience the Spirit, we find peace. We all think we want to be entertained, but we really just want to be connected.
Mark Nesbitt is the Formation Pastor at Luminous Parish and is in the process of becoming ordained with the Anglican Mission in America. The adventure of his life has lead him to run a communications company, publish several books and other writings and co-found an adventure retreat organization called Pathway Collective.
Mark, his wife, Becky, and their three children strive to live in intentional community with their friends and neighbors. They have discovered that chairs and food in the backyard lead to great conversations and relationships.