Even though I am what some would consider a professional nomad, I realized after a recent trip overseas that I needed to plant a few roots somewhere. Anywhere.
When I returned home, I got involved in some local things. I joined the Knitter’s Guild and a camera club, plus I started going to a church down the road. At my first knitting meeting, I nearly poked a bamboo needle in my eye when the president of the club barked at me for “casting on” the wrong way. She used terminology the more skilled grandmas in the room understood, but I was clueless. The ad in the paper said they welcomed knitters with no experience!
I had a similar experience at the camera club. I thought I was in the wrong room; the presenter seemed to be speaking Greek with all his talk about the latest software patch for some photo program I’d never heard of. The camera club’s website hailed people of all skill levels, but I felt lost.
I hoped I would fare better when I stepped into church. It was a non-presumptuous small inner-city church, with simple folding chairs and a food bank. People showed up in jeans and t-shirts. The sign on their door said: “a teaching church.” I was drawn to its simplicity.
At my first service, the pastor dove right into a technical, Greek-word-filled background of a passage in Matthew. Eventually I figured out that he had been taking the church through the whole book verse by verse, but he lost me, a newcomer, somewhere in Jerusalem.
I have read that passage multiple times, but I had no idea what the pastor was driving at. Hoping it was a “once off,” I went back to this church several times, but it was always the same—more of an advanced history lesson than a sermon. I was excited to see my favorite brand of rice cakes at the church’s food bank, but I left feeling hungry for much more than free food.
It finally dawned on me why all those people in jeans and t-shirts kept coming. It wasn’t because the sermons were turning their hearts to Christ. It was because in order to take food from the food bank, they were required to attend the service. The only reason they were coming back was to get free food.
While I applaud the local church’s food bank efforts, I wish the messages had as much relevance for the people as the groceries did. Sometimes churches are working so hard to get more people in their door that they miss the simplicity of the gospel. We believe if only our ministers were more casual, or if we offered donuts and gourmet coffee before and after church, we could keep the numbers up. If only our children’s program could have a trendy name and our teens could do an entire service on their own, then we will have “arrived” as a church.
Maybe if the pastor uses a wireless microphone and walks the aisle, or if we stop using songbooks and use projectors, or if we finally get a band instead of playing CDs for worship music, or if people could wear jeans to church, and the guys can lose their ties, or if we do the reverse of any of the above, we will draw in a bigger crowd.
I don’t think it works like that. Gimmicks come and go, but the message has never changed. Sermons need to give people the good news. Save the technical stuff for studies or classes at other times. It’s the good news that touches hearts and changes lives.
Author: Brenda Steffen