Dear American Church-goers,
I’m Whitney and I attend a church next to a peacock farm in the middle of the country. Maybe you attend a mega church in the lovely state of Texas. Or maybe you also attend a quaint church on a hill somewhere with flowers and a small cemetery as an offshoot — like an extension of the old bricks somehow, someway. Or maybe you don’t even go to church because someone turned you off to the idea of gathering together and worshipping God.
Whatever it is, I’m glad you’re here. You are welcome here.
The friends I’ve logged miles with as we’ve walked imperfectly brave together, know that four years ago God called my darling red-headed husband and myself to Kansas City. In fact, he brought us to a serve at a little white church next to a peacock farm just outside of suburbia Liberty. And for the record, we don’t ever want to leave.
But you see, at the beginning, I did. At the beginning, I wanted to leave because as I looked around the church I didn’t see any of “my people.” I saw a sea full of friendly people (the people at my church are the friendliest) but I was having a hard time relating to the more traditional crowd that the little white church held. You see, I am a dance- in-the-pew kind of individual and these folks were more straight, more controlled, a bit more reserved.
I dance in my kitchen every day.
It wasn’t just the more reserved crowd that had me feeling uneasy. I had a hard time with the pews and the carpet. I couldn’t quite understand the emphasis. Why did we need to talk about bringing coffee in the sanctuary? Why was the carpet color a point of conversation? Why did we care about who would clean?
And as I have grown to love the people I have grown to understand more. Case in point: I don’t let my kids take coke cans in my living room, either. Because hello, MESS. And don’t you know mama just vacuumed?
And the music. Well, hymns are not my fancy. I like them. I will sing them, but I don’t belt them like I can Hillsong. I sat frustrated too many Sundays. Now I see that I did that to myself. I built my own cage.
Humans. We are excellent builders of cages and terrible destroyers of freedom.
The end cap of my frustrations, the biggest and hardest to carry — expectations. Oh, the burden of expectations. Let’s suffice it to say that nothing — not one thing — looked like I expected it to when I took the gig of pastor’s wife.
Gaw. I painted a dark picture didn’t I? It looks bleak. Dry barren land of the Church. Oh, but friend, pull up your chair a bit closer because I want to whisper you a secret.
Church is bleak only if you let it be bleak.
Your church can be alive if you are alive. But if you are dead, your church will be dead, too. And maybe too many churches are dead because we are too busy playing dead – distracted by our differences rather than made alive by Jesus.
I know all the things you do, and that you have a reputation for being alive—but you are dead. Wake up! Strengthen what little remains, for even what is left is almost dead. I find that your actions do not meet the requirements of my God.Go back to what you heard and believed at first; hold to it firmly. Repent and turn to me again. If you don’t wake up, I will come to you suddenly, as unexpected as a thief. Revelation 3:2-3
Last Friday night, I looked around my little white church on a hill as it was full of new faces. I listened to laughter of brave and courageous souls. A comedian came to that little white church and we swung open the doors to our friends — all of our friends. I laughed harder than I have laughed in a long time. I danced, I sang. I ate cheesecake straight out of a jar for goodness sake. I stared into the eyes of the same people I thought I didn’t have anything in common with and a smile crept over my soul. Because we do have something in common.
And it has become enough.
America, we have a problem. We have created church for the consumer. Consumer Church.
That church doesn’t play my music. That church’s pastor wears too skinny of jeans. That pastor wears jeans. That pastor wears a suit. Their coffee was weak. They didn’t have coffee. Did you hear that hymn? I’m sorry, what is a hymn? That music was too loud. Who doesn’t have drum set in the 21st century? And who hasn’t sat around a table at lunch nit-picking the very details of the sermon?
We are a hard crowd.
Can I share something that I have learned by placing a city girl in a church next to a peacock farm?
That if you pray like a mad person and do everything to be brave right where you are, that right where you are place will be the place that God moves. If you pursue the relationships even when it’s awkward, when you go after the whispers God has put in your heart, when you pull people into your life even if it feels like a stretch you are showing the world that Jesus is enough.
And isn’t He? Or does the coffee need to be stronger?
“I know all the things you do, that you are neither hot nor cold. I wish that you were one or the other! But since you are like lukewarm water, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth! You say, ‘I am rich. I have everything I want. I don’t need a thing!’ And you don’t realize that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked. Revelation 3:15-17
I just talked to a friend who recently came back from India. They crowded into concrete floors while mice ran across their toes and danced and sang and clapped because they just wanted to worship Jesus. She showed me a picture and I smiled.
I am praying this for us, American Church-goers. I long for this to become a part of our heartbeat once again. That we would come back to the bleakness of our life without Jesus and do anything to get into His courts and serve His bride, the Church. No matter the seats we sit in, the music we listen to, the people beside us.
That we wake up. I’m praying this for me. I’m praying it for my city. I’m praying it for you, dear reader.
Because let me tell you what I’ve learned while “waking up”:
I’m learning to stop playing dead. I have a living, active relationship with God. If He is moving in my life that means He wants to move in and through my church, too. Because I know Jesus, it means I have a space, a voice and anointed thoughts from the King. I am beginning to bring them to the table, ask others to come alongside me and run after them together. And we are. And there is change in our church, community and city because of it.
I’m learning to play nice with others. The body of Christ is not comprised of those that look like us, dress like us or talk like us. The body of Christ is the most eclectic art gallery there ever was. Instead of running from it, I’m learning to engage it. I’m becoming friends with those I never thought I’d be friends with — young, old, farmer, city-girl, scientist, military official. I am learning that Jesus is enough of a foundation for a friendship. Playing nice is key to unity and unity is close to Jesus’ heart. I promise.
I’m learning to fear God (not man). The fear of man will keep us in secret sin. The fear of God will release us into authentic, genuine relationships. Go ahead, say it out loud — “Today I will fear God, not man.” This is transforming.
Finally, I’m learning to pray. Prayer is our heartbeat