Three months of Sabbatical are coming to an end. And while it was technically Aaron's sabbatical, I enjoy talking as if it was mine as well. There is so much to "unpack". Not only in the way of actual suitcases (thus laundry), but heart stuff too. Aaron and I have processed a lot this summer. It's truly been a blessing, a much needed and greatly appreciated blessing. Aaron gave the option on his blog to his readers to vote for him to blog about his sabbatical or not. He chose to not due to lack of interest. So while Jeff S. may be the only person to read this blog post in it's entirety, this is where I go to process. This is no secret. (And yes, "process" is my key word for "very long post".) Be forewarned that many of my upcoming posts will have to do with this summer.
I wanted to start with the topic of "Church Shopping". Why ? Well, because I've never experienced "church shopping", but I got a little glimpse of what it must be like as we started our 3 month adventure. See, we've always picked a church based on where Aaron has a job. (Mind you, we've NOT picked some churches because Aaron (or I) didn't want the job there. So it's not ALL about the paycheck.) As part of Aaron's sabbatical though, we visited many different churches over the summer months. It was rather interesting. I began to imagine in my mind what things I would look for if I was sitting in a worship service with the intention of finding a church home.
In matter of importance, I mean, in no particular order .... I made a small list of things that I started to survey that would impact me if shopping was my goal. One, the coffee served. Two, the friendliness of the people at the church. Three, childcare. Four, weekly programs offered. Five, the music. Six, the preaching. Seven, the parking lot. Eight, community.
Truth be told, I sorta cringe at the phrase, "church shopping". It just seems a funny phrase. Because I don't know about you, but when I shop, I shop with the sole intentions of finding what is cheapest for ME, what is the latest trend for ME, who can offer ME the most savings and value even if at the expense of quality. I shop with the end result of feeding into MY easily inflamed idols of stomach, home decor, clothing, comfort, entertainment, or organizational tools. (I really am a sucker for anything with a lid that can be shoved under a bed....) Did you catch the common theme in all that I shop for ? ME ! Church shopping with ME and MY needs being met is very dangerous. See, church isn't about ME. It's much bigger than me, in fact. And when it's all said and done, the church I call "home" will be best for ME when I die to myself and serve the CHURCH.
So, back to the things that stood out.
One, the coffee. Yes, that's right. Every church serves it. And I was on a mission to sample them all and determine who served the most excellent coffee. Because you know, that is extremely important at a church. My bar is fairly low for the coffee snob that I am known to be. Church coffee must exceed gas station brews. That's all. All but two churches got a big FAIL. (One exception was The Village Church which Aaron attended without us. I asked him to try their coffee for me. Turns out they don't have coffee. He came home telling me that the Pastor there, Matt Chandler, actually addresses their lack of coffee and states that the church is not there for the comfort of the attenders. You start to catch on to that when you listen to his preaching. I must say, I sorta love that.)
Two, the friendliness of the people at church. Mars Hill Church Albuquerque won the award for that one. I was standing in the lobby with my small brood of children while Aaron parked the car (such a gentleman). I must have stood out as a single mom perhaps ? Because within a minute, two men came to me to greet me. One of them asked if I was new, and if I needed help getting the kids to chilcare. This I'm sure was because if I WAS a single mom, I was a really cute one. NO ! Not at all. It was very obvious at this church that MEN took the lead to make people feel welcome, comfortable, safe, and cared for. Okay, do you realize how huge that is ? I have a husband that does those things for me everyday, but to experience men taking a lead like that in a setting where for all they knew, I didn't have a man to do that for me .... how sweet of a welcoming. I would love to see men taking the lead to make both men and women feel comfortable, safe, and cared for as they enter a church service.
One last tidbit about "programs". I believed the statement that we are programmed out at churches. (Insert SOME before every program listed here.) Programs wear on volunteers, programs drain staff, programs aren't the be-all end-all, programs eat up budgets that could be used more meaningfully. Our church offers some fantastic programs that I am often part of and even lead a few. But they are not KEY to my faith. The one "program" that is .... is one that is centered around community. Community is a huge portion of my spiritual life, and I believe it should be. Life groups, community groups, Redemption groups, Celebrate Recovery, Home groups, etc.... are all beautiful things because of what they facilitate. They are but a means to an end, however. While I suppose that some of the programs churches offer are a great way to move people to action, the people moving is still what is most important. More on this topic to come in days to come .....
