After a big year of transition, I was grateful to finally take some vacation. We hosted several friends from Japan, did some camping and had time for some projects around the home. I love our church family and there’s no place I’d rather be on a Sunday morning. But I deliberately took time to visit other congregations during my vacation. Learning from other churches and getting to know the rest of the body of Christ is important to me as a pastor. Over the last several weeks I got a wide spectrum of worship experiences. None of the denominations was baptist. From Anglican to Christian Reformed to Brethren, the churches all had different traditions but were thoroughly evangelical, teaching Biblical messages focused on Scripture. From a church that met in a park, and another in a modern facility, to another that gathers in a building that dates to the 1800’s, it was clear that there is a great variety in church building aesthetics. I’m still trying to shake the image of the pastor preaching from his lawn chair.
The worship music of course was greatly varied. Two of the churches were very contemporary in their worship and the third only sang from the Psalms. Only one song wasn’t written in the 1530’s and that was from the 1750’s. They definitely weren’t singing to the Lord a new song, but the congregation sang beautifully! Interestingly, the style of music wasn’t the biggest difference between the worship of the various congregations. What stood out most to me was the involvement of the congregation. In two of the congregations there was loud, heart-felt singing. In the third, lyrics were neither projected nor distributed. There was no expectation that people would necessarily sing along at all – the lead singer and the band were so talented I guess that they felt we could worship by just listening to them. I came away with a renewed sense that regardless of the style, nothing glorifies God like His people’s voices joined together in praise.
Probably the first thing that any visitor notices when they visit a church is how friendly it is. That was the case with me also. In one church I thought I might come and go without anyone speaking with me. That wasn’t the case. The person in my row spoke with me to inform me that he was saving seats and asked if I could move farther away! It was clear that breaking into this church would take time. In the other two churches we were offered coffee before the service began. In one, I think the entire church came up and spoke with us – like almost everyone! It wasn’t a huge church but the genuine warmth that people showed us was amazing. I have a stack of visitor cards that were handed in while I was away so I know a lot of people visited Grace while I was on vacation. That will continue through the summer and into the fall as we launch our two services. Could I encourage you again to show warmth and friendliness to newcomers who visit? Loving our neighbour is bottom shelf Christianity and I hope it continues to be a hall-mark of our church.
As a pastor, I usually sit in the front row. As a visitor, I typically sat near the back. I experienced how much distance matters. It was an eye-opener to see all that goes on during a worship service. Usually I can’t see anything but the speaker at the podium and the words on the screen. Concentration is effortless and distractions don’t exist. Sitting at the back, it stood out to me how many people do a million things other than worship God and listen to His Word during the service. In only one of the churches did the attentiveness of the people enhance my worship experience rather than distract me.
Perhaps the most beautiful thing I saw in visiting other churches was a pre-service slide-show introducing the other local churches in the area and urging prayer for them. It was a clear message that they loved the greater body of Christ and had forsaken the competition and pride that can so often be present. It was a great reminder of Jesus words in John 13:35,
By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.