I met someone the other day who plays in the orchestra for the Lion King, the big Disney musical.
I’ve seen it, of course, and it’s a great show – much better than the cartoon, and with many moments of genuine theatrical beauty for the adults, as well as humour for the kids.
And that made me wonder – is church like a performance of the Lion King?
Not the story, which some people have tried to give a gospel shape, although to my mind its probably closer to Hamlet. And, yes, I can do the Aslan connection too.
But the experience. Think about it:
- a lot of people come together…
- they sit in rows…
- watching an excellent performance put on by some gifted individuals…
- there’s some community singing…
- and an uplifting message…
- and they all go home singing ‘Hakuna matata’…
What troubles me is that I have been to churches like that, or very close to it. Even churches which handle the Bible well, and where the people genuinely sing heartfelt praise to their Lord.
Simply, a congregation is not an audience, not even if there’s audience participation. A congregation is a group of related individuals, connected ‘in Christ’, part of one body, who pray, praise and learn together, but also serve and care for each other.
When I go the Lion King with my family, I talk to them and not necessarily to anybody else, unless I’m apologising for spilling popcorn. The ushers and refreshment sellers are efficient, polite, and blandly unmemorable. They and I owe each other nothing.
Not so with us. For us, relationships are critical. And, yes, I know it’s about God and the gospel, but that requires me to love people doesn’t it?
For those of us who lead churches, we need to recalibrate our thinking about Sundays. Yes, let’s plan the best services we can put our minds to, and let’s review the teaching, the music, the prayers and the processes. We probably do need people in ‘front of house’ and ‘technical’ roles, and theatres have done that kind of thing well for centuries.
But never, ever, will they put relationships central. We must find ways of doing that, or we’ve failed.
Church is not the Lion King.
You can find more of my thinking about church in The Message of the Church (Bible Speaks Today). UK readers can order it from IVP here at 31% discount. It’s also stocked by Amazon.com