Recently I had a visit from one of my friends from church. I don’t often have visitors anymore, and this was a special treat. She and her husband had been long-time missionaries in Africa, and have a wealth of interesting experiences in their history. She loves the Lord deeply and has learned through life to lean on Him and to trust Him in every circumstance. It was such a joy to speak with her about the things of the Lord. She has the calm, wise, loving nature of someone who has developed many of the fruits of the spirit ~ and our conversation was an encouragement and blessing to me.
Our chat reminded me of the way it was many, many decades ago. When I was a newly saved teenager there were many folks who took the time to help bring me along. Other teens in my church would invite me to go with them to Young People’s meetings all over the city or even nearby cities. Older couples would invite me for Sunday dinner after church, where the conversations inevitably turned to the things of the Lord, and I would listen and learn. Hospitality was an integral part of fellowship, and I often learned as much from those after-dinner discussions as I did listening to the sermon.
Life is so much faster paced now. People have packed schedules, and Sunday dinner might be a quick stop at a fast food place on the way to another activity. Even when I was a young married, people went to churches near their homes; now at my church people come from long distances and many directions. Getting together for dinner after the Sunday service is not as easy as it might have been in the past. To build fellowship beyond coffee hour chatter, we try to have occasional after-church pot-lucks, but it isn’t the same as a nice dining room table in a quiet home where you can get into deep discussions. I miss those deep discussions ~ they fed my soul…
Am I just being a grumpy old woman when I long for things to be as they were in the past, or are my feelings valid when I think we have, perhaps, become a very different Church? I prefer the days when worship was defined as an individual state of the heart and not by a period of time, or led by a team. There was a time when people came into the church and sat quietly and listened to the prelude or prayed or read their Bibles in order to prepare their hearts in a spirit of thankfulness and reverence. Now in some churches it is almost impossible for the pastor to quiet the congregation from their noisy chatter in order to start the service. I look back and can’t remember when or how this began. It makes me sad.
I miss the kind of conversation I had with my friend. I miss the reverence and dignity and thoughtfulness of church life before it became more like entertainment with worship teams and guitars and drums. I miss the stately old hymns like “O Love That Will Not Let Me Go” or “Praise My Soul the King of Heaven” or “The Lord’s My Shepherd”. Somehow it is hard for me to relate to most of the modern praise music; it seems pretty lightweight in comparison (with a few notable exceptions). I don’t like “happy-clappy” and applause in church. Applause is for a performance. Church should be about authenticity, not performance. I miss the days when worship was more about “What can I give to God of myself” than about “What does God do for me”.
- During the COVID lockdown, two of our college students brought me a “goody” bag with a huge coffee mug, some herbal teas, candies, and other treats and left it on the doorstep. They called me from their car and waited until I picked it up and then gave me a cheery wave and drove off.
- There is now a good-sized group of young men coming to the church for study and fellowship on Friday nights. One of them had been invited by one of our young men several years ago to go to Christian teen camp, and he got saved. He has now brought these other young men to know Christ, and they are all hungry for the Word. Several of them are considering full-time service for the Lord.
- A Christian-oriented children’s “Club” of neighborhood children recently held a special night, and several got saved.
In other words, the Gospel is still going forward and people are continuing to be saved.
Even if my observations about a different kind of Church are valid, God is still at work.
I must remember that it is God in charge, and we are only channels. He is able to work through our brokenness, our failures, and our ignorance. He is the power that opens hearts to hear and understand. We are just messengers, and if I am not happy with today’s Church, that does not keep the Holy Spirit from calling out a people to His name. There are many who love the new music and feel that applause in church is just an expression of approval. I am not the worship sheriff. We all come to God at different times and from different places. I suppose the saints of centuries ago would look at my preferences with horror ~ and yet the Gospel has persisted and people have been saved and God is still at work.
I will continue to miss the kind of conversation I had with my friend. I will continue to prefer some kinds of music over others. Yet, I see God working in the hearts of people everywhere. That is what is important. It is a different time, and perhaps different methods and techniques are necessary to reach those who have been raised with electronic gadgets glued to their ears and fingers. What matters is that people continue to hear the Gospel, and we are the preachers. We preach with words, but also with our actions. Are we kind? Are we sensitive to others and prepared to share both our time and our possessions with those in need? Can others see Christ in us? These are the marks of followers of Jesus: to demonstrate His love by the way we love our neighbors. As long as we continue to reflect the love of God to others, perhaps the details of how we go about it are secondary. Each of us can only bring ourselves to the work. It becomes our responsibility to live lives worthy of our calling and to share the Gospel, and the Holy Spirit will do the rest.