Recently I was driving and I noticed an old church that had a fairly large cemetery off to the side. I think I noticed it primarily because I realized how unusual it was for me to see a cemetery on church grounds these days. Now it's more common for me to see a Starbucks, barista, skinny jeans, and a Madonna cheek mic with cool lighting and stage effects at church. This made me pause for a moment and think about the question, why aren't there more graveyards on church grounds in the modern era, something that seemed very common in generations past?
You may drive past a church with a large graveyard out back and think to yourself, "I wonder how many people are living inside the church?" or, "That church is probably as dead on the inside as it is on the outside", and while you could be right, I think there is something else here to consider.
Are we looking at our faith as a legacy to be passed on from one generation to another, or simply a single use model?
"Single use" is defined as something that is designed to be used once and then disposed of or destroyed. Single use design is something that modern man seems to have put into almost every avenue of life, from the Keurig K-cup to plastic utensils. Generally this is done all for the sake of convenience, and usually at the expense of the environment. I wonder if we have applied this sense of convenience to the gospel of Jesus Christ and his bride, the church?
For instance, we no longer seem to want church to be a reminder of the temporary nature of life (Ps 90:12). We don't want it to define a successful life (Mat 22:37:40) of dying faithfully hallmarked with head stones that read specific dates and names ... many of whom we have lived in community with, struggling, laughing, crying, and loving ... together.
No, instead we want a church to be a reminder of the comfort and glory of this life. A personal latte made to order by someone attractive with my name on it before I enjoy a free rock concert with lighting and smoke effects that arouse my "worship" of God. And of course no church today would be complete without our favorite keynote speaker, who no longer speaks truth and conviction to us while warning of impending temporal and eternal dangers. Instead we would rather have someone entertain us with a story that makes us laugh, and sometimes possibly cry, as long as they don't sprinkle in too many bible verses along the way. And of course it can't take longer than 20 minutes, otherwise I might become bored and my mind become preoccupied with where I am going to go to lunch ... because I mean let's face it, I haven't eaten in at least 4 hours!
Don't get me wrong, who am I to throw stones? I know many churches that are doing many great things for the sake of Christ, and heck, I preach with a Madonna cheek mic too! But I'm concerned that The Church is looking less like a place where foreigners and aliens of this world (Heb 11:13) gather to eagerly await their final arrival home, but instead more and more like the entertainment space of the prince of this world.
Our cultural individualism is in danger of choking the unity of the church. In much of the New Testament (Gal, Eph, etc.) we read of the multi-racial issues (Jew/Gentile) they had difficulty resolving, along with the call for how the older and younger were to be unified in one body of Christ. And while I do not prescribe to the fact that our nation, culture, or generation is necessarily the worst in history, I do believe that we are facing many of the same battles, only perhaps we aren't aware of them or fighting against them.
Not only would I like to see more multi-racial churches (especially in such a racially diverse place at the U.S.) representing the nature of God's kingdom (Rev 7:9), I would also like to see more multi-generational churches. And not the type of multi-generational that ends up bleeding into one generation because everyone over the age of 45 is still clamoring to look like their 21 year old sons and daughters (let's just face it, that's weird), but true multi-generational churches. Where the older are training the younger (Tit 2) and the younger are learning from the wisdom of experience and perspective, not thinking that they are the best and the brightest to have ever walked the earth. Where all generations gather in faith to show the world a different kingdom.
I understand that society has changed greatly and many people no longer spend their entire lives (much less several generations!) in one geographic region, but perhaps it would be good for us to mark those who have faithfully "fallen asleep" among us (1 Th 4)? Perhaps our gathering places of worship could also remind us inherently of our place in God's grand story? And that we are not the center piece of that story. Perhaps it could help us guard against the individualism and hubris that so easily pervades our hearts?
Perhaps I will be buried in a church cemetery?