Liturgies aim our love to different ends precisely by training our hearts through our bodies. (James K. A Smith, Desiring the Kingdom, pg. 25)
Several years ago (2008ish, I think) my parents and I embarked on a small group at the church that we were attending at the time which was working its way through The Truth Project, a curriculum designed by Focus on the Family for use in churches to expose adults (primarily) to worldview issues and good teaching on a Christian worldview. The strength of such curriculum is that, as thinking beings, we need to think consciously about how we think and what we accept uncritically.
The problem with such programs (and yes, I saw most if not all of the DVDs and participated in maybe half of the discussions in the group–so I’m speaking from some measure of experience) is that they don’t aim at the heart. Christianity is reduced to a worldview in abstraction.
This isn’t an uncommon thing. Many commentators have already written about how belief has been reduced to mental assent, how sermons have been reduced to a lecture on the Bible, and how children of conservative (and often not-so-conservatives) abandon the faith altogether when they turn 18.
James K. A. Smith questions his readers: is the human primarily thinking or loving? Obviously we’re both: but which are we fundamentally. Smith insists the latter. I am inclined to agree with him despite not having read the entirety of his book at present. What is obvious even to someone who hasn’t considered Smith’s question is that the hearts of many in our churches simply aren’t captured by the truth of Scripture. One can begin to wonder what is going on: after all, the Word of God isn’t supposed to return void (Isaiah 55:11).
Some will maintain that those who depart were never really among us as 1 John 2:19 suggests. That can certainly be true, but this is an unsatisfactory response per se. If God works through families just as he has throughout history, why are so many kids with God-fearing parents departing the faith?
I think people’s departing the faith has more to do with the way we do church than many would like to admit. Does our church service not merely attract or intrigue but actually shape who we are and what we’re about in a deliberate fashion? All churches and church services do this, but not always in a carefully-crafted way.
I’ll give one example: is communion so infrequent that we see it as a special Sunday where we receive a snack? Do our children understand why we take communion in the first place? Do we? Taking communion is supposed to be a profoundly communal event–not my 1-1 time with Jesus with others around me for convenience’s sake. Do our children and fellow congregants see us living out the unity that communion brings, or do they instead see us head home and go back into isolation under the guise of being “tired” and “needing the weekend to focus on house projects/kids’ activities/alone-time”?
The more we do Church in a deliberate way–that is, the more we do things in church that will shape us into a unified people, the more likely we are to win the affections of the people around us, believers and non.
They will, after all, know that we are Christians by our love.