This morning I did something I don’t often do. I came down to my local coffee shop to wait for a friend. While here I did some work on the church website, sent out a circular email and updated our facebook site.
I also had a long macc. I always get disappointed when I don’t have a coffee from here, they make a great coffee.
While sitting here outside on one of their funky hispter benches I have had three seperate people come and chat. People from Church, people from Toddler Jam, people with mutual friends. They all stopped and chatted.
It was a nice experience. Having been a part of this community for over 20 years, I know a lot of people. And a lot of people know me. Serving on the local primary school P and C, running Toddler Jam. You know people, and are known.
I was reflecting on the number one reason people come to and stay at a church. It is not the music, it is not the preaching, and it is actually not only the kids programs, although that is huge.
A number of folk told me this week the number one reason is because someone said hello. Not someone who is part of the structured welcome team, but just a regular person. We are all craving real human contact. We all want to be noticed. We all want community.
This is mine.
Music is the soundtrack to significant moments in our lives. It becomes part of that moment. Like a favourite smell, hearing a familiar song takes us back to that moment.
Whenever I hear a ‘Hoodoo Gurus’ track I’m instantly taken back to surfing down at Dunsburough with some mates. High School was done, I had no real idea what I was going to do with my life, and the curling surf off Yallingup was as scary and exciting as the girls watching on from the carpark.
Midnight Oil chanting out ‘US forces” brings to my mind a cassette player someone had on a Scarborough High Excursion. We headed off to Balcatta High School for a volleyball tournament. Heading into that high school felt like we were stepping onto the set of “Grease”. We met and played against teens from a vastly different social group to our own.
Music conjures up memories of significant times.
When someone chooses to follow Jesus, either when growing up in the church or at a later stage in life, the music of that time will be important to them. Is it any wonder the people who found Jesus at a Billy Graham crusade swell with pride and sentiment when a glorious hymn is cranked up?
When I became a Christian one of my favourite songs was, ‘Lord I lift your name on high’. I could sing you all the words right now. It takes me back to those exciting evening services at Albany Church of Christ. But can my faith stay in that moment? No of course not. God changes, grows and refines my faith, deepens it. In fact He is always saying something fresh to the church, bringing new manna. There is no question we should be singing a new song. A new song is for the community as it is now. So often the song we heard and sung when Jesus became real to us was new in that moment as well.
This is where the ‘worship wars’ get real. We confuse spirituality with sentimentality. A new sung does not allow us to be caught up in sentimentality, it pushes us into spirituality. It causes us to ponder, meditate and be swept up in what God is saying now, today, for the community you are part of in this season.
In my family of origin there were a couple of non-negotiable rules. We were in church on Sunday and there was no television allowed on Sundays. School on Monday morning was always a little awkward as you pretended to know what the other kids were talking about when they discussed the latest video on Countdown or the footy from Match of the Day. It was interesting to see the change in my own family as we grew up. I am not quite sure when the rules changed, but they did. Church was still not an option, but Sunday night drama and comedy, especially on the ABC, became part of our diet.
Its not easy to say no to our children in these days of Sunday sport and birthday parties invitations. Time and time again the number one wish parents have for their children is that they have friends and social acceptance. There has been negotiation and navigation for us as parents. We do not want our children to miss the social formation which they need. Neither do we wish for them to miss out on the heart of the Christian experience. Gathering together with other believers to enjoy the presence of Christ, to hear the word, to fellowship. It is a beautiful discipline that should not be easily revoked. Our children believe and embrace that we do, not necessarily that we say.
As a Pastor it is easy to write this off as the ravings of someone with a horse in the race. Of course I would say this, I want people in the pews. And there is no question I desire for my church to have vibrant and full services. So it is catch 22 for me to even post this.
However the prophetic part of my nature points to the principle that we reap what we sow. It is tough enough as it is to raise a family and have teenagers and young adults embrace Christ and His Church. When we by action give the message that Church is an add on, something to do when it doesn’t conflict with other more important activities, the message will be received and acted upon.
