“Do you feel more comfortable sitting on a bar stool or a church pew?” That’s a question I have asked numerous times over the last year while I’ve been interviewing musicians from several “Christian” bands. I thought I knew the answer for most of these boys, but I haven’t received the responses I expected. Some were honest, a few who said church pew, the ones who I expected to say bar stool either glossed over the issue or said they didn’t have an answer.

Honestly I have rarely felt uncomfortable in a bar, I wish I could say the same about churches. I don’t drink or smoke and I rarely dance in public, still, I can walk into almost any bar and feel completely accepted. Contrast that with the fact that I have actually been accosted at churches when I showed up not dressed “appropriately” or when I haven’t played by their rules of when you need to sit, stand or get up to use the restroom. A church I went to for years began filming the service for television broadcasts and suddenly there were rules about when you could get up to go pee! I left and have only been back once years later, by then the imposed structure of the service had become extreme. I was nursing an infant, who I brought into the sanctuary with me, the ushers were not happy. “He might start crying” they said. I was also saving seats, apparently a mortal sin. My nephew who attended this church, a somewhat mellow kid usually started panicking. “They’re about to start,” he said “they’re going to come and we’re going to get in trouble, you can’t save seats.” My heart was broken, he was terrified of these people, a child should never have a sense of fear going to church, I’m fairly sure it’s unscriptural.

Twenty years ago, at the end of the service, the pastor of this church would walk down the front steps of the stage and head directly to the back door where he would stand and talk to anyone who needed him. When I went back to visit all these years later, he was ushered to the pulpit, preached for thirty minutes or so, then was quickly ushered off the stage not to be seen or heard from again until the next week. I would not have been at all surprised to hear an announcement as the service was ending, “The pastor has left the building.”

Contrast this to the first time I visited my parent’s church, a medium sized community church in the mountains of Southern California, I guarantee you there are no visions here of a worldwide televangelism empire. During the worship I went to check on Cole, my youngest who was about three years old at the time. I heard him before I saw him. He was in the nursery kicking and screaming; furious that he had been left somewhere he was unfamiliar with. Seeing the teachers pleading look, I took him out, brought him to the lobby and began trying to calm him down. After a minute or two a middle aged man dressed in kakis and a Hawaiian shirt approached me and said, “It’s ok you can bring him in with you. I don’t mind kids making a little noise – they’re kids.”

As I walked into the sanctuary a few minutes later with Cole in tow, now sufficiently calmed down, I looked up to see the man from the lobby approaching the pulpit. This man who had graciously invited me to bring my screaming child into the sanctuary was the senior pastor. Quite a difference in attitude to say the least and given the choice, which church do you think I will return to?

“Suffer the little children, do not hinder them from coming to Me.” Matthew 19:4

SUFFER:
A verb – To put up with someone or something unpleasant.

A few months ago while on my way to my tiny store front church with a teenage friend, we drove past the “mega church” in our town. She jokingly said, “Hey, let’s go there instead. We could go shopping at their mall.” I have never once heard any of the tatted, pierced, smoke-covered teenagers I know, mention that church with a positive reference. One had gone there while homeless, and stood looking on, his stomach empty, as patrons excuse me – parishioners, filled up on Lattes and donuts at one of the TWO overpriced coffee bars. He doesn’t go to church anymore.

Another after getting saved at this church was told by a youth pastor there if she continued to dress the way she did she would end up pregnant by the time she was sixteen. It’s been a long time since I attended Health class but I remember it fairly well, I must have been absent the day they showed the “Clothing That Can Get You Pregnant” filmstrip. This girl never went back to that church and I wonder exactly what has been gained by berating and embarrassing her. Is she in more jeopardy now that she doesn’t go to church? But perhaps the question really should be, “In jeopardy of what?” Would it have been better for her to stay there, change her appearance and become as judgmental of others as this man was of her? Honestly I think it may be more prudent not to attend any church if the message your getting there is that you’re unacceptable to God simply because of the way you look.

I’m sure there are many wonderful people who attend this church, but it’s a sad commentary that all I have heard from those on the outside looking in are negative experiences. In fact the one time I set foot in the parking lot of this church on a Sunday morning I was accosted by two security guards before I could get anywhere near the buildings. To be honest I was not in anyway trying to attend the service, I was there, dressed in shorts and a tank-top hoping to find someone in the office on this Sunday morning who could answer a couple of questions I had about their bookstore. As I walked towards the office – which was closed by the way – two men approached from different directions and asked quite sternly, “What do you want?” Don’t be mistaken, I was not being offered help, I was being told, in a not so subtle tone that I was the wrong person in the wrong place. As I turned to leave, a little shaken and ticked off, I heard one of them ask the other, “Did you hear the alarm go off?” I picked up the pace walking back to my car. I was more than a little upset and angry as I drove away, not because I had not been given the help I needed and was treated rudely but because I could have been a woman who needed some real help. If I had been a someone searching for love and assistance from Christians I would not have found it there. What I found instead was condemnation which I can only assume was because of the way I was dressed. It saddens me and turns my stomach that there are people seeking God who will forever be turned away from Him because of the way they look, act or dress.

