During this summer's sabbatical we've been able to attend a few different churches which has been a treat. I'm trying to formulate my feelings about the different experiences we've had with different churches and it's tough.
But, I'm starting to think that the places I felt uncomfortable and not at home were the places that seemed to try to be something they were not. And in that way, they lacked integrity. Their language or approach were inconsistent with who they were.
The places I felt at home were the places that didn't really try to be something else, they were who they were.
The church which created room for God to speak to people was cool, it's who they are.
The small rural church with the Minister who wouldn't let the fact that they didn't have a drama team stop him from including a drama in the service could have failed miserably, except that was who he was, and it worked a charm.
Of course that was the same church where the 95 year old organist would interrupt the Minister to introduce the great hymn of the church we were singing next and the history of that hymn in that area. It was really great, honestly, because they were being honest with who they were. And it worked.
Or the church on this side of the Atlantic where the poor worship leader worked really hard to woop up some deep emotional response from the elderly congregation. That didn't come so easily so they started mini preaching between the songs. I felt sorry for them. The worship approach didn't seem consistent with who they were.
Or the church that was mostly filled with older people and no music older than 30 years was attempted, at all. The worship leader there seemed to be trying a Mega-Church worship approach, with one instrument, thinking that singing songs equalled standing up. After 40 minutes of the congregation standing and singing songs they didn't really know, their legs began to fail them.
Again, they had trouble being who they were.
This being who you are theme also passed over into the preaching.
Teachers who would get up and for forty minutes break down a passage out of Isaiah 4, giving all the right information and, well, teaching, to a group who were not necessarily in need of a breakdown of Isaiah 4. Many perhaps in need of a word of encouragement and hope.
Or an individual who really isn't up front material, being asked to preach and so he climbs the stage and through discomfort and pain, regales us with many many many stories from his childhood.
How wonderful it is when a speaker is blessed with the ability to inspire a crowd to go back into their daily lives and live just a bit differently. Better even.
I may be too harsh here, and I'm sorry if I come across that way, I don't mean to.
But if I was looking for God and I came into some of our services and saw or felt the inconsistency of the church with its worship, I would still be looking for God.
And I know, getting volunteers to help and speakers for the summer is tough slogging, really.
I'm not on about having a perfect service or dynamic speakers. Those don't make or break it for me.
But let us be consistent with who we are as congregations. Let us have the integrity to know who the congregation is that we are leading on any given Sunday. Let us learn their language and speak it as we lead them.
And let us respect the grace of God enough that we don't ask things of people who simply cannot give what we ask them to give. If you're not made to do this or that, God forbid that we push you into places you weren't made to go.
And let our space fit our beliefs. If we believe in a God who gives what he has to the poor, and who calls us to live likewise, then let us live within our means rather than with extravagant surroundings and equipment that say more about what we believe than any sermon would. Let us live what we say we believe.
I am taking back to Gateway a keen sense of our need to be consistent with who we are. To be honest with ourselves and giving ourselves freedom to be ourselves is a very powerful idea.
It's more powerful than having a perfect service.
It's more powerful than singing the right songs or having the right sermon.
It is consistency, being who we say we are.
And for people who say they believe in God, inconsistency is a death blow.