October 16 – In Praise of the Pew

pew narrow

“People don’t want to sit in our pews and sing in our choirs,” the presenter told the gathered group of pastors and church leaders. For the past few years I’ve heard similar sentiments stated over and over again. We are told that the much-coveted-by-the-church Millennial Generation is made up of young women and men who want action. They want to serve. They crave meaning in their lives. We were reminded that, after all, they have grown up in a world of mandatory volunteer service as a condition of graduation or participation. They want to make a difference, and sitting in the pew or singing in the choir just won’t do it.

The short-lived Emergent Church movement made disdain for pews and choirs one of its trademarks, its advocates preferring coffee shop conversations when they were not out weeding one of their ubiquitous community gardens or expressing themselves in finger paint or pottery. “The church has left the building,” a popular program proclaims as church members forgo worship on the Lord’s Day for picking up trash on an adopted stretch of a local highway.

Anyone who knows LPC knows that we are anything but content to merely sit in our pews or only sing in the choir. “You are now entering the mission field,” we are reminded every time we are sent from worship into the world. And whether it is volunteering in the Penndel Food Pantry, tutoring in Hunting Park, visiting the homebound, or sharing the hope of the Gospel and the love of Jesus with our neighbors, LPC people are humble servants in the world in which we live. Oh, and we are a very long way from perfect.

Interestingly, many if not most of our new members are Millennials.

What annoyed me about our Baby Boomer presenter’s comments at the meeting earlier this week was not her advocacy for a church that makes a difference in the world, but her assumption that Lord’s Day worship of the Living God is irrelevant in a world so much in need of being made different than it is.

From the Pentecost church in Jerusalem that devoted itself to the apostles’ teaching and prayer and the breaking of bread – and a food program for hungry widows – to Paul’s long Lord’s Day sermon in Troas (poor Eutychus), the New Testament model of the church is one that gathers Lord’s Day by Lord’s Day for worship before it is sent to make a difference in the world .

Sitting in a pew or on simple bench, a folding metal chair or a dried mud floor, we hear the Word proclaimed and are invited to font or table to participate in an outward sign of an inward grace; strength and joy for going into the world with the difference-making Gospel. From an ornate choir loft and accompanied by a mighty pipe organ, to songs sung to the beat of a conga drum or the tinny sounds or a worn-out piano, the best singers among us lift their voices, leading all of us in praise of the God who has given us life and new life in Christ, the God who sends us into the world to make it a different and better place.

Maybe our presenter was right. Perhaps the Millennials don’t want to sit in a pew or sing in a choir. But to borrow a phrase from C.S. Lewis, “our journey to God involves constantly passing from the dawn lit fields into some poky little church.” Our journey to making a difference in the world begins and must be sustained by our time sitting in the pew or singing in the choir.

You can have a great conversation in a Starbucks – people have come to Christ in a Starbucks. A community garden can feed a neighborhood, and creativity can be given life, and frustrations vented, through pottery and finger paint. But generation by generation, Christians have learned that if they want to make a difference, if they want to change their world, if they want to share the hope and the joy of the gospel, they need to make that Lord’s Day detour – every Lord’s Day – into some poky little church where the Word is preached, the Sacraments offered, and God’s people sing his praise.

What kind of church is LPC? It’s a poky little church, thanks be to God. All generations welcome.

See you Sunday