I visited a church last Sunday and again today. It's one The Fisherman and I have been to together and he has visited it a couple times on his own. I was amazed to find that there were a lot of things about it that reminded me of Open Door Fellowship (aka, very special church I've been at for 30 years, as mentioned in Church Shopping - Part 1). Last Sunday was an atypical service in that the "message" was actually several different people sharing what the church and their "home group" means to them. A couple times a year, Open Door does this as well. I have often wondered, as I've heard people sharing about when they walked into their first Sunday morning at ODF, what they observe, sense, and feel in so doing. Having been there for so long, I don't know what it's like for someone new to walk into that "environment of grace." I have a sense now.
I was actually compelled to write down some of the things I was pleased to observe about this church. Here they are:
- People free to bring a drink into the sanctuary
- Stepping on a chair to get into the row so as not to disturb the person on the end who was standing for the singing
- After the songs ended, the worship leader said, "Let's give our thanks to the Lord" and then was quiet. From the congregation came a handful of random "Thank You, Lord, for..." comments. Just a few, say 5 or 6. And then they continued on with the rest of the service.
- Teasing from the "pulpit" (actually a music stand)
- Teasing back from the audience
- The acknowledgement and brief honoring of a church member whose photo was in the newspaper
- "If you're visiting today, please do not feel obligated to put anything in the offering plate."
- (I love this one!) At the front of the church they had all kinds of banners, flags, and ribbons on sticks and rings for the children to freely play and dance with during the music.
- They had just come off of their Vacation Bible School week where they had all kinds of water toys, including water slides. The guy who's been the acting interim pastor/preacher until the newly hired guy arrives was both teased and praised for "sacrificing his body for those kids" by going down the much-too-short-for-an-adult slide. And he told of one boy who said to him at VBS, "This is the funnest church EVER!"
- One sharer related something she said to someone when she had been new at the church. She was both relieved and intimidated at that time because, as she put it "...there's all this intimacy...and, you guys know each others' stuff." She also used words like "safe" and the phrase, "a hospital for our souls."
- Another sharer commented how glad he was to see they really worship there, not just "sing three songs and sit down."
- Another explained that he was really hurting when he first found his way into this church and he was met with obvious "acceptance" and "a lack of judgment". He also commented that it was at a time when the church itself was hurting and grieving the loss of their pastor's wife, and yet the fellowship was still "speaking life and blessing".
- One obviously well respected, well liked, and exuberant woman shared that it was at this church that she finally "learned what it was like to be safe with other people" and "to be transparent with other Christians." She also said some things I'm not very experienced or, I admit, comfortable with. She said it was also the place where she learned to "hear a word" and "hear a prophecy."
-She went on to encourage everyone to get into a home group where this relational intimacy and safety can be developed. In her bold, funny, enthusiastic way she said the following things:
"If you're not in a home group....well, I won't make you raise your hand. That would be the Baptist thing to do. But I AM tempted."
"Home Groups are safe places. Not many people have that in their lives. If you're a woman who works in an office, you tell me how many of those other women you can trust?"
and "I don't care how old or young you are, you should join a Home Group. If you're older than dirt, join a home group!" Everyone was laughing at her comical manner.
When she was done, before the next sharer was introduced by the interim pastor, he took the microphone and said, "First, I'd like to apologize to the following groups: Baptists, women, particularly women who work in offices, and people who are older than dirt." I loved it!
-Eventually it was the pastor's turn to share. He said when he first came to that church, it was like "water to his weary soul," that he "didn't want to be graded on performance," and "wanted a place where he could grow, and breathe, and spread out." He also shared about it being a safe place, a place where there's respect for each other's sacred journeys. (That word "sacred" is one of my favorite words of late, so I loved hearing it.)
What I Took Away From My Visit
What I sensed from my visit and took away with me was that this is a group of people that really love each other, that are comfortable with each other, that are there for each other, that extend grace to each other, that know how to have fun together, that VALUE each other and value fun with each other. I could see it and feel it. They are serious about following Jesus. They are serious about loving God, knowing His love for them, growing in intimate relationship with Him and with each other. They are serious about prayer and serious about worship. And they are determined to enjoy God's grace and extend it to each other.
I liked it a lot. It reminds me of home, ODF.
We do have a couple concerns that give us pause, however. One thing about this church that concerns us is that they have no elders. They have a leadership group that in some ways is not biblical. And their "by-laws" state they are a pastor led church. But it seems like SUCH a great church! Do we pass it up because they have an unbiblical form of leadership or do we dive in to become part of the family in spite of that? They also lean toward the charismatic side, though it is barely evident in their worship service. How much we might encounter upon getting involved on deeper levels, I don't know.
It's hard to choose a new church when you're so used to another one which almost fits like an old shoe. The old one is not a perfect fit, but because it's so fitting in most aspects, it's easy to forgive what faults you see. But with a new one, it's different. There's that apprehension of newness because you don't exactly know how the fit will take shape. Will this thing I see now rub me a blister or be of little consequence? You just don't know. Having been at one place for nearly 30 years, I still don't quite know how to discern these things. We are in the process of deciding what things are "non-negotiables". How much grace are we going to give them? How much grace should we give? (I think this is a very potent question, pivotal actually.) Now that we'll be back living in the same household, let alone the same town, we will be picking up the process together as we search for a place to worship, belong and serve.