Marines Know What They’re About

It’s fun being around people who know that they’re trying to do….

On July 11, my grandson, Taylor, graduated from Marine Boot Camp in San Diego, continuing the military tradition of both his grandfathers. I was there (in uniform!), but his maternal grandfather was not. Stay tuned, and I’ll tell you why.

Taylor Salute

According to the program they gave us at the graduation parade, Marines “make Marines and win battles.” And making Marines is all about transformation–transformation that begins in Boot Camp and continues throughout a Marine’s career. However long the Marine serves, he will return to civilian life eventually, and The Marines feel that they have made a better country by sending “men and women of strong character back to society.”

And the Marines don’t wait to make that contribution to society. Taylor’s other grandfather, Mac, Viet Nam veteran and retired Army helicopter pilot, waited at home during Boot Camp, suffering from Lou Gehrig’s disease. Mac passed away on July 24, less than two weeks after Taylor’s graduation, having seen his grandson become a Marine. In the Air Force, death of a grandfather might get you a couple days’ leave for the funeral. Taylor, having already returned to California for more training, got 10 days, and he wasn’t even on leave–he reported to a local recruiter. The Marine philosophy is that families need a Marine at a time like this.

I’m proud of my grandson. I’m proud of the Marine Corps. And I sometimes wish churches were as serious about real transformation as the Marines are.

That’s Not Church

A friend of mine who pastors a small church in a rural area came up with a great format for Sunday morning: one which will build a feeling of family, be comfortable and attractive to visitors, and encourage retention and real-life application of the morning’s teaching. He proposed that they meet at 9a, sit at round tables in groups of 8 – 10 and have breakfast together. They would remain at the tables for the morning. After a few songs, led simply by one person with a guitar, he would present one story of Jesus from the gospels, maybe 15 minutes. Then folks would process the story at tables for another 15 minutes. Then they would pray for each other.

When I read it, I thought it was a great idea on so many levels, not the least of which is that the average sermon, which the pastor may have labored 10 – 30 hours on, is gone from most people’s minds before they even get outside the building. Also, it’s difficult for a small church to have a competent “worship band”—something which takes talent and time to put together well. And of course, not much real fellowship takes place in a typical Sunday service environment. Having people sit and eat together is a no-brainer.

But the first reaction by members of my friend’s leadership team was, “That’s not church.”

Really? What makes it not church?

We like to hold up Acts 2.42 as a model: “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” Which of those four elements would not be in my friend’s Sunday morning?

We like to encourage people to “attend church” by quoting Hebrews 10.24, 25: “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” I have not found the average Sunday service conducive to “stirring up one another” or “encouraging one another.” We’re expected to file into a room, sing when told to, and listen to a lecture. On the other hand, my friend’s proposal would allow time precisely for implementing the “one anothers” of Hebrews 10.

So what makes such a gathering “not church”? Or is our understanding of church very faulty? Basing our Sunday gatherings on a centuries-old form doesn’t make it either right or optimal. David Platt, former pastor of Brook Hills Church in Birmingham, AL, has decried the fact that church is “A Performance at a Place with Programs run by Professionals.” Yet that is exactly what most people expect from church to the point that when presented with an alternative, one that might be more conducive to what gatherings of God’s people should look like, they can only respond, “That’s not church.”