I haven’t been to church in a long time.
That may come as a surprise to many of you who see me each weekend… preaching.
Yes, I am aware that some of you extremely spiritual pastors out there will argue with me about my own spiritual state if I don’t feel like I’m at church whenever I am in the pulpit.
Don’t bother commenting on this post, I’ll just delete it… yeah, I said it!
So, back to my initial statement, I haven’t been to church in a long time.
Last weekend in our faith community was amazing. We hit record high numbers, our offering was through the roof, we baptized on Saturday and Sunday, we celebrated the installation of a new campus pastor, launched our brand-new Christmas series, and I got to preach five times in three buildings in two cities with four different worship teams… You better hang it up, because that was off the hook!
In reality, while that was an absolutely stellar weekend for CrossPoint, I went home tired, again.
I was beating myself up because I knew I should’ve been on a spiritual high after a weekend like that, but the truth was I was worn out and not nearly as pumped as I should’ve been.
That’s when it hit me, I haven’t been to church in a long time. The last time I sat and listened to somebody preach, or stood with the body of believers to sing while not being pulled to the side for “just a minute of your time, pastor” or to frantically fix some technical issue was July (basically, half a year ago).
I know that you can get good quality teaching through some podcast, but I’m a pastor and I really believe this when I say it: there is just something really important about being in a body of believers!
So, I opened my eyes up to look for an opportunity, and there it was. Just down the street from my house is Trinity United Methodist Church. They were having a Christmas vespers service an hour before I had to preach at our church. I was pretty sure I could slip in and out undetected since Baptists and Methodists don’t fraternize.
Okay, that was supposed to be a joke. Don’t amen that.
The church was beautiful, and I loved the sound of the musicians rehearsing Joy to the World echoing through the halls. It was helpful, I did not know where I was going and assumed that if I followed the sound that I would eventually find the right place.
When I found them, I was shocked! As the church was showing up they were all filling the seats from the back to the front. I had a no idea that back row Methodists even existed. I completely thought that was our thing.
I found a spot near the back, but had to sit fairly close to stranger. It was either that, or sit up front and that wasn’t going to happen.
I listened to the choir finish up their rehearsal, and then watch them gather in front of the stage to pray for the service. I heard phrases like “Lord use us,” “thank you for Christmas,” and “let Your light shine.” I was totally refreshed thinking that just a couple blocks from my house was a church that loved Jesus and wanted to make a difference in their community.
Huh, who knew?
There was an awkward moment or two before the service started. The man I was sitting a little uncomfortably close too seemed to be getting a little fidgety. I thought maybe I was disturbing him, and considered moving to give him some space… I mean, this was his church.
But, before I could move he spoke: “That’s a nice watch you have.”
Kind of random, sure, but as a paid clergy professional I knew out he was doing. He was finding any way to start a conversation with me, to make me feel welcome, to reach out from his church. He was awesome.
And, now I know a whole lot more about watches (it’s what he does for a living).
The service started and we sang. Old Christmas carols, some hymns, there was a special with a choir soloist (wow, I haven’t heard that in a long time), some scripted segues between the songs and a couple of prayers. It was beautiful.
There were people all around me who couldn’t sing very well, but they were loud. It was beautiful.
There was a little girl running laps behind the seating area, and even though her mother wasn’t smiling about… everyone else was! It was beautiful.
Songs were sung, encouragement was given, prayers were offered, and I just sat there drinking it all in. It was beautiful.
Absolutely, it was beautiful. So different from who we are as a faith community, yet, so much the same.
Still, I had to preach in 15 minutes across town… so, I ran out the door. I was sad to go.
I’ve been trying to process for the last few hours what I felt in that experience:
- Maybe it’s that stylistic concerns are way overrated.
- Maybe it’s the importance of taking a Sabbath rest.
- Maybe it’s that all preaching and no play makes Andy a dull boy.
- Maybe it’s all those things, but most importantly I think it’s this… we, in the body of Christ, divide ourselves with lines called denomination. Even within denominations we often competitively divided ourselves from church building to church building. Even within a single church building we will divide ourselves again based on programs, age and worship/volume style. But, it’s pretty beautiful to know that the only thing God uses to divide us is what we do with His Son Jesus Christ.
Our Heavenly Father really doesn’t care about so many of the things that we focus on, He just cares whether or not Jesus is the subject matter of our lives.
That makes so many more people my brothers and sisters, co-laborers in the faith and potential neighbors in heaven.
This morning, on my way to church to write this blog, I drove past the church I went to last night.
I’m thankful they are there.
I’m thankful they take care people.
I’m thankful they love Jesus.
I’m thankful we’re not in this alone.
Hebrews 10:24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. 25 Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.