A few months back our family got the Wii Fit exercise program for our Wii system. The Wii Fit system is basically a set of games designed for fitness exercises using a board that one can stand on to do various challenges from balance games, to cycling, to even yoga. I was very reluctant to get a video game system until the Wii came out because it seemed that video games can tend to make zombies out of kids who will sit for hours in front of a TV playing game after game. The Wii Fit is definitely not that type of gaming system. If you play it for very long at all you will be sweating.
One of the interesting functions of the Wii Fit is how it tracks the progress of players by measuring one’s weight and body mass each time it is played as well as how frequently one plays. So when you get ready to play, your character (called a Mii) comes up on the screen with a display of your stats. This function is no doubt designed to introduce accountability and discipline into the exercise regiment and for that it works well, but there is a downside to the Wii Fit’s tracking because it only tracks the exercise one does on the Wii Fit.
So, for instance, my daughter gets consistent affirmation from the Wii Fit because she plays it constantly. Each time she steps up for a game the program encourages her because she is the most consistent in our house at playing it. On the other hand, when I step up my character comes out looking half asleep and bulging at the belly because the last time I played was 6 or 8 weeks ago. This is a downside because the Wii Fit doesn’t count all of the other exercise that I do in my everyday life. In a typical week I will try to exercise at least four days a week by either going to the gym, running, or riding my bike but all of this is done outside the realm of the Wii so it doesn’t count… at least to the Wii Fit program. This means that when I want to use the Wii Fit I am made to feel like a bit of a loser by my digital coach because I play it so infrequently. So in the end the very thing designed to keep me disciplined and on track in my workouts actually has ended up shaming me to where I sometimes don’t feel like bothering with it.
Unfortunately this doesn’t only happen with Wii Fit but in the church as well. A person may show up to confession with a Catholic priest and the first question is, “How long since your last confession?” While there is nothing wrong with that question the underlying understanding is not how long since you last confessed a sin to anybody in your life but to a priest in a formal setting. The same goes for less traditional forms of church as well. Concepts such as serving, generosity, and leadership are encouraged and preached upon every week yet the underlying understanding that frames them is that serving, giving, and leading are most important, or “count” only in formal church settings. So when the pastor talks about serving it is quite often about serving at the church. When a pastor preaches on leadership it is about leading in some capacity at the church.
While there is nothing wrong with leading, giving, and serving at a church it is arrogant at the very least when we, like the Wii Fit, only count the stuff that happens in the church setting and when we only affirm and encourage folks along those lines.
For a few weeks I have been doing a series of messages at Northshore Vineyard called God With Us With Others about entering into the world of other people by loving them, serving them, and giving to them right where they are without an sorts of religious preconditions. I have seen many people getting set free of the religious expectations that they have lived under for so long as they are encouraged to be the church in all aspects of life not just the organized functions of our church. Yesterday I talked to a member of our church who missed last weekend’s service because he was actually endeavoring to do what I had been speaking about. He told me that the reason he missed church Sunday is because he went to help a friend work on his fishing camp. His friend had been working on the camp alone for some time and this man felt compelled to go help him even though it meant missing the Sunday service. As he shared with me about spending his Sunday helping this guy, about the work and the conversations they shared that day, I could see that he was starting to understand that what he did that day was every bit as spiritual as coming to our service that Sunday. What’s more is that he felt affirmed for what he did. I could tell that this was a strange and new feeling in his spiritual journey as he had spent so many years under the understanding that the only things that really mattered or counted were what he did for the church in formal settings whether leading a small group or serving in some capacity in a weekend service.
It is so easy as a pastor to see the weekend service as the point and everybody in the church as a means to serving that point but when we get into this mode of thinking we may well be fighting against the purposes of God for people to experience him in all areas of life. The weekend service is no doubt a great gathering where folks can experience God together through worship, fellowship, and looking into the scriptures together but at its best a weekend service should be just one point in a whole life of serving, giving, worship, and leading.
A few closing questions:
Can you identify with this Wii Fit mentality of church? Have you ever felt that the only things that mattered in your spiritual journey were the things you did in formal spiritual settings?
Have you ever struggled with seeing that the spirituality of everyday life counts? (I hate using the term counts as if we are keeping score, but hopefully you get what I am saying)
If you are in ministry, have you found that you have sometimes conveyed the idea that only certain things done in a church were for the really spiritual?