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Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Before I Understood

We have lots of people come to our church each week who have never been to church before. They are checking it out. I have to remember that they will not understand many of the terms we use in church. I have to remember that they are open to what I am saying but skeptical. I try to remember what I thought before I understood.

It has been a long time but I do not remember being opposed to church. I thought it was boring. I endured it but I wasn't going on any crusades to change how church did things. Most of the pastors I had always told a joke during the message. I thought that most of us waited for that joke so that we had a reason for coming. I realize the pastor needed something that the people would remember. That was his reason for telling the joke.

I went to church so that I could see my friends. I suspect this was the same reason they came. We never talked about church outside of the building. In fact, we didn't talk about it while we were inside the building either. We just went. Eventually, I could recite all the creeds by heart and knew most of the hymns. I didn't really know what they meant. I just said what I was supposed to say when it was time.

Our church allowed the youth to serve communion. This seemed to make the older people happy. They would come forward and kneel while we served them the bread and juice. We prompted people forward row by row. You had to participate even if you didn't want to. I don't think most people understood what we were doing. I think it was just one of those religious activities that people do without knowing why they are doing so. Lots of people will come to Easter services in a couple of weeks and not know why they are there either.

I suppose I would have agreed that Jesus was the Messiah if asked. I am sure I wouldn't have known what that meant. I questioned some of the things that were read in the Bible. I couldn't imagine a sinless man. I refuted that when the subject came up.

Lordship was a foreign concept to me. I thought of religion as an instruction manual. It just told you how to live to get most things right. Living that way would keep you out of trouble and take most of the worry out of your parents' lives.

So, I try to instruct and help people when they come to church for the first time. I want them to have three things. I want them to feel safe. This goes beyond caring for their physical safety. I want them that I will not abuse them verbally. They should also know that there is some predictability. I want them to know that we closely follow a schedule and that they can expect to get out close to the stated ending time. People should expect quality. I don't want them to believe that I whimsically prepared what I will say that morning. I want them to know that it came from careful thought. (It also comes from careful study and prayer but they may not recognized that.) I want people to know that they are in church for a reason.

They aren't interested in whether or not I use the proper terms for my denomination. They just want to know if it is worth their attendance. They are hoping that it is. They need something more than they have had or they wouldn't come to church.

I always have to remember what it was like before I understood.

Acts 8:27-31 (NIV)
27 So he started out, and on his way he met an Ethiopian eunuch, an important official in charge of all the treasury of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians. This man had gone to Jerusalem to worship, 28 and on his way home was sitting in his chariot reading the book of Isaiah the prophet. 29 The Spirit told Philip, "Go to that chariot and stay near it." 30 Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet. "Do you understand what you are reading?" Philip asked. 31 "How can I," he said, "unless someone explains it to me?" So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.

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