I have very rosy memories of my church-going experiences from childhood. They start in my own living room, with my mom leading worship and my dad preaching to a small gathering of family friends. Sunday school was held in my bedroom and taught by my older sister.
Later, we attended a really charismatic Baptist church (which eventually turned Vineyard), that was pastored by some of Christianity’s prophetic royalty, so to speak. I got baptized by David Ruis in a hot tub in the middle of a service. I wore a Tweety-Bird t-shirt, I think.
Eventually we migrated to a Foursquare church, where we stayed for years until they planted a location across the lake from where we lived, and my mom took over as the pastor there.
It’s that Foursquare community where most of my growing happened, where things went on in services that shaped and molded my expectations for how a church service should look.
We sang upwards of 8 songs in a worship set, with all kinds of open, holy moments spread between choruses. Hands were lifted, people danced, gave testimonies, prophesied, and would you believe, we had altar calls where people would stay, weep, and pray at the front of the stage for extended, uncomfortable (if you weren’t being particularly moved at the time) periods of time.
I have no idea what kind of politics were going on behind the scenes, but what was modeled for me was an ordered, yet Holy Spirit-led service. We weren’t constrained by times (because if the first service went late, the second service people just waited in the foyer) and parking lots, heck we didn’t even have a parking lot. People parked all over the place and walked in from the streets. We had homeless people coming in all the time, looking for food, coffee, money, a place to wait out storms . . . I remember this one guy that wasn’t actually homeless, but looked it, with his long straggly hair, his black biker jacket and tight black jeans . . . he terrified me, but my mom loved him, and she always gave him a huge hug and joked around with him and the other ‘youths’.
In the past few years, as my husband has transitioned from working in the church industry and we have had the freedom to find a place to worship that we feel fits our family, I’ve held on to those rosy memories and have judged every single service by those standards, and you know what? It’s ruining everything.
After visiting a few different places, Rocky and I both walking out each time with completely different perspectives, I started to feel a little gross about the way I was approaching the whole church-shopping gig.
See, I hate shopping. I hate being on the prowl for something, when I know exactly what I want, and I just need to be pointed in the exact direction as to where to find it. I don’t want to try on five pairs of jeans, I want to try on one pair, and I want them to be perfect. Anything else is a waste of time.
I expressly felt this way about church-shopping in Austin because of the dire straights my heart was in. Back in Fort Worth it hasn’t been such a time-sensitive issue, but even still, I’ve found myself frustrated, one, by the lack of shared vision between my husband and I, and two, by the lack of the ‘perfect fit.’ Every place had something that turned me off, or raised my hackles. I started to feel like we were auditioning churches, rather than going to meet with Jesus, and I’m sorry, but four songs does not a worship set make.
The last place that we visited had a DJ in the foyer. A DJ. It was so loud that I had to yell at the lady checking kids in for Sunday School. It was an immediate turn off.
We walked into the service and they were singing a song that was loud, pumped up, and, best described as youthy. The minute that word came to my mind I wanted to vomit. I’m not that old, people, and I actually really like this kind of music, but this song was too much for my Sunday morning experience. Too. Much.
The speaker came out and immediately his Instagram and Twitter handles popped up on the superfluous (the room is smaller than a drug store, the stage is not that far away) screen. I rolled my eyes so hard I gave myself a headache. For real? Why do we need to know this info? Why can’t he just get up there and preach without advertising his social media persona as well? And why in the world are there screens in a room this size? I was so disgusted that I decided I was going to write a blog about it . . .
And then I stopped, because Jesus smacked me upside the head with my stupidity.
For the love of all that is true and holy, Julie, will you stop judging everything?
My head snapped to attention as He began to peel back some of my stuffy judgments.
This is where culture is at, Jules. You’ve embraced social media and exclaimed that we should all get on board because it’s not going away, but yet, here you are judging the church for that, and so many other stupid things. Would you just chill for a sec? Look at what I am up to here!
My stomach started to knot up, as I realized something that irritated me more than the idea of the DJ in the foyer. I had turned into someone that I’ve rolled my eyes at and discounted a thousand times in my church history: The old lady who complains about how loud and contemporary everything is, who thinks she knows more than everyone else, and that everyone rolls their eyes at and discounts a thousand times. The old lady that the sound guy hopes doesn’t show up to church, but still sends in her tithe check.
Then I heard the word ‘youthy’ again and I not only cringed, I wept.
Fix it, Jesus.
The Lord started to deconstruct my opinions and judgments and opened my eyes to the ways He was using all of the things I had been decidedly against, including the whole concept of a Satellite campus, which, if you know me, you know that I have serious issues with.
The pastor of this particular fellowship made a statement, a few weeks later that said something to the effect of: “If we have to do things to entice people to come in the door, then we’re going to do those things. We’re going to make this place as attractive as we can in order to introduce people to Jesus.” I can’t remember word for word, but that was the gist of it.
If doing a twitter campaign for a sermon series is going to catch someone’s eye, what’s the problem with that? If throwing a huge party after the service with a brass band and stunt basketball players draws the attention of someone who may never look twice toward the church, then who is it hurting? Paul says in Philippians 1:18 that even if motives are impure, if the gospel is being preached, then it’s a good thing.
I know there is a time and place for certain gimmicks and programs, and I know that God doesn’t need our help in making Him more appealing to people, but I no longer look at these kinds of tactics and assume that’s what fellowships are trying to do. They’re simply trying to catch someone’s eye, to stop them in their tracks and raise their curiosity. And you know what? It’s working. People are getting saved.
Meanwhile, I haven’t shared my faith personally with anyone in years. Sure, I blog, I sing, I speak, I write, I give, but I can’t tell you anyone who I’ve introduced to Jesus one on one since my YWAM days. But oh, how holy I am because I know that the word “church” doesn’t equal “the building” but is instead referring to we, the people of God. That truth alone has really gotten me places, people. eye roll
I hate what has happened to my heart after 35 years in the church. I hate seeing myself as an unpleasant woman who is rolling her holier-than-thou eyes left and right while sitting in a room full of believers who are seeking the Lord. I hate that I have elevated myself and my spirituality to a place in my mind that is very lonely, uncomfortable and downright rude.
But I love that God’s grace covers me, even if I choose to continue to sit in judgment and ignorance. Because of that grace, though, change is the only thing I can do. I love that He (not so gently) woke me up and showed me how bad my attitude was and that I was missing out because of it. I love that He showed me that the trends and changes happening on a superficial level in the Church body are ones that are meeting people and drawing hearts to Him in a very deep and impactful way.
I’m still struggling to get my heart right about some things. I’m still working to maintain a stance of openness to some of the things that have bothered me in the past, but I’m actively in pursuit of that openness. I desire to see the Church as Jesus sees the Church. She is not perfect, but she is bestowed grace because “she” is you and me, and we are promised grace. She is beloved, and no matter what motives are driving her antics, if hearts are being changed, then she is being effective, and Jesus is being glorified.
Incidentally, we’re actually sticking with the fellowship that had the DJ (who was there because it was a special service) and the loud worship music. We see the heart there, and we’ve experienced life change because of it, in just a few short, loud, youthy weeks. Turns out, this place is totally my jam.