Not long ago I was spending a weekend at the coast. When Saturday came I started thinking about church the next day. Showing up seemed like the right thing to do, but there was another part of me that just wanted to spend a quiet morning on the balcony, watching the waves, and enjoying the presence of the Lord with a cup of coffee.
But going to church seemed like the right thing to do.
I am a pastor, so my first inclination was to do a quick Google search, find what appeared to be the most happenin' church within driving range. Maybe I could go experience the best and steal any good ideas that I could find. But I wasn't up for it. It felt too calculated and sounded like too much work.
So I took a path less traveled.
I noticed that two blocks down, on a little side street was a small, weather-beaten community church. The paint had begun to peel, and the bell in the steeple was rusting. However, I decided that the next morning I would attend. I would simply join together with the nearest group of believers in Jesus that were gathering. So on Sunday morning, at 9:55 a.m. with my Bible in hand, I walked across the gravel parking lot toward the front doors of the church.
Honestly, my expectations were very low. And I'm sorry to report that in no way were my expectations exceeded.
A word of confession is probably in order at this point. I am a religious professional. One of the occupational hazards of what I do is that I tend to view church services from a critical perspective of execution. Were the greeters friendly? Did the worship flow? Was the lighting effective? Was the message homiletically sound? Were the people challenged to action? It is incredibly hard for me to allow all of that to drop, and just enter into the Presence and hear a Word from the Lord. I'm not saying this is right. I'm confessing it.
And I tried. I really, really tried.
I prayed. I focused my heart. I specifically asked God to speak to me. I consciously made a note of everything positive that I encountered. But it didn't work very well. I got almost nothing out of it at all.
The 63 people who were there didn't look like they'd had a visitor walk in off the street for a long, long time. I don't think they knew what to do with one. There were some bulletins sitting on a chair, so I grabbed one for myself. The music was poor, and part way through the electric organ gave out. Someone ran to a closet and reset the breaker to get it fired up again. The pastor was valiant in his courage but short on content and inspiration. I almost felt like when he looked at me it was with an apology in his eye. After the benediction, I offered a few awkward handshakes and quietly ambled back out again.
As I crunched back across the gravel I began to ask if it had been worth it. If I had to do it all over again would I have still made the trek? Or would I have just taken my Bible and cup of coffee out onto the balcony? It was one of those moments of inner dialogue that don't happen often enough.
I decided that if I had to do it all over again, I would still go.
Don't get me wrong; I strongly prefer moving inspiration from the Word of God and excellence in the music. If it was all about me, I could make a list of a hundred things that I would want to experience in a worship gathering. But I decided that for all the things it was lacking, if I had it to do over again, I would still go to that rickety, old church. In fact, I concluded that if this was the last congregation left on earth, they would be able to count on me when they gathered together.