Written by: Amy Dalke
I went to church with my parents this morning, in my hometown of Poteau, Oklahoma. Incidentally, Poteau is not pronounced Podunk, thank you very much.
My family attends a small Baptist church, not much unlike the one I grew up attending. And if you’ll pardon me with a brief tangent, the one major difference about my childhood church experience and that of today, had nothing to do with the church itself. The differing factor was my father’s reaction to Luke’s church attire versus his perspective (or requirements…) on my own childhood Sunday wardrobe.
I really did pack “church clothes” for Luke, but we were running late this morning, and I didn’t have time to iron them. (Wrinkled clothes are not an option. Sorry.) So Luke defaulted to his standard dry-fit uniform, and I couldn’t really argue because I wasn’t taking him to church naked.
As Luke got dressed, I pictured my father shaking his head in chagrin when we walked into the sanctuary. And as we cut into church right before worship began, I’m not even kidding, I braced for the anticipated look of despair on Dad’s face. As I scooted across him to take my place on the pew, I whispered words of apology and an excuse-ridden explanation, but none were even needed. He just smiled at Luke as if Luke had been awarded a Nobel prize. Seriously, Dad?! What just happened here? I couldn’t even wear jeans to church (ever!), but your grandson can stroll in looking like he’s ready to go shoot hoops, and it doesn’t even raise your eyebrows?
There is just something weird that happens to people when they have grandkids. And I’m pretty sure it has little to do with the actual offspring that provides the grandchild. But I’m not bitter.
I’m finished whining now, so back to my point…
The first thing I noticed about this church was the sincerity of the people. There was nothing fancy about the building. They didn’t break attendance records, nor did they have a coffee shop. They didn’t have a band, an orchestra pit, or dual movie screens on which to flash announcements.
Just people on pews, and a pulpit. And it occurred to me: the church really is the people. The extracurricular dressing we set up in church (the activities, sermon series, coffee bars, and stained glass) do not make the church, a church.
The body of believers I worshipped with today is most definitely a true church. Because amongst that group of people, I very much experienced the presence of the Holy Spirit.
God showed up…because they did.
You could hear the love of Jesus in the prayer of the lady who sang at the start of the service; the heart of Jesus was reflected in the eyes of the worship leader, and was evident in the sincerity and gentle demeanor of the man (my former science teacher, mind you) making the announcements. (I’m certain he is not shocked that I didn’t pursue a profession in anything biology related.)
Their pastor is a man who has an obvious passion for the gospel, and a desire to lead this congregation to a deeper understanding of what the Word says about them and life around them.
My takeaway from his sermon today was this (although I should carefully note that these were not his words explicitly):
- There is a difference between those who say they believe in God – and those who believe God. (The latter makes up the true church of the gospel.)
- The church is a body of believers, who come together to worship and to serve the body from their individually unique gifts and talents. They are people on a purposeful mission to spread the gospel, to love others, and to continually grow in their personal relationships with God.
- In order to thrive as believers, we have to have other people. The Christian life is not healthy when lived in isolation because we are intended to function as part of a Body. (An arm is not functional without a brain and other necessary counterparts.)
- The church suffers when it’s members just comfortably attend services on Sunday, without any expectation of hearing from God while they are there. (I’m pretty sure God intended for me to hear this…because the pastor didn’t use these words, but I heard them anyway.)
- The authority and power behind the church is Jesus. Period. It is not fabricated by a church oversight board, and it’s not based on politics, committee decisions, or on the likability of church staff. It’s all Jesus, lest we fool ourselves.
- Church growth is not engineered by a great marketing campaign, contrived by inspiring preachers and teachers, or built around an impressive parking lot. Church growth is manufactured by God, through the work of the Holy Spirit alone. Nothing more. Nothing less. God can use whatever he wants to in order to accomplish his purpose, but all avenues are just methods used by the Original Source.
I had no idea what the sermon topic was when I first arrived and gathered the initial impressions of the love within those walls, but when I heard the words of the pastor, I couldn’t help but think how this church he leads is a church that gets it right. (I think ours does too, for the record.)
I hope these words inspire you to plug into church. If you already are, I hope you’ll walk in next Sunday with a different perspective…a new eagerness to worship…and expectant ears to hear what God has to say.
p.s. Perhaps Dad wasn’t so worried about Luke’s clothes because he understands church is not about dress code. That doesn’t, however, explain why all of my other childhood rules apparently do not apply to Luke.