The Local Church vs. the Local Bar
Analogous comparison of the local church to the local bar
The other night after my wife came home from work, she decreed that – given the look of stress upon my face thanks to having spent 10 consecutive hours in our house (due to inclement weather) with our teething toddler – I needed to get out and take a break. I politely and gallantly took her up on the offer, and with notebook and pen in hand, I decided to visit the local brew pub to sit, grab a drink, and possibly strike up a conversation. Although I was secretly hoping that no one would speak to me, since all day long I’d had thoughts running through my mind that I wanted to get down.
And, of course, what I ended up observing in the bar and eventually writing about was absolutely not what I had come there with the hope of writing about. Thanks for the curve ball, God.
I think I’ve figured out why many in the Christian faith take a dim or judgmental view of bars. I believe they are simply jealous of the naturally occurring community that takes place within a bar.
Consider this: we’re talking about a group of individuals who willingly and intentionally congregate with one another once a week or more, oblivious of social strata or racial boundaries, to come together for a common purpose. They laugh. They mourn losses. They dance. They deeply discuss life, love, and liberty without walls, false faces, or pretenses. Additionally, how often has the conversation within one small group sometimes bled over into the group sitting beside them (“Sorry; I couldn’t help overhearing what you just said about…”)? They honestly face one another to carry on these talks, both literally and metaphorically.
People in bars celebrate life. Even in the midst of sorrow, they face life instead of denying it or acting like everything is all right. They embrace both the pain and pleasure of what it means to be in community. Unfortunately, this sums up what is more often than not sadly, painfully lacking in the one place that is supposed to celebrate life and foster true community: the local church.
If you frequent the same house of brews (or church), you begin to notice the faces of the ones who show up only for Happy Hour (or only for Sunday morning). If you attend this house with somewhat regularity, especially more than just once a week, you begin to gain a deeper understanding of what it is that you’re taking in. You may develop an interest in how it was made, and you might start to get more involved in the lives of those who, like you, come by to savor the brews (or volunteer/take a leadership role in church), taking this experience of what was once for you “just someplace to go” to the next level. You begin to understand the difference between the people who come to enjoy a quality craft beer as opposed to the ones who come by simply for cheap drinks.
No one expects a first-time visitor at a bar to be “tagged” or conquered or over-welcomed by the other patrons or by the bartender. There is no welcome gift given to try to entice or bribe the patron to come back: the service, the atmosphere of the bar, and the quality of the drinks offered stand or fall on their own merit. The bartender expects and anticipates there to be a new face at the bar with regularity, and he or she will welcome them in a way that meets them where they are, not “Hey, this is what we have to offer – isn’t our bar cool? Isn’t it better than all the other watering holes you’ve visited? And your drinking theology had better match up with exactly what we have to offer. Otherwise, we can’t serve you.”
The servers at both locations are paid to be there. It’s easy to see who is fueled by a desire to be there – either from a passion in their heart to share the Way or a need to make rent payments – and those which have been there for too long and are now just going through the motions, burnt out by being stiffed one too may times, and now only serve by rote, with no love for what they do.
And it turns out that more often than not, each location receives about ten percent of some people’s paychecks…
Many of us in our faith have a shared history, whether we want to admit it or not, in that we were raised with a fear of the shadowy things that go on in these dins of iniquity and that the fermented nectar perfected by monks is indeed the Devil’s brew. My observation does not stem from a strict fundamentalist perspective condemning alcohol or the “debauchery” that occurs in bars. Conversely, neither is it from the other end of the pendulum where the emergent/emerging/flavor of the week variety of faith sits with the perspective that bars are “kewl” places to go and can be used as an opportunity for outreach. Both schools of thought have some merit in them, although taking either of them – just like taking drinking – to excess is dangerous, can numb you to reality, impair your judgment, and it turns out is actually what is spoken against Biblically.
Some may be offended at the outset by the basis of the analogy, to say nothing of what it implies. Some may laugh uncomfortably, as it strikes too close to home. Some may offer up a resounding “amen” while reading this. Others may scoff and think I had too much to drink while writing.
If you want to sit and talk a bit about it, the first round’s on me.