Of Wheelbarrows and Garbage Dumps (reading time: 3 mins)

wheelbarrows to the ground

Monday mornings, for me, have a certain rhythm. Because my work-week actually begins each Sunday with our worship gatherings, today is actually Day 2 in the progression. I have a few check-in type meetings, usually involving a bit of thinking and talking about what happened in our gatherings, just the morning prior. It’s also often the point at which I come across articles, blogs, and ongoing social media chatter regarding worship in general, and our gatherings in particular.

So, in that kind of a stream I am thinking today about the question of whether we simply expect too much out of our gatherings. And that maybe we set ourselves up for an ongoing, low-level spiritual infection of disappointment as a result.

Here’s what I think might be some of the common symptoms.

“It was all just so ____________.”

“If it could just be more ____________, then _______________.”

“Studies show that ____________.”

“Top Ten Reasons Why ___________________ and Church.”

The gathering of God’s people is certainly a unique reality, set into motion by God Himself, and sustained by His Spirit in and among us. It should not be neglected nor trivialized. It holds mystery, power, and promise as we seek to wait on God, hear from Him, and then respond—both in the moment, and then as the sent-out people of God. It is nothing less than a dynamic supernatural encounter that has both vertical and horizontal implications and actions for the Church, and her Gospel effectiveness.

But it is not the sum total of our spiritual lives. Not even close.

Think of it this way: Is gathered worship a truck or a wheelbarrow?

Let me unpack that a little for you.

I have some very fond memories of my dad dragging me along to the dump with him when I was little. I know, weird.

We lived in suburban Seattle, in an area that at the time didn’t have regular neighborhood trash collection. So, about every two weeks we would load up our full cans, as well as any other stuff in the garage that needed to go away, travelling across the valley to the collection site. It took us about thirty minutes to get there in his funky green Dodge truck, and smelled horrible as we got within a few hundred yards of the massive dumpsters awaiting our family’s contribution.

Here’s the deal. It would have been ridiculous for us to try and make the trek with a wheelbarrow. We had a wheelbarrow. I know because I was tasked with filling it with weeds from around the Stewart homestead. So many weeds. So, it’s not that we didn’t have one to use. It just wasn’t the right tool.

The truck was the right tool. It was built for just this purpose. We would have been asking something of the wheelbarrow that it was simply not meant to do. It was a fine tool. But, really the wrong one for the bigger job at hand.

So, back to our dilemma at times with gathered worship.

Personally, I find myself making the “…if it only would…” statements in surprisingly parallel motion to how I am living out a broader life of connection with, and service for, God. When I am drawing near to Him everyday, I find there is much less stress on what might happen on that one day every week. It becomes more of the life-giving rhythm of gathered and scattered worship that we are invited into by the cross, the resurrection, and the Spirit. And, ultimately, I seem to come to the gathering with more of a giving orientation; with what I receive back as a gracious overflow from the Father. I become less demanding—of both people and God— because I am living in an ongoing supply and life of gratifying connection and honor for Christ.

When I get filled up on an ongoing fashion during the week, there is an overflow out of abundance on Sunday, instead of living on minimal supply for six days, expecting to fill up enough in one meal to stave off the hunger pangs for the next six again. When the latter is my pattern, I begin to grab at stuff on the table, and tend to think of other folks less; reaching for what I feel like I want, what I need, in the moment.

Those fill-in-the-blank questions above aren’t unimportant. Whatever you fill them in with probably requires a reasonable amount of reflection and conversation. But, if we are expecting the wheelbarrow to work well over a distance of some fifteen miles, across a valley, and up some foothills, maybe our presuppositions are what need to change, not necessarily the tool itself. Get some fancy new wheels, a new coat of paint, maybe even handles with a cushy grip. You still have a wheelbarrow trying to do a truck’s job.

Bottom line: mixing the metaphors of garbage and food is probably not the best approach in devotional writing…and, maybe we need to let our gatherings fill the glorious role they were intended for: that of sixty-some minutes in an ongoing rhythm of gathered and scattered worship. Maybe they’re just not designed to carry the full load of spiritual expectations and connection that we long for as followers of Jesus.

Maybe then we can actually engage the gathering of God’s people for all that it is, without requiring it to be something it isn’t. Maybe that could be something better, something bigger.

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