During the summer of 2012 I was able to take part in the London Olympic games. Unfortunately it wasn’t my 4 x 100m prowess that took me there, no, I was part of the sports presentation team. These were the people whose job it was to ensure that every event felt like a proper show. My sport was handball and my venue was the small but plucky Copper Box. Over those 2 weeks we educated and entertained the thousands of people who came to see handball played.
We explained the rules, showed them the court and got them to choose a team to support if their country weren’t playing. We played upbeat music if a goal was scored, tense music if a penalty was about to taken and “Party Rock Anthem” every 6-7minutes. We had a fan-cam that went around the stadium picking out the best dancers, the most enthusiastic wavers and the facepaint dedicated supporters. As the games progressed we became known as “the box that rocked” and we welcomed political leaders, olympic legends and royalty. I loved it! And I worked with some amazingly talented and brilliant people. At the end of each session we’d send people on their way and hope we’d given them a great experience of London 2012, making memories and putting smiles on their faces.
The idea isn’t new, it’s why teams have cheerleaders, stadiums have sound systems and the Superbowl featured Beyonce at half-time.
The comparisons between church and sporting events aren’t new either. For years we’ve wondered at the disconnect between the tens of thousands of fans spectating and the 12, 22 or 30 athletes on the pitch. We’ve been encouraged to see the team as the church and to “get out of our seats and onto the pitch”.
At other times the analogy has shifted and we’ve been encouraged to become a true follower or part of “a great band of supporters”.
But what if we’ve got it even more wrong?
What if we haven’t relied on a large crowd of highly dedicated followers or even a smaller team of highly trained athletes but instead on an even smaller group of highly skilled entertainers?
People who know what song will get us jumping and what one will prepare us for something more thrilling.
People who know exactly what to say and when to say it to elicit the right cheer, applause, or thoughtful nod of the head.
People who promise us a chance to “participate” by seeing our face on the big screen…but only if we’re enthusiastic enough or have bought the season ticket.
People who have managed to make the main event easier to understand so we don’t need to know much or think too hard…it’s all explained to us.
People who send us home with smiles on our faces and happy memories in our minds.
I’ve never been a sportsman in any real way and so I don’t know how to make this analogy work or to turn this paragraph around into some sort of boot lacing, slam dunking, hit it out of the park sports finish…I’m just more convinced each day that the the kingdom isn’t a stadium with spectator seats or even a place to be entertained at all.
And that means the role of the church isn’t to entertain or give people a happy, fuzzy glow. It surely can’t be that a small band of showmen are employed to make sure that rest of us have just enough information to get by, never needing to delve too deep or think too hard.
If all an active, mobile church has to offer the world is “whatever that person at the front said on Sunday” that presents a clear problem…in fact it presents about 50,000 clear problems, every day of every week.
It seems to me that the call of the kingdom and therefore the call to the church isn’t about presentation at all. It’s a call to be present. Present and active in real and meaningful ways in the world.
Engaged in real community, where everyone pulls their weight not just by turning up, but by playing their own unique role within the life of the church family.
Where we don’t rely on the, often already overworked, employees, but each employ our minds, skills and gifting in steering and serving each other and the wider world in which we live.
Where debate, doubt and disagreement are encouraged and nurtured rather than nullified. Questions get asked not just answered. Opinions and ideas get space to breathe and are not just spewed through a microphone into the awaiting minds of the assembled bodies to be regurgitated at a later date.
Where your experiences matter but your level of experience doesn’t. People try new things and are encouraged to explore their potential in every area, not just the ones we don’t pay someone else to do.
In a world that can do without another show, perhaps it’s time for the church to change the record, step away from the smoke machine, and rediscover what happens when a bunch of people get together, look after each other and share the load in making the world a better place.