Sunday, October 9, 2016

A Refreshing Look at Church

Disclaimer: This is not a criticism of my current church. I enjoy it and thank God for it. Rather, this post is about perspective and a need for change in the way I view church.

Community park to the left, pool to the right, we parked in an empty asphalt slot at the recreation center that holds a local church plant. As we approached the single glass door, I viewed the church's pastor out in the open foyer, chatting with church parishioners At the door, a woman warmly greeted us, and handed us church bulletins, a single-fold affair holding a few announcements and a simple sermon outline. Behind the woman stood two white rectangle plastic tables, free of tablecloths, but spread with breakfast breads, paper plates, a bowl of strawberries, and a variety of church handouts. As we walked in and to the left, we found the church "sanctuary," an open room equipped with little more than an electric keyboard, a podium, a projector, and a projector screen. Christian praise songs hummed quietly in the background.

We sat down in the business style chairs, content to wait silently for church to start, as we normally do. Our solitude didn't last long. Person after person came up to introduce themselves and thank us for coming. Suddenly, we heard a few simple piano notes and the song leader asked parishioners to join in singing, "Amazing Grace." All stood. As the pianist played and sang, the congregation joined in. I could hear my mom singing harmony on my left and catch notes of my brother's low tenor to my right. The voices of the congregation rose above the instrument as we sang in praise to God. After this hymn and another song, someone prayed. The pastor came in and greeted the church. We sang, "The Old Rugged Cross."

An usher stood up and instructed us to greet one another. I shook the hands or two or three people and sat down. My family sat down, and suddenly, we noticed that we were the only ones seated. Around us, church members continued to exchange handshakes and hugs and good words. We realized that we'd sat too soon.

After asking not once or twice, but three times for people to sit down, the usher read the Bible passage for the day and the pastor stood up to preach. He spoke from The Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5 and had but four simple points. He preached straight from the text and actually had us read the supporting texts, all of them. No rushing through, no embellishment; just God's Word.

At the conclusion of the service, the pastor offered prayer. Then he went back to the foyer to say goodbye to his church members, each and every one of them. Meanwhile, other men from the church started cleaning up the sanctuary: rolling up cords, packing up the piano, picking up church signs. No one asked them to do anything. There was no obvious supervision. The men just worked-excellently, as unto the Lord.

I can almost recite the liturgy of traditional church in my sleep: Enter quietly. Remain polite. Stand up when the pastor instructs. Sing. Sit down. Listen to announcements. Stand up. Greet. Don't be unfriendly, but don't be so friendly that you take up the pastor's sermon time. Sit down. Open your Bibles. Pay attention. Take notes.  Follow along, but we don't have time to read all of the supporting passages. These become the unwritten rules.

Church today was refreshingly different. It wasn't polished. It wasn't a show. It was the assembling of like-minded believers for the purposes of exhortation and fellowship (Heb 10:25). The quality of worship was not about the number of instruments or the voices of the singers, but about lifting high the name of Jesus. The church didn't tout the degrees or credentials of its pastor or children's church workers, but rather evidenced people who served God willingly and joyfully.

I want to be part of this kind of church, not this particular church plant per se, but this church that is the corporate body of believers, near and far, at home and abroad. I want to remember that church is not a list of do's and don'ts but an active process of engaging with and encouraging those around me. Attending church is not an obligation or a recitation or a routine, but a privilege and a blessing from God, a refreshing breath of fresh air from the tumult and toil that is this world.

Supporting passages (Format borrowed from my friend at Unto My Beloved):

Hebrews 10:25

Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching (NKJV).

Philippians 2:9
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name (NIV).

1 comment:

  1. Sarah, I was really encouraged to read your post. We were so glad to have you as our guest. Thank you so much for the kind words. We'd love to see you back! Pastor Mark