The Service Goes On
In my book USED TO GO TO CHURCH I make some strong critiques of the organized church based on my interactions hundreds of times with those who "used to go to church" and had either a bad experience or, for whatever reason, it was easy to walk away. It would not be fair to say it was always the church's fault. Some of us just walk away, not only from church but from God of our own accord despite whether the church was a healthy community or not. But by and large, the people I hear from got burned out on their regimented upbringing; the politics, gossiping, lack of true community and perhaps most of all, beat up or even condemned with fundamental, legalistic and old covenant preaching whether sublime or not. Deep down, whether they articulated it in their minds or not, the walk-aways might have wondered, "Where's the life?"
But since becoming a chaplain and no longer being a pastor, most of the people I hang around with on a daily basis do not go to church but used to go to church: cops, firefighters, community members (actually, no one is going to church right now!). A majority of my long time close friends do belong to a church. They like the pastor. They like the worship. They like the people. They like the benevolent things the church does in the name of Jesus. There are organized churches in every community that exhibit the traits of a healthy community of Jesus followers and really do some amazing things around their community and world. For sure.
My intent in my book is not to steer people away from church though I suppose one might take me to task as to whether that appears to be the case or not. But in my interactions with people on tragic incidents I've refrained from telling them, "You should go to church" or "Why don't you try The River church in town." I would rather have the church come to those in their communities experiencing heartache and loss. If they knew, would they come? I know some would.
Many years ago while a chaplain and a pastor I invited parents of a young boy who committed suicide to come to my church the next day. I so wanted to have them enveloped in the arms of a loving community. I didn't expect they would come being so close to death of their son the day before. They would still be reeling from grief. But to my great surprise they showed up and sat right down in the middle of the congregation of several hundred people. That was the only time they came.
People can walk into our churches with absolute brokenness and their life turned upside down and no one knows except them. The church service is set. The sermon series selected. The worship songs chosen and rehearsed. The greeters have taken their places. Coffee and treats a go. The announcements all chosen and timed. The "meet and greet" happens as usual. The offering is a must, whether by plate or a click. Seats are chosen all facing one direction. The service begins. Every Sunday. The service must go on. The dozens, hundreds, thousands who come are mostly pleased, even inspired. All good. What about the broken ones?
Looking back perhaps I should have discarded my sermon on the day that couple showed up and took the risk of introducing them and taking the whole hour to pray and envelope them in the love of God by surrounding them with people who would enter into their lives as a the presence of Jesus on earth. Meals every night the rest of the month. Notes, cards, coffee, relationships. Looking back I seem to recall that I did introduce them at least and mention what happened and we prayed. People were touched and cordial. But the show must go on. It did. They went on. I stay in touch with them still. My heart never fully recovered from the day in their home.