Sunday, June 30, 2019

Before Church

Sunday, June 30, 2019

Finally, brothers and sisters, rejoice.  Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace with be with you.  Greet one another with a holy kiss.  All the saints greet you.  The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. ~ II Corinthians 13:11-14

New homeowners like us spend lots of time at home improvement stores, making a house functional and uniquely our own.  Always lots of projects on the front end, and that’s how I met: Melvin.  Retired from a career, he found new fulfillment at a huge home improvement retailer.  I needed bolts and washers; Greg had sent me with samples so I couldn’t go astray (at least that was the theory), and I walked into Melvin’s aisle. 

It was crowded.  Lots of people wanted help finding, among the hundreds of little drawers of hardware, their particular needed bolt, screw, or nails.  As each person came into his aisle, Melvin greeted them.  He introduced himself.  And although he had several customers, he kept us in mind and helped in order.  He talked to us about our particular projects, while adding small talk that showed he was not just interested in making money.  He found what I needed, then took time to show me how to measure and locate what I needed for future reference.  He found my bolts, and when he saw the last package was already opened, he authorized a discount for me.  As I left he said, “Be sure you come back and see me!”  His smile, his warm welcome, his helpfulness, his showing me the ropes so I was at home in his world, all impressed me so much.  And I thought, if churchy people behaved like this, more visitors would come back for seconds. 

My recent forays into new churches have been illuminating.  Some were friendly, some helpful, some welcoming, but in others no-one spoke to me except the pastor, and in one church I was actually invited to go elsewhere.  Many asked for contact information, but few followed up.  Where in the church are the Melvins? 

What if when we walked into a new church, we met a Melvin?  Someone who noticed us and greeted us immediately, someone who spoke to us before we spoke to them, someone who introduced themselves and showed us the ropes, gave us a little information about how things work at their worship service?  What if we met someone who shared a little of their life, and showed an interest in ours?  What if they asked what brought them to our church family?  A Melvin at the door would go a long way to convince newcomers that we have what Paul describes here: rejoicing, restoration, comfort, love, peace, unity, grace, and fellowship.  And what if, before we left, a Melvin made a point of saying, “Be sure you come back and see me.” 

Most visitors see pastors as professionals; paid to follow up.  But if a regular member shows genuine interest, making a newcomer welcome in grand Melvin-style, then the likelihood of them returning soars astronomically.  Even higher if Melvin follows up outside the church service and call or visit.  If visitors trust you with their number, address, email, they should hear from the church that week.  Then people will come back for seconds.

Most visitors are looking to belong; they are trying to find out if this is their church home, or if church has any value at all.  Every church should have the aroma of home, a place where, even if we have never been there before, we feel wanted and welcomed.  It’s not the worship style, it is the fellowship, the hallmarks of grace, of comfort and restoration, of love, peace, and joy lived out in community, a community that wants to expand to include anyone who walks in the door. 
Are you called to be a Melvin in your church?  Every church needs them, lots of them.  Melvins at the door when people arrive, Melvins inside to share their lives and explain how things work, Melvins who will stop what they are doing to invest a few minutes with a stranger, Melvins on the way out to say, “Be sure you come back and see me!” And Melvins who will phone, visit, or email.  (Don’t ask for contact information unless you plan to follow up).  Melvins who invite people to church activities, include them, save them a seat, accompany them.  That’s why people come back for seconds. 

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Before Church: Confessions of a Church Hopper

Confessions of a Church Hopper ~ Farmers and Builders
I Corinthians 3

Church hopping. Since moving to Kentucky, I’ve done a lot of church hopping.  Mega churches, mini churches, contemporary or traditional, been worshipping with all kinds.  Conclusion: no perfect churches out there, so if you’re looking for that, stop.  Good churches?  Lots. So what makes a good church? 
Let’s talk about leadership. Farmer or builder?  Workers in God’s Kingdom are labor in His field, or on His house with Him as the foundation.  Paul (and Sosthenes 😊) use these metaphors to show that God directs the work and the workers, and we workers are – nothing.  We plant, we water, but God gives the growth.  Paul is saying this so that we – Christians – do not form cultish attachments to our leaders and make celebrities out of them.  It is to protect us from making human idols.  It is to give all glory to God.  And it is to proclaim that the church continues no matter what leaders come or go, and all leaders should be striving for God’s glory, not their own. 
Christians – not just leaders – should be doing our best work for God.  We all should be working and our work should shine.  We are building on the foundation of Christ, and that should inspire us to do our best.  Not using wood, or hay or straw (two out of three of the little pigs found out how fragile those building materials were); our work should be like gold and silver and precious gems, so that when the fire of God comes at the end of the age, all the work we have done that is true and good and actually glorifies God will shine in eternity. 
Leaders belong to their people: “So let no one boast in men.  For all things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos, or Cephas [Peter], or the world or life or death or the present or the future – all are yours, and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s.” (vs. 21-23).  Spiritually we own all of it in Christ, and therefore we boast only about Christ, and look for others who seek only His glory. We don’t boast about people, this leader or that one.  We don’t boast about which teacher we follow, we don’t make idols out of our pastors or teachers or leaders.  We boast only about following Christ.  Certainly we celebrate the work of many Godly leaders and the work of Christians in all vocations, but we must never take our eyes off Jesus Christ, the Author and Finisher of our faith, our great Cornerstone, our only Foundation.  His work is the basis for our work, and His glory is always our goal.
Not sure where I’ll end up when I find a church home, but it will be where Christians in all callings work shoulder to shoulder to glorify Christ