Our American culture is structured around an academic year. Colleges typically have Fall and Spring Semesters, and most of our culture seems to have embraced this schedule. Activities tend to start up sometime in late August or early September (when most kids go back to school and students return to college campuses) and run through the winter, taking a break for a month or so around Christmas and the New Year, and then resuming in late January and running through mid-May. Even if we aren’t students ourselves, or parents of students, we still tend to conform to this kind of schedule. We kind of do it without thinking about it—we’ve just done in the past month or so… Taking the summer “off” is what our culture considers normal.
Our churches tend to conform to this schedule. Most activities we do in our churches start up in the early fall and end in late spring—resuming in the fall when the world goes back to work and school. It’s pretty much the norm in our churches for activity to slow down during the summer—just it does in the world around us. We take it for granted that worship attendance (and thus giving) will tend to go down as different people vacation each week. Whatever activities do continue during the summer will probably note a drop-off in participation—we accept it as the ways things are. In light of this reality, church leaders often plan vacations during the summer. In some ways the decision is practical; our kids aren’t in school and many others are also away and thus won’t notice our absence. It’s usually a safe time to be away—we know things will get busier come fall when the schedule gets back to normal.
I suppose in some ways it’s inevitable that the summer doldrums is now normative in most churches—churches after are part of the culture. But it also raises an interesting question: Should our churches be conforming to what’s normal in our culture or should we be setting the standard for what’s normal and challenging our culture to follow us?
In his letter to the Romans, the Apostle Paul says that as followers of Christ, we should not be conformed to this world… Now I don’t know about you, but that’s a tough command for me. I’m an introvert by nature, I don’t really like standing out from the crowd, much less trying to convince others that they should follow my lead. (I would never make it as a cruise director on a ship!) Even if I believe something different from the crowd, most of the time, it’s unlikely that I am going to say anything. People might not like me anymore if I make too many waves, and I want to be liked. They might think I’m weird if I share my opinion too loudly.
I want to be a follower of Christ, but I also like the safety and anonymity of being just another face in the crowd. And in today’s world it seems perfectly possible—and acceptable—to live that way. For the most part, you can conform to this world and still call yourself a follower of Christ. You can believe what you want in the privacy of your own home but just keep your personal views to yourself in public—you can go far in the world if you do it that way.
But I confess I find myself haunted by a nagging question: Is this the way it’s supposed to be for Christians? And after studying the Gospels and the history of the Early Church recorded in the Bible and other sources, it seems clear to me that the answer is an emphatic “No!”
So then how have we gotten to this point where most Christians conform to the world around them? That will be the subject of my next post...