Saturday, December 17, 2011

Come As You Are

We went to church today, and God was there! There was a richness, a depth of worship, a freedom of expression, which is a bit unusual in our culture and our time. The “worship” time (i.e. when we sang worship songs) was robust and energetic. The body of believers was engaged—standing up, sitting down, praying, singing—completely at ease to respond to God as He interacted with them. 

This was a true “come as you are” church, and that means a lot more than the clothes you wear. Indeed, the clothes people wore went beyond “Southern California Casual.” There were no hipsters here, no V-neck t-shirts, no Toms. Jeans, leather coats, sweatshirts, and cowboy boots were more the norm. But it was evident that a person could come to this church just as they were—sin, addictions, issues, messed up lives—and they were welcomed and embraced. I have to ask though, why is this unusual? Are we that hung up on good appearances? How many of us live the Christian fa├žade, pretending all is well when it really isn’t? I am sure there were facades here too, but there was a rawness, an openness that was pretty refreshing.

Of course what made it so refreshing was that there was such evidence of God’s grace and healing and restoration all over the place. Here was a church where people could come with messed up lives, with gripping addictions, with no pat answers, and find love and acceptance and healing. They could find Jesus, who is the Master Healer.

The pastor clearly knew his people and what their lives were like, and he laid out a solid biblical presentation of what we all need. “Lets ask for more,” he said. “Let God be God and do what He wants.” At the end of the service he invited people to come forward to pray, repent, whatever they needed. People swarmed the front, falling on their knees and their faces. Of course, only God knows what really took place in each life, but it was pretty cool. 

We went to a different church shortly after this visit. I found it interesting that the pastor said a very similar thing—we need to have a big vision of Christ. It was a very different church. There were Toms on peoples’ feet, and there were V-neck t-shirts in the crowd. But so what? Doesn’t matter who you are—hipster, biker, addict, business man, criminal, mother—we all need Jesus, and we all need a bigger view of God, and we all need to let God be God. There are so many different expressions of the Body of Christ, and there are so many that are doing it well. That gets me excited, and gives me hope! But I still have to ask, how many of us would be willing to commit ourselves to a genuine “come-as-you-are” church?

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Toddler Church

This church is two years old, and the day I attended was actually their 2-year anniversary. This is a brand new local expression of the body of Christ just learning how to be a body, and I would say they are doing a pretty good job of it! The body life was vibrant and fresh with an extended greeting time between the corporate worship music time and the sermon; never seen it done quite like that before, but it worked well.

The pastor was young and used his iPad for his sermon notes, scrolling down as he preached. I couldn’t help but observe that when I started preaching, I used ‘yellow pads’, and now they use ‘iPads’! Such a contrast, yet an awesome example of the church moving forward with the culture, not afraid to use the latest tools and technology for the advance of the gospel.

New methods and technology did not in any way change the old, old message, the truth of Scripture, and the fact that Jesus is the only way. I wrote down a salient quote from the sermon: “how we respond to Jesus determines everything.” Indeed.

It is widely recognized that it will take new churches to reach new generations; that it is incredibly difficult for older churches to change with the culture. Some would say they shouldn’t change, but they should stick with the old methods and styles that they have been using for the past 50 years. Regardless of one’s view on that point, this church was using new methods and a new vibe to reach a new generation. Even so, there was no shortage of gray hair in attendance. And I was blown away when the pastor shared that 80% of the congregation was involved in ministry! That turns the old 80/20 adage on its head, and in a good way!

I quickly recognized that attending a Sunday morning service was not a completely fair way to get a feel for this church body; by their own statements they proclaimed, “community groups are the heartbeat of [this church].” Nevertheless, there was an energy, a youthfulness, an innovation that came through loud and clear, even as the truth was proclaimed without apology. On bad days, I can be pretty cynical about the existing church. But today was a good day!