Five, the music. This was a strange one for me. Since graduating high school, I've only ever sat under Aaron leading worship (and often lead with him). To hear others doing the songs he does was strange. They do them so different. The singers were good and bad. The band was soft and loud. The worship leaders themselves appeared confident and distracted, humble and proud. It really was odd. None of them were Aaron. I like Aaron. All biased opinions aside, he is still the best worship leader I've ever had the privilege of being led into worship by and with. Sure, other churches had worship that I would eventually grow used to, just as every church we've gone to has had it's time of growing used to Aaron. The worship services that really drew me in though were the ones where you just knew the Holy Spirit was moving. Isn't the Spirit always moving ? Yes. But sometimes maybe he moves in one church more than another (or just different, I don't know). One church we were at, we were told that there was a recent revival. A real bible-belt, demons cast, repenting of sin revival. Can you imagine ? I thought people made that stuff up. I thought it was bad pizza or too much beer the night before. But this church was a church were we have many dear and close friends. The Pastor and his wife are two of the most influential people in our married and spiritual lives. So we trusted them, we believed them, we knew that what was happening at their church was indeed real. The Spirit was moving .... powerfully. And you knew it as you sat through worship. In fact, ten minutes in, I had tears streaming down my face. It was almost suffocating. I begged for the Spirit to move like that to Boulder next. (PLEASE notice that what was most important to me about worship had NOTHING to do with the worship leader himself. It had everything to do with the hearts of the worshipers responding in obedience to God's leading.)
Six, the preaching. We were so blessed to hear some phenomenal preaching this summer. I am blessed every Sunday at my current church to sit under great preaching. We couldn't stay if it weren't the truth of the Word and the Saving Grace of Jesus that was taught from the pulpit at our church. But this summer I heard words like, "Gospel-wakefulness", "Gospel-centered", "Gospel-truth", "Gospel-driveness", just "GOSPEL", almost every weekend. I've talked about my current awakening to how big the Gospel is growing in my heart compared to the limited understanding that it has been, so this in particular was especially meaningful to me. I wasn't hearing self-help with a spiritual bent TAUGHT. I was hearing the power of the Gospel over every area of my life PREACHED. And week after week God was revealing my sin and muck and pride more and more as He asked me if I was ready to let his blood on the Cross be enough for whatever my poison of the day was. It was amazing. More on this topic perhaps to come in the near future as well. I'm processing this one A LOT still.
Seven, the parking. One church we attended had NO parking spaces. It was annoying. I thought about going to a different church because of it. You know I'm not serious, right ? I did have fun joking with my parents about it, however. And in fact, one church we went to had no parking at all. The church was this beautiful old Catholic church that had been donated to the church. It was set in the middle of an urban city housing area and you were forced to park up and down one way streets that posed "Residence Only" parking signs, and were thus forced to drive a little bit farther away. I thought that was great. It made me want to move into one of those houses just so I could walk to church every weekend.
Eight, community. I know I briefly talked about this one up their with programs. And this comes in second place to the Gospel as the biggest thing I'm continuing to process from this summer. I will for sure be blogging more in days to come on this one. All but one church that we were at this summer talked about community from the pulpit. It was obvious that the churches we were at were centralizing themselves around not only the Gospel, but GOSPEL-COMMUNITY. Now THAT is a church that when shopping, would earn my money. (Please tell me you saw the pun in that.) Many Sundays after church we were invited to go to lunch, times during the week we heard our phones ring from members at the church asking to hang out with us. This extrovert, often lonely heart felt, if but for a brief moment, a part of something.
So, 45 pages later, I've managed to wrap up our summer and combine it with a training in how to church shop. I'm glad I'm done shopping and can now go home. I pray a lot for my church family, for my home. I pray all these eight things (make that 6. Take a guess at which 2 I really could care less about.) for my church. I'm thankful to have a place to call home. It's full of broken and sinful people, so it has it's ups and downs. But just the same, it's a church that preaches the Gospel, a church that has a safe place for my children to attend, some great ways to plug into both serving and community, and perhaps the most fantastic worship leader in our current day. And to be honest .... the coffee is not good AT ALL. (No offense if the one who makes it is reading. Really, it's not you, it's me.)
If you are still reading this, you should really leave a comment. You've earned a $5 Starbucks card for enduring. You can contact Jeff S to retrieve it.