Nov 15, 2013

Why People Go to Church and Why People Drink

I'll never forget something my pastor said during a sermon when I was just a little kid.  While pointing out the need for relevance, he explained that the church needs to be a welcoming place for people to come just as they are.  But, he argued, church wasn't fulfilling that role.  He was particularly disturbed that the culture at large finds more solace in going to a bar than going to church, using the popular sitcom "Cheers" as an illustration.  He quoted the show's theme:
Making your way in the world today takes everything you've got.
Taking a break from all your worries, sure would help a lot.

Wouldn't you like to get away?

Sometimes you want to go
Where everybody knows your name,
and they're always glad you came.
"The church," he said, with index finger pointed horizontally, "should be the place where everybody knows your name.  Not a bar!" (Paraphrased.)

Ok, so he wanted the church to grow.  But I sense a little jealousy.  (Que the obligatory "seeker-service" of the 90's!)

This sermon stuck with me.  For some reason, the pastor's words have continued to brew in the back of my mind since I heard them in elementary school.

This memory was brought back to the forefront of my cortex recently, when I heard author/speaker Peter Rollins compare churches to bars.  He said there are 2 reasons people go to church, and 2 reasons people go to bars.  And they're the same 2 reasons.

First, people go to bars to escape life and forget their troubles.  The bar offers a place where real life is circumnavigated and worries are forgotten, albeit temporarily.  By ordering a few drinks, and then a few more, you can teleport into an alternate universe that requires no forethought other than bringing some cash and arranging a designated driver.  Much fun is had by all.  Good memories are made (and possibly forgotten), and the night is usually followed up with a Facebook post containing the word "epic" in a last-ditch effort to relive the past.

But of course, you're left with waking up the next day to real life once again.  The pain was never dealt with.  Life's worries were not relieved in the slightest.  So, one must do it all over again next weekend.

So it is, all too often, with church.  Doubt is suppressed and replaced with ignorant happiness: You come to church, you sing songs, you feel good, you leave.  But then the buzz wears off, and you have to do it all over again next week to get another hit.  The pain is never dealt with.  Ironically, if you want your church to grow in today's culture, this is actually the model to strive for.  And the vast majority of churches do.  It plays right into our consumerist narrative.

But there's a second reason people go to bars: To actually confront life and deal with their issues.  A table is filled with friends, a few points are ordered, and the longings of souls present are shared.  Life's circumstances are not suppressed, but brought out into the open.  Vulnerability is offered at a costly price by all present.  There may or may not be dancing, but there will definitely by dialoguing.  It's not a drink-fest, but there are drinks.  It's not a party, but it is therapeutic.

This is what Cheers represented.

For the church to point their finger at Borrowed Buck's is very naive.  Instead of condemning bars, perhaps the church should learn from them.

After all, at least barkeep's aren't pretending they have one foot in the Holy of Holies.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting observations. In the Simpsons movie (or maybe it was one of their episodes) when disaster is about to strike, it shows everyone running in the church running to the bar, and simultaneously everyone in the bar running to the church.