What’s wrong with church?—a book review of Sacred Space

  • “The music’s too loud.”
  • “The sermon’s too long.”
  • “The drummer needs a haircut.”
  • “There’s a typo on the PowerPoint.”
  • “Why doesn’t that kid in front of me turn around?!”
  • “Do we really need to have 15 minutes of announcements before we even get to the sermon?”
  • “Is that guy wearing shorts? In church?”

If someone were to ask you, “What’s wrong with church?,” or even, “What’s wrong with your church?,” are these the kinds of grievances you would list? Have you ever heard (or said, or thought) comments like these?

If you have, you’re not alone. And no matter what your opinion is—about the songs, the surroundings, or the sermon—you can probably find people who agree with you and are willing to say so.

You are the church

Jason Perry agrees that there is a lot wrong with church these days. But he knows the solution has nothing to do with the sound system, the dress code, or any of the other typical complaints parishioners voice. If you have a problem with church, he believes, the problem is you, because, after all, you are the church.Sacred Space

The idea of coming to Sunday services prepared and expectant, rather than rushed and distracted, is not new. What’s new is Perry’s reminder that this attitude of preparation is more than just self-relaxation gimmicks or effective time management for the purpose of “getting more out of” church. Instead, it’s about God “getting more out of” us.

That’s the idea Perry explores in his newest book, Reclaiming the Sacred in our Worship Space (or simply Sacred Space). I had the privilege of being involved in the editing of this book, so I confess my review is not all that objective. But I’m promoting it here because I think the concept Perry explores is an important one, and I think he comes at the issue from a perspective that seems obvious—but only after you finally get it.

We are the church

Not only are we God’s Temple, we are also the priests. And the sacrifices. In one sense, that is very freeing. But in another, it’s a lot of responsibility. It’s a responsibility I confess I often neglect.

Consider this point that Perry makes about being our own priests:

The call to worship was not just for individual persons, but for the community of faith as a whole. …Our faith is to be lived out in relationship with other believers. Our “priesthood” means that we are each responsible to prepare the sacred space for worship. We serve as priests to ourselves, but we also have a role to play in the lives of other worshippers.

Since I am my own priest, I can’t blame someone else when I don’t encounter God at church. And since I am a priest to my fellow church-goers, I have to do whatever I can to foster an encounter between them and God. Maybe that means arriving on time so I’m not a distraction when I enter. Maybe it means warmly greeting the family who arrives late and sits in front of me. At the very least, it probably means not complaining when the service is over. That’s not very priest-like.

So all this might sound like a very preachy and guilt-inducing kind of message, but Perry manages to present it in a way that makes me want to be more sacred, rather than making me feel bad that I’m not. And he does offer some practical tips, for those of us who like action points.

Read, think, and comment

The book is available only in print right now, from Jason Perry’s website. I’m also including it in the  LifeLines Shop. (Though I was involved in the project, I get no financial kickback for promoting it.)

I’m interested to know what you think of it—is it really fair to say that we are what’s wrong with church? Are you offended by that suggestion?

Read the book, and then let me know. I’m genuinely interested.


2 thoughts on “What’s wrong with church?—a book review of <em>Sacred Space</em>”

  1. A while ago I wanted to leave a ministry because I could`nt see anything in it for me. A foot washing service at our church revealed that serving, in any way, is never about me. I stayed in that ministry, and have been blessed in so many ways. I`ve had a few people come up to me after a service telling me how a sermon, I thought was OK, blessed them with exactly what they needed to hear. When this happens I thank Him for the reminder that no worship service is ever about me.

    • Those are good applications, David. It’s interesting that you’ve decided to expand what Jason is saying about “the worship service” to all of church life. To all of life, really. Nice.

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