I've spent 44+ years just about every Sunday morning in a building, singing and listening to someone (or speaking myself for the past 9+ years). I've had a lot of what we call "church" experience.
The past 3 months I've been out of it and I have to say it's given me a much bigger and more different perspective than I thought. Maybe? Or maybe I've just had time to think about it. Or maybe there have been more conversations that have centered around the idea of "church" than I'm used to (even when I was "leading one") or maybe because I still have many friends at the place I'm no longer at keeping "it" going. Or maybe because people have asked, "Have you been to church?" or "Where are you going to church?" or "Are you coming back to church?"
"What is church?" has been in my face quite a bit recently.
I felt like I needed to write down some thoughts. Feel free to give feedback, pushback, or back up. : )
1. Sunday mornings or the buildings where Sunday mornings (in most traditions) take place were never intended to encapsulate "church" or even, arguably, be church. When Jesus said to Peter "on this rock I will build my 'church'" he most certainly did not mean "Sunday morning experience" or even "building" or even "weekly ritual" or even "very small community of people in a certain denomination who agree to some things on a website and to say hi twice a month". He much more likely meant "people" or "culture" or "kingdom" in the grandest of senses, (according to the Hebrew and Greek words) although what word Jesus even used in Aramaic is up for lots of debate so no one really knows.
We don't go to church. We don't keep a church going. We don't attend one church and someone else attends another church. That's all seems like really bad language with, arguably, bad consequences.
2. The more "sacred" value that continues to be heaped on the Sunday morning experience, there is a dangerous tendency to make everything else less "sacred". Things like eating dinner, flying an airplane, driving a car, talking to someone over coffee, making love, or mowing the lawn. I understand that most people don't think they think that Sunday morning experiences are "more sacred" than everything else... but they do. We do. I have. You'll see it real quickly in almost any conversation about "church". The next time someone asks "Where are you going to church" try answering "Yoga, meals, walks, every day..." and see where the conversation goes.
3. The more important Sunday morning becomes, i.e. the more valuable, necessary, and meaningful, the less important every other moment can become. It an effort to raise the stakes on Sunday, the solution is often to lower the stakes of everything else and that is very not Jesus.
4. The more God "lives there" or is "experienced better" there or the more "worship" that happens there - even "corporate worship", the less God lives everywhere else or is experienced everywhere else or "worship" happens everywhere else. Again, most people who ritually attend Sunday morning experiences would never say that God lives in a building... and yet when you ask them why they go, you'll find lots of language around the idea that God does live there or is more easily accessible there or the "worship" there is different than everywhere else. It's very subtle and almost sub-conscious but it sure is easy to see once you look. And, in my opinion, unhealthy.
5. The more we "live" and "do life" with groups of people based around Sunday morning experiences, the less we "live" and "do life" with people everywhere else, including, very often, our literal neighbors. It's amazing how often I hear "Well these are the people I walk through life with..." If walking through life with someone means hearing them cry or laugh one hour a week (at best), well... I mean that's not a lot of walking. It can be, don't get me wrong - AA is a great example of this. But, "living" and "doing life" generally happen in much more meaningful ways and places... if we look. And a Sunday morning experience can kick off real relationship but it surely doesn't cover it.
6. The more time and resources we put into the Sunday morning experience, because we believe it's so important for all of the above reasons, the less time and resources that are put into the people, the culture, the kingdom, the other experiences, the other times, the other places, the other activities, the other people. So, we feed the very thing that is not the thing we are supposed to be feeding because we think it's the only thing that gives us all the things we need which can turn it into a pretty large and empty distraction to actually finding those things... everywhere.
Jesus did not come to get people to go to church. Or to start a church. Or a religion. (Side note: neither did Buddha.) He came to start a culture and a way of life that pervades everything. (That can include a Sunday experience.)
None of this is to say that a Sunday morning experience can not be valuable. Believe me, I get it. It's just that it can be more dangerous than valuable if not put in its proper place. And language matters. And much of the language puts it in some kind of higher regard than the rest of life. And that is not valuable.
In short, what is that Sunday experience? It's what we make it. It's nothing in itself. There is no inherent anything in it. It can be the greatest, most meaningful thing in life, but so can eating a meal. It can be incredible worship - and so can Bon Jovi. It can be an inspiring speaker - and so can Sam Harris. And it can be entirely meaningless, just like a box of Lucky Charms. (I mean, unless that Lucky Charms is worship.)
In short, short... maybe this is the most important question... Does your regular ritualistic Sunday morning experience teach you that you are the one who actually makes every experience valuable or that it's the other way around?
For my money there have been centuries of programming teaching us the second, because that experience has historically collected vast sums of money and power dependent on people believing it's an experience (namely that "church one") that makes them who they are.
And it's simply not true.
And once you accept that, everything changes.
Including whatever we do this Sunday at 10 am. And every other day and time.