Are you uncomfortable sitting in church when the infant in front of you is crying, or that teenager next to you smells like smoke and is wearing a pentagram pendant over his “f*** you” t-shirt? If, in your discomfort, you welcome that person in without condemnation or judgment you are doing exactly what Christ requires.

I’ll admit I’m guilty of being judgmental myself. I tend to be more than a little uncomfortable in a church where all the men are wearing suits and ties and none of the women are wearing pants. It’s because of my history. Last year I went with my father to a church in New Mexico that has supported him for over 30 years, I wore very conservative clothes yet still was prepared to be judged for the way I looked. To my surprise after the service I found myself talking to the youth pastor, who was a little younger than myself, about alternative music, his tattoo and his Harley. I had prejudged the people of this church based on my past experiences of such churches – shame on me.

Everyone should be able to find a church they are comfortable in; I have no problem with that. What I do have a problem with is our insistence that every church and every person in them must look something like us.

I wonder if it’s just too simple for us? Have we become so arrogant that we think Christ might have actually missed some requirement for salvation that we have somehow stumbled upon? Or is it, that in our selfishness, in the protection of our comfort zone, the idea that we must be right is so much more important to us than someone else’s soul?

Jesus died and ripped the veil between the Holy of Holies and us. He gave us, for the first time since Adam, the freedom to walk “naked” before God in all of our filth, humanity and failings. But instead of rejoicing in that freedom, we –and I mean all Christians – seem to have in our complete arrogance, rewritten that law, one law at a time only it now mirrors our own prejudices. I do not understand why we insist on making it so complicated, when Christ made it so very simple.

My father tells me that when he was a youth leader at his church in the early sixties, the youth services were held on Friday nights. When he asked the Youth Pastor why and could this be changed, the kids wanted to go to the High School football games on Friday nights, the pastor said that was exactly the reasoning behind it. “What would happen if Jesus returned and you were at a football game,” he asked. “How could He possibly find you amongst all those sinners?” I’m happy to say this man has changed significantly over the years but the underlying problem remains, we’ve only shrouded it better. I hate religion, because all religion is, is a means by which we can take Gods words and twist them in such a way that Christians feel holy and justified by separating ourselves from the world. Yes Jesus spent time in the temple but that was not where he lived.

I’m fairly confident that when Christ returns He’s going to go to the streets, filled with the lost and needy looking for His church. I think He’ll be more than a little disappointed to find most of us not there, but sitting in our air-conditioned sanctuaries sipping Lattes and lamenting the sinful state of the world.

“To the Moon”
By Sarah Groves

It was there in the bulletin
We’re leaving soon
After the bake sale to raise funds for fuel
The rocket is ready and we’re going to
Take our church to the moon

There’ll be no one there to tell us we’re odd
No one to change our opinions of God
Just lots of rocks and this dusty sod
Here at our church on the moon

We know our liberties we know our rights
We know how to fight a very good fight
Just get that last bag there and turn out the light
We’re taking our church to the moon
We’re taking our church to the moon
We’ll be leaving soon

Last week my father, who has been a missionary for over 30 years, stopped by a church he happened to be driving by to see if he could speak to the pastor there. He wasn’t dressed in a suit, but jeans and a t-shirt. He walked around for a while looking for someone to talk to and finally found the church offices. Walking down the hall still looking for someone to help, he was approached by a man in his early thirties who asked what he needed. The question was not posed as an offer of help, but rather a not so veiled accusation questioning his motives for being there. My father asked to speak to the pastor at which point he began to be interrogated by this man, who still had not introduced himself. After refusing to tell him whether or not the pastor was there, this man, who turned out to be an assistant pastor at the church, said to my father, a man he did not know but who was simply standing in his church asking for help, “Well I don’t know you do I? ”

“I don’t know you.” I don’t know you? Does that sound at all familiar? It should for those of us who are familiar with the Bible, it sounds an awful lot like Mathew 7:23.

21 Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. 22 Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’

23 And then I will declare to them, ’I NEVER KNEW YOU; DEPART FROM ME, YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS.’

One friend I was interviewing when asked the question, “Bar stool or church pew” gave the most thought provoking and honest answer I’ve received thus far. He said, “I’m equally comfortable in both. In fact they’re very similar, there are a lot hurting people in both places.”

So ask yourself where do YOU feel more comfortable and if you have the courage, go and ask your neighbor. But don’t be surprised it they say they feel more comfortable sitting in the bar on the corner, then in the church down the street.

So then, what to do? We could start serving beer at church I guess, one church I attend does on occasion tap the keg after worship, especially when we have visitors from England. But better yet, perhaps we Christians should go to the bar on the corner with our neighbors, buy them a beer and watch the game. I could be wrong but I think that’s precisely where Christ is expecting to find us.

“ I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth. As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world.”
John 17:15-18

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