A dear sweet friend of mine recently wrote a lovely post about all the things about church going that have changed over the years and how she missed some of the things that were long gone...or different.
She wrote it beautifully...in my head it conjured up lots of yellow sunshine, picnics on the lawn. Laughter and true Joy. Being with your family and worshiping God together.
It got me thinking. It got me a little jealous. Her post was lovely...interwoven with wonderful memories of attending church with her family...of a remembering a safe and warm place. My heart aches just a little at someone having those kind of memories...both of family church attendance and of having a down right lovely traditional church experience.
It got me thinking about how I have never had a traditional church experience that was remotely lovely. And it reminded me a little about why I get so nervous inviting folks to the kinds of churches that get ME excited for the Lord.
Let me explain. I grew up in the Bible belt.
There are churches on every corner...and churches in between those churches. Many of them full of people who "go to church" but are not really part of the church. Some go faithfully every Sunday and some only on Easter and Christmas.
I did not grow up with my family going to church. I have been in a church exactly one time with my parents...the day I married Doug. I DID beg and plead to go to church with friends growing up and managed to visit several churches in our area that way.
And let me tell you...every visit was the same. Some say it would be best for each church to offer the same experience. Well this is true of the places I visited. I would go with a friend and I would stick out every time. I was the one who never knew when to sit or stand. Who knew none of the hymns. Who did not have on a new dress. Who did not know where to go or what to do and when.
And with more than one glance or another I was made aware of all of this. I was made to be aware that God had a set of rules that you had to follow and THEN He would have you. First you have to sit in a hard, ninety degree angled pew. Then you had to know the hymns and when to stand and how to be...and oh yeah, go buy a new dress and bring your parents next time.
Dozens of church going experiences in my neck of the woods let me know that this is what I can expect of God:
me. wall. wall. wall. wall. wall. wall. wall. wall. wall. God.
And good luck getting through those walls.
It wasn't until I started going to college in Radford and fate (yes, fate) brought me to New Horizons. The second I walked in the door I knew something was different. People were in jeans. There were drums and guitars. The pastor hugged me and was not dressed in anything fancier than I was. You could drink coffee and have your breakfast as the sermon started. The joy and energy of the worship team was palpable and contagious. People stood and sat at their own accordance during worship...whatever you felt led to do. Some folks would be on their knees...some would move to the back to worship...some would sit and some would stand. And not an eye would be rolled. Doctors showed up in scrubs...workers in their uniforms...college students in the pj's. And it was all OK. Kids were laughing and having fun with their friends. God was Joy.
There were no requirements. Just Love.
And you know what...God was still respected and revered. He was still honored and Loved above all.
I attended that church for several years and learned that this is what God is like:
No wall. No rules. No need to be good enough first. I was good enough. As I am.
But even now it makes me nervous to bring people to church. Because I am still drawn to the type of church New Horizons is. I attend a church much like it now. I have brought people to churches that I love and been judged as I stood there beside them...could feel them praying for my salvation before the end of the service. I have taken folks to church with me only to receive an email or letter or call later confirming their worry over my soul.
Their argument being (essentially)..."how can God and a drum set really coexist? I mean come on Crystal...the gospel doesn't permit relaxation or comfy chairs. I'll be praying for you."
Ugh. I agree with the statement that the Gospel should be the same no matter what church doors you walk through. I also believe that you have to have hundreds of different kinds of churches to appeal to the hundreds of ways that God speaks to us all. Some hear God in a wooden pew and in the comfort of knowing when to sit and stand and knowing every word in the songbook. Some hear God on a mountain or in a field of wildflowers. And that should all be OK.
I hear God in a comfy chair, with jeans on, singing at the top of my lungs cause the music is loud enough to drown me out...being infected by the passion of the worship leader and feeling the resounding Joy of the pastor.
And if a sweet lady walked in, in a new dress and Sunday best hat, I would say
"Welcome, Jesus loves you."
And leave it at that.