Love is the interesting thing about visiting different churches. You can see, feel, and witness love, and you can eerily feel the bleak absence of it. There are churches that immediately reach out to you as the visitor with love. There are churches that reach in to each other with love. There are churches that reach up to the Savior with love. And then there are churches that make you wonder if they even know what love is. I found that I prefer a church that can love in and out and up, and while we have much in common in practice and belief, having those three acts of love all at work is one thing that singles some churches out from the host of options out there.
Most Americans have figured all this commonground out by the way. It’s no secret. I think I’m the last one in on the secret that most of these buildings/churches share more common ground than not. I guess if I didn’t know anything about Christianity at all, and what I did know I learned on facebook ads, then I would choose the most entertaining and positive place I could find because life is hard and celebrity culture drives us to what is popular and pleasurable. Hence the rise of the mega mcchurch. Which is fine in the beginning, but the extravagant entertainment of mcchurch leaves people there in the pleasure zone. And when children die or jobs go away or your spouse cheats on you, that’s when the rubber hits the road and you find out where your people really are. Do the hurting go to the bible for resolution OR do they go to the guy in skinny jeans singing about sloppy wet kisses with Jesus OR do they go to the people in the pew who actually know them? This is what will make your church A church, relationships. And relationships don’t happen during Sunday morning showtime nor Sunday morning traditional fare, but I guarantee your visitors can feel whether or not they exist. We can. We did.
When my family of five walked into one building, no one spoke to us. No one even turned to look at us. When we walked into the sanctuary, most pews were filled except the back row. (Score one for my introverted youngest.) Upon further inspection was a sign on that empty last row that said “do not sit here, ask the usher for help.” The one problem was, where the heck was the usher? What usher? Dave looked at me, shrugged his shoulders, and gestured to the third row from the back with an empty space in the middle.
We asked a surly looking gentlemen if we could squeeze in with him, he acted disgruntled, rolled his eyes, and huffed. He begrudgingly stood and let our family squeeze by. Regardless of the poor beginning and lack of reaching out to us, I was determined to find the good. I liked the music of this worship service primarily because it was familiar. Secondly, I liked that a missionary was speaking (reaching out). I was tracking with this sweet man for a while until he noted that his church was one of only four churches in the Philadelphia metropolitan area. My daughter immediately pulled out her phone, and after a quick google search, she found he was way off by the hundreds. And even if we only counted churches with the same denominational name on the sign out front, he was off by more than twenty. In essence, what he was saying was, there are only four congregations of people who believe exactly as he does, using the same bible translation, and the rest of those heathens don’t count. He lost my daughter’s respect and attention immediately. She joined the guy on the end with the eye-rolling.
It’s a good thing Paul didn’t keep track like that as he traveled around between cities. To make a group of Gentiles behave the same way a group of Jewish Christians did? Imagine explaining to the Greeks, I’m sorry, you can no longer eat shrimp because Larry gets upset. I don’t remember Paul whispering to Larry, “Now those people eat shrimp and they say they are “Christians”, but really they’re not Christians until we tell them to hold off on the crustaceans”. I suppose we can add to scripture that all practices must be identical to be holy, and when you find that particular scripture about which bible to use to be saved let me know.
Walking into a black church changed my life. I am grateful to have learned what it must feel like to be the only one who looks like you all the time. It feels lonely. It feels scary…until the deacons catch your eye and make a beeline to you to shake your hand. We felt sincerely loved and welcomed at that particular church, but they loved each other as well. They all greeted one another with gregarious handshakes and hugs, and the language was all “brother this” and “sister that”, a Christian tradition largely forgotten in white churches. Our black brethren know how to dress for the Lord, friends, another tradition largely forgotten in white churches in an attempt to welcome the impoverished or is it to keep the fussy people comfortable? Sometimes I wonder if our good intentions make different statements to different people.
By the time the auditorium was full, we were one of three white families in the room. Coincidentally, we were seated next to one of those white couples. We didn’t speak. At the end of the service, the pastor looked directly in our section at the white family beside us and said, “The Phillips have brought family with them today.” The very white Phillips were sitting down the pew from us. We looked at each other confused. Then we all looked back up at the minister and shook our heads. There was a long confused pause as the entire auditorium turned to look at the white confused faces. Booming laughter from the minister broke everyone’s gaze, as he said, “Well, as they say, you all look alike to us any way!” The audience roared. My family sat frozen and afraid to move wondering if it was ok to laugh at his joke or not. Eventually, another deacon walked up grabbed Dave by the shoulder and said, “Brother, laugh! We are SO glad you are here!”
The impassioned and honest worship of our black brothers offers much. They feel big. They believe big. And they show it. I loved the freedom in that, and I regretted how many years I spent angry and glued to my seat in my pious reverence. There is a time to be reverent and there is a time to sing to the Lord because He SAVES. Wisdom is knowing the difference. Love allows us to let David dance to the Lord rather than sit in judgement with Michal. (2 Samuel 6)
Love is what makes the difference. You can have everything in common, but if you don’t have love, you really have nothing. You can be as different as black and white but be completely equal in the sight of God and be brothers unified in his love. And your visitors, if you get them to walk in the doors, will feel whether or not love is there.