If you haven’t seen the news there was a mistake made at this years Oscars when Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway were handed the wrong envelope and the wrong winner was announced for the most prestigious award of the night, best movie.
It reminded me of the many mistakes I have made from the pulpit. At times I have had the congregation in uproarious laughter for all the wrong reasons, and to my embarrassment. Sometimes I have had no idea why they are even laughing!
To laugh at oneself is human just as to make mistakes is human. All too often in Churches we take ourselves far too seriously. I have found self depreciating humour to be the best type to help people be at ease. With themself. With you. And with your church.
If someone finds it hard to laugh at themself it may be indication that they are not feeling that safe or secure. I am sure God loves me. I am equally sure that all my worries and insecurities will ultimately prove in the eternity of time to be perhaps something I shouldn’t have given so much emotional energy to.
Mistakes are part of life. I hope I can laugh at my own, and even laugh along when my church laughs at them!
Despite him playing for the team I dislike the most, I could not but help admire the way Ben Cousins played. I remember one derby , which was an away derby, when I was sitting in the stands with a crowd of West Coast supporters. Cousins had worn himself ragged chasing all day and was vomiting on the sidelines. Despite his best efforts his team came up well short.
Now I read the latest in his long line of misdemeanours which has resulted in serious charges being laid. It also appears he is almost destitute with hardly a coin to his name. How he has fallen from those rock star days when he paraded around town as the darling boy of the Perth media.
There is no question his fall from fame, wealth and influence is a result of his own bad choices. A gracious and forgiving father, perhaps too gracious, a fawning media and sublime skills were not enough to ensure he lead a comfortable and privileged life.
But how do we react to this. Do we say its his own fault, his own choice and he deserves what he gets. All that is true. No question.
Yet in the midst of the consequences of his own bad choices I feel sorrow for him. For the plight he finds himself in. It could have been so different. We all make bad choices, everyone of us. And the consequences are natural and our own fault.
But I still feel sorry for him. Just as I feel sorry for myself when I bear the consequence of my own decisions. As a Christian I want to be like Jesus. In the midst of the whole human race making bad choices He did not say, well suffer you lot, you are getting what you deserve. He came down, He cared, and he took on himself the consequence of our decisions. I have to have the same attitude He took to those who are suffering, even suffering because they have made foolish and irresponsible choices.
The Church and Christians are often accused of being judgemental and hypocritical, with good reason. Cousins is just one example of someone who needs grace, not sneering looks.
One of the values of our church is to be ‘generational’. We are a values driven church, which means our values determine our decisions.
I am convinced that this generation coming up will do greater things than the one which has come before. They are different. Anxious and in many ways not thinking they will have it better than their parents. Technology has in many ways failed to deliver what it promised, yet it is something they embrace and utilise with a far greater degree of comfort than any generation before them.
As a church we are committed to giving young people real responsibility, real authority and real weight to their ministry. I don’t believe in tokenism. There needs to be a sense that they could fail, otherwise what is the point?
And I believe they will rise up. They have a sense of justice and goodness and self awareness that my generation did not have. They believe strongly in authenticity and are not tied in any way to organisational dependency.
The flame will pass on.
The bigger the target.
For the Pastor, the church people, the ministry.
It moves me when I see Pastors and churches fail. Moral failure, burnout and conflict can all toxify a church to the point of its demise.
Bad decisions lead to conflict, staff unhappy, people leaving.
Some churches demise is a slow burn, others is an explosion that rips the community apart.
I’ve been part of a church where moral failure led to the thriving and growing church basically disintegrating. The ramifications from that are still felt in the town it is in, 20 years later.
A church is ultimately a community of people. And moral failure, other types of failure, burn out, depression and just plain boredom can destroy something which was good.
There is nothing new about this. But it is Christ’s bride. It is the hope. It is still something which thrills me, challenges me and spurs me on toward personal and corporate growth.