Monday, August 24, 2009

A Church as a Character

You’ve probably heard that location can be a character, but more frequently, we may find that an organization is a character. Christian authors often mention a church in their books. In many of these books, the church is more like McDonalds than it is a church. A man and a woman attend a church – his church, her church or some church they attend on vacation. The pastor preaches some great sermon, the woman takes notes and the man and woman discuss how great the sermon was on the way home. The whole point of the sequence is to “show” that they attend church. Does that sound anything like the church you attended on Sunday? I hope not.

On Sunday, I pulled into the parking lot and got out of my truck. I saw some friends across the parking lot talking to some other friends. I reached the front door and another friend of mine opened the front door. He made a comment about something, that was something of a private joke. Another man—a man whom I have visited in his home—handed me a bulletin and shook my hand. I saw many people engaged in conversation, all of whom I know, as I made my way to class.

Several years ago, I attended a church one Sunday when I was away from home. This was a very large church. We pulled into the large parking lot and then looked around for what looked to be the entrance to the building. We sort of followed everyone else. I felt a little out of place, carrying a Bible. No one greeted us at the door or recognized that we were visitors. We found a place to sit near the center of the building. It was a very nice building with a tall wall of windows behind the pulpit and choir. We could see the greenery out on the hills. The choir sang well. Then the preacher got up. He read a verse from the Bible, told us why his sermons are short and then proceeded to teach a lesson that would have been just as fitting in a psychology class as it was in a church. He made no reference to the scripture after he read it.

Two churches and two very different experiences. Though I have been a member of only two, I have visited many different churches and am cognizant of many more. I have never found two churches that are alike. Some are more similar than others, but there are no McDonalds churches. You can’t go to two different churches and get the same thing, even in this age when churches are attempting to do multi-site services and everything else.

The people make the difference. That is what a church is after all. A church is a group of people who assemble together to worship the Lord. Depending on what people happen to be in that group, a church can be very different. The pastor only has a small amount of influence over that. In a novel, if we want to represent a church accurately as a character, we have to reveal how the members of the church act. We can’t leave them as a blank sea of faces, as many novels do. To do that is to make the church nothing more than a hollow building.