Sitting in a Spanish church service 3 weeks after I left my job of 20 years, I wondered how I would feel. Would I be bitter or hungry? Joyful or sad? For the last 20 years, I’d built, created, fine tuned, and attempted to construct the perfect church service. That in some way, if I could make me feel a certain way or think a certain way about Jesus, discipleship and evangelism would flow naturally out of that particular environment, and I would have become the person and created the church that God wanted me to be and create..
Then over the next several months after that first visit to a church service in Spain, I realized something. My intentions of making a better event was fool’s gold. I sat in a few Congregational churches, a baptist church, 3 non denominational churches and a house church or two and for the first time stopped judging them on the standard of what kinds of things I liked, and focused on how my heart needed to worship. My heart scolded any judgment my brain lashed out because of surface like desires and things that really didn’t matter. Whether the room was cold or hot or just right, the chairs were padded or hard wood or couches, or the band consisted of an immaculate rock performance or a piano and organ duet that changed rhythms with the emotions of the performers all of a sudden didn’t make a difference at all.
Perhaps I’m maturing or perhaps I’m discovering something about Jesus and his church that I was never taught, but beyond the glitz or the professionalism or the friendliness of the churches I attended I noticed people who genuinely loved God and people who were there because it was what they’ve always done. In the middle of all that and all the circumstances I found myself in, I discovered true worship.
One Sunday morning I sat on a red padded pew with bright stained glass all around me, and I worshipped. I worshipped when the horrible hymn droned on for every freaking verse. I worshipped when the children’s message focused on an age group that did not exist in the present group of people. I worshipped during the liturgical prayers that asked God to forgive the church corporately for their selfishness and pride. And I worshipped as the pastor spoke from the book of John on a passage I’d heard a million times before.
And during those moment of worship, I admitted to myself how much pride I had believing I could create some sort of magical worship experience that would be better or for a more politically correct take, a more distraction free environment. I went to God as I worshipped and I asked his forgiveness for believing in any way that during those moments I helped create I worshipped “better” than my brothers and sisters sitting or standing in other churches all across America and the world.
I wore my church bumper stickers and t shirts and made proclamations that my church was safe and comfortable and relevant and any other catch phrases that were in at the time, and in doing so, my heart closed to other expressions of worship. When one’s heart closes to other expression of worship, or when one markets their church as the place to be, what they are saying by default is that other churches and other expressions of worship are not the place to be.
A few years ago a local Lutheran pastor visited the church I pastored and afterwards I asked him what he liked and didn’t like. He immediately expressed his discomfort around an illustration used in the message sharing the faults of a particular denomination. He rightly said he felt it hurt the unity of the church when those kinds of things are said from the stage.
I suppose someone could say that it hurts the unity of the church when I write these things too, but I’d like to make this article about me, and let you know that my heart has changed here in the wilderness. I’m realizing that true worship can happen in any church or in any home where Jesus is Lord and his bride meets together to encourage one another in that fact. Your church, or your future church, in whatever formation it gathers can be a haven of true worship, and it does not matter how excellent or perfect it appears, or how silver tongued the pastor is, for these things are not matters of the heart.
Please hear me when I say this: God is not worried about your circumstances, for he controls them. He is not affected by the lack of money in your possession as a church. He does however care about your heart and the hearts of those who meet with you. Are those hearts surrendered? Are they soft to be able to hear from His Holy Spirit and to repent when convicted of sin? Do they love the hearts around them or are they more interested in new hearts that can make for a bigger church and bring more money into the fold?
So to Marty as we move toward the future, I’m telling myself, “Stop worrying about the things you like and the things you don’t like. Worry about how your heart “worships the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.”
How has your heart judged other churches and other traditions?
Written by Marty Holman