I wasn’t at church this Sunday, but apparently during a particularly vigorous rendition of ‘Let Your Fire Fall’ the fire alarms went off and the building had to be evacuated.
I’m told, by the way, that it wasn’t a traditional ringing alarm but a slightly more unnerving recorded announcement that went something along the lines of, “there is an incident. This is an emergency. Please stay calm and leave the building by the nearest emergency exit. There is an incident…”
There are few things more likely to endanger my calm than the ominous-sounding word ‘incident’, which makes what is presumably a mundane electrical fault sound like a virus-triggered zombie apocalypse.
It’s wonderful when things go wrong during church services. From when the worship band sing different verses (and sometimes different songs) to those put up on the screen, to when visiting preachers accidentally swear during their talk. I have a faintly apocryphal story about a church on the south coast that used to hold services on the beach, which led to huge confusion during the talk as non-churchfolk set down their towels between the preacher and congregation and then wondered why a man was standing up talking at them. Similarly, there may have been an embarrassing incident during a baptism when two helpful passers-by thought the convert was being assaulted.
One of the reasons that the unexpected is wonderful is because it reminds us not take church too seriously. We don’t have to be perfect. We don’t have to have it all figured out – and although we have some responsibility, we are not fully in control.
We can try to engineer everything as much as we like. We can exercise our control-freakery like zealous contestants on The Apprentice to our hearts’ content. We can try to arrange ‘the perfect’ lighting to ‘help’ people ‘feel’ close to God. We can bring a non-Christian on ‘the perfect’ day to hear the ‘best’ speaker talk about the things we are convinced they need to hear – glancing fervently at them throughout the service for any sign that their God-gauge is creeping up.
But church is not supposed to be a manipulatathon. It’s not a Derren Brown gig. Church is supposed to be a group of flawed and broken people gathering to commune with each other and the One who keeps the broken pieces together – fixing some bits for us and helping us to cope with the others.
Jesus was forever having to cope with drama during his work. From his rejection in his home town following his first preach (Luke 4:14-30), to a congregation that liked him so much they effectively tried to kidnap him (Luke 4:42), to a ton of interruptions during teaching (Luke 5:17-19, John 8:12-13, etc). Jesus took the opportunities that presented themselves and worked with them. In fact, Jesus actually put a stop to an incident of stage-management by his disciples.
Good churches do their best to create a safe environment where people can meet with each other and meet with God. Great churches know there are limits to how much they can do.
The rest gets done by Someone Else entirely.