What can food at the ballpark teach us about how we gather as God’s people?
Bob Hiller, over at the Jagged Word blog, wrote an article recently entitled,You Can’t Get a Dodger Dog at Home, where he looks at the trend of substituting sermon podcasts for church attendance through the lens of attending a baseball game. I happened to really like the article, though it may have been more for the baseball metaphor than anything, but I can’t say that I quite agree with his conclusions (though we are closer than most articles that would prompt a post).
I would like to borrow his analogy, but since my blood tends more toward the black and gold than Dodger blue, I would like to encourage you to take a pass on the Primanti Brothers sandwich the next time you make it out to PNC Park.
The first, and definitely least relevant, reason for passing up the culinary monstrosity that is the Primanti Brothers sandwich at the ballpark is that, to the best of my knowledge, they will not allow you to make it even more monstrous by placing a fried egg on top of it.
The second, and considerably more relevant, reason is that you can get a Primanti Brothers Sandwich just about anywhere that you might be if you are in or around Pittsburgh, with nearly two dozen locations in the region.
The third, and still relevant but more controversial, reason is that, as Primanti Brothers has grown in popularity over the years, nearly every bar in Pittsburgh seems to have copied the idea of a sandwich loaded with fries and coleslaw, and a fair few of them happen to do it quite a bit better.
Now to connect it to the Jagged Word piece.
The point of the article in question is that even though we could watch a Dodgers (or Buccos) game on television, and grill our own hot dogs at home, we miss out on the experience of the ballpark because we lose the community that the stadium experience provides. He says that church is very much the same thing. I can queue up some David Crowder, and follow it with a Tim Keller sermon, but in the end I have lost out because I have missed the community.
Agreed. Except not quite.
The Sunday worship model is moving (has moved) from a communal gathering of those worshiping God, to a select few in the congregation charged with entertaining an audience. If I were to attend a Sunday service looking for community, there is no guarantee that it would be an item listed on the menu (like the fried egg).
Once we have moved into the arena of entertainment, we have inherited many of the same problems that the entertainment industry is struggling with today. Sports franchises struggle with continuing to put fans in the seats because the experience that they can get at home, in your own living room with high definition television, is on par, or even better than what you would experience if you were pay for tickets and make the trek to watch the game live at the stadium.
The answer for our local congregations?
Stop trying to entertain me. Give me something that I can’t get sitting at home on my couch.
Give me community.
Don’t sermonize to me. Sermons I can get, and they likely do it better than you do (their fries and coleslaw are better, and they toast the bread in butter — oh man). Teach me the word of God. Don’t preach at me, converse with me… with us. Come alongside us, as a congregation, and teach us how to better follow in the footsteps of Christ.
You know what else I can’t get on my couch, listening to a sermon?
Don’t make me into a consumer.
Empower me to share my own gifting to serve others within the body, and reach out and serve others in the world.
These are things, among others, that you can offer me, that I can’t download from a website, or find for sale somewhere. These are the things that I need you for.
I can get a sandwich (or a hot dog) just about anywhere, but I would sincerely like to find a place where I can break bread.