Since I was a child I have always gone to church. I don’t remember a time during my childhood when my parents weren’t taking me to some church service or church related event. In addition to this a large portion of my early twenties were spent as a bi-vocational youth pastor. So when I got promoted at my job last year I knew that I would be missing out on some Sunday services. At the time I really didn’t think it would matter much at all. I had missed a few Sunday services in my life and figured that this wouldn’t be much different.
Now a year later I can look back and say that it wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be. In all, out of the 52 Sundays that came and went last year I believe I only attended church around 10 times. This was in stark contrast to what I was accustomed too and as I sit back and reflect on the last year I find myself a different person because of it. As such I wanted to share a few observations that might give some perspective to pastors as well as clarity to everyone not in the ministry.
1. Church Community Is Important:
In a day and age were you can download or stream sermons from just about any pastor in the world its easy to say that you heard a sermon. In many cases on the days when I worked on Sundays I would stream a sermon on my phone during my commute to work. Over time however I found that its one thing to hear a sermon and a totally different thing to participate in a church community.
When you hear a sermon streamed you are able to take in the facts but have no one to discuss the message with afterwards. There is no community around you to speak into your life or keep you accountable. In addition to this you miss out on the entire worship experience. One of the things I find most helpful to my Christian walk is the time the community of believers spend together in song. There is something totally different about singing in a car by yourself opposed to singing in a congregation of others that believe.
As much as many would like to believe it to be true, in all but a few extreme cases, a Christian can not grow effectively without a Christian community around them. There are times when one must be alone with themselves in order to contemplate on deep spiritual issues or be in prayer with the Lord but the excuse that “My church is nature” isn’t going to fly. Lone ranger Christians don’t exist.
2. Church Participation Becomes Less The Longer You Are Away:
When I was youth pastor I was always aggravated by the people that didn’t seem to have any interest in participating or volunteering for church events. My team and I were always having to beg people just to give up one night to help out. Events like Vacation Bible School, lock-ins or conferences were always a nightmare because I knew that I was going to have to plead with people to help out.
In hindsight I see that many of those people really didn’t have the time or simply had other things to do. This by no means is an excuse for not participating, but working 40 to 60 hours a week takes a lot out of you. I know from personal experience during this last year that when I was asked if I could help out at an event I automatically started thinking about how much sleep I wasn’t going to catch up on if I helped out. Call me selfish if you like but I can totally see now why people didn’t volunteer. Granted not all of these people worked a crazy amount of hours but for many of them it did come down to choosing between the event and their family time.
I think much of the time pastors, especially bi-vocational pastors, think that if they have to give up time and energy to events then everyone else should as well. I know its a thought that crossed my mind more than once. However there is another way, a better alternative. As pastors and elders in the church we need to do a better job of planning events so that we utilize our peoples time effectively. Instead of a hundred events that are an inch deep lets have a handful of events that impact for a life time.
Doing so will communicate that we value our peoples time and we desire from them to be involved, but also have the time that they need for both work and be with their families.
3. The Most Honest People Should Be Found In The Church Not Outside Of Her:
I’m one of those people that prefers you tell it to me like it is. I don’t need you to fluff it up and make something that is bad sound like its not so bad. As such I was a little surprised to find that some of the most honest and upfront people I have ever met were outside the church. This does not mean that there are not honest people within the church. In my experience however those that attend church tend to gloss over issues or pretend the issues are not there in order to avoid having the difficult conversations. This is in contrast to outside the church were there seems to be more accountability between complete strangers than those that have known each other the longest within the church.
If the church is ever to draw people in then it must speak directly and honestly to the issues that are present in the world today. Those that preach and teach must address the difficult questions of life within the sermons that are given each Sunday. If there is a problem with drugs in the community the pastor must speak of it. If there is a issue within the community of poverty and corruption then pastors must speak of it. This requires pastors to not be weak and timid, but strong and straight forward.
In addition to this the laypeople must be taught in such a manner so that they are not afraid to ask and answer the honest and hard questions of life. Only when we in the church begin to answer honestly the difficult questions of life will people begin to listen. When we start to learn that its O.K. with saying that we don’t know the “why” of everything. When we begin to live out our faith instead of using fluff answers like “He has a purpose” will honesty begin to take root and grow peoples hearts.
These of course are just a few observations that have come from being more of a visitor than a participant this last year or more. By no means is this a comprehensive list and I’m sure that more could be added. With that being said these are the top three things that seemed to be reoccurring themes from my time outside the church. Have a comment or want to discuss this further? Leave a comment or e-mail me at MooreMinistry@gmail.com