Elvis And Jesus: Discovering God In The Institutional Church

 Elvis look-alike impersonator and Las Vegas sign

Elvis And Jesus:

Discovering God In The Institutional Church?

Not Discovering God In The Instutional Church

Discovering God In The Institutional Church!

My wife was at the dentist, talking around mouth tools with the hygienist. After inquiring where we go to church, this hygienist volunteered her own story. “We used to go to __________ church, but we’ve been looking around about a year. We are attending___________ church some. We’ve visited about everywhere. It all just seems like one big show.” This woman joins the countless other Christian people who are unsure about being involved in a church anymore. These are people who were key insiders, moving toward the periphery, eventually to the outside (The Dones). For her, this article title is a question: “Can God be found in the institutional church?” …said with frustration.

In addition, I read Dan Kimball’s book several years ago, They Like Jesus But Not The Church, (2007). Interviewing college students in Southern California he found great admiration and respect for the Jesus described in the gospels. At the very same time, these students described low regard and respect for the Church. The divide between the Jesus of scripture and the Jesus of the Church seemed gargantuan to them. Evidently respect and admiration for Jesus is on the rise, while belief that one will encounter him at church is declining. Some have decided it’s not a question, it’s a statement, made in the negative.

And then (like this fire needs more fuel), are you aware of the Missional Church movement? It’s been evolving and gaining strength for years, with the idea that we are to join God’s mission in the world – a mission expressed through many vehicles, not just through the church (shifts the role of a local congregation). Rather than the Church being the center of God’s activity, the Missional Church movement sees the world at large as God’s playing field. Perhaps this helps explain why God may or may not be found in any one particular church. God is busy enacting the mission in the world.

Finally, I was sitting with a denominational staff recently. These people see and hear much pain, organizational angst, and dysfunction in clergy and congregations. Sometimes they grow discouraged. With great hesitation and no small anxiety, one haltingly asked, “Has God, like Elvis, left the building?” Finding God in the institutional church is a sincere question for many committed Christ-followers.

With my head swirling and my soul disturbed, I worshipped with a congregation from another branch of the Christian family tree than my own. While there something happened – Communion. I sat there and watched until my turn. I watched the people filing out into the aisle and moving forward to receive the elements. There were little kids going up for a blessing, skipping and smiling, acting like God wants to see them. There was an older couple, one waiting for the other to walk back together, with a well worn love relationship written all over them. The years of Christian pilgrimage had clearly etched a gentle grace into their companionship. There was a teenager, with an outrageous shirt and flip-flops, walking toward Christ’s table. There was a man, with who knows what going on, who couldn’t stop crying. People were smiling, singing, crossing themselves afterwards, looking up (elation) and looking down (despair) – all gathering around Christ’s table. And for me, for a while during Communion, I knew that Jesus and Elvis had parted ways. All those questions, grew irrelevant in the powerful presence of Christ. Finding God in the institutional church moved from question, to statement, to exclamation. I discovered God right then and there, in no less than the institutional church itself.

Note: Today, January 8th, Elvis would have been 80 years old.

9 thoughts on “Elvis And Jesus: Discovering God In The Institutional Church

  1. Kris LK January 9, 2015 / 1:57-05:00Jan

    Wonderful, Mark! I’ll likely use this for a part of the session that I’m leading on our council retreat. Thanks!


    • markt987 January 9, 2015 / 1:57-05:00Jan

      Great Kris. Feel free to use it however it may help. And glad to know you are leading part of your Council Retreat. May God the bless the experience in every way! Stay in touch.


  2. Patrick Vaughn January 9, 2015 / 1:57-05:00Jan


    Really nice article. Thanks!




    • markt987 January 9, 2015 / 1:57-05:00Jan

      Thanks Patrick. Fun connecting Elvis, since the king would have been 80 yesterday. Stay warm up there in PA and DE


  3. todd@bethelmethodistcolumbia.com January 9, 2015 / 1:57-05:00Jan

    Good news, praise God!! 


    • markt987 January 12, 2015 / 1:57-05:00Jan

      Thanks Todd
      See you very soon!


  4. oldshaman2013 January 12, 2015 / 1:57-05:00Jan

    This is excellent. There are indeed things offered by the church that individual or group yearnings for spiritual fulfillment can never find. This ancient and archaic institution goes all the way back to Jesus.

    And last week David Bowie turn 68!

    David M. Seymour, D.Min.



    • markt987 January 12, 2015 / 1:57-05:00Jan

      Yes, David….good insights.
      Hope you are doing well and hope to see you again soon along the way.
      Keep on keeping on


  5. Bob Ballance January 18, 2015 / 1:57-05:00Jan

    THanks for your thoughts Mark. Very creative way to address our challenging times. I’ve also experienced the kind of community described by the one observing those coming forward for communion. It’s always moving to see the many responses from the heart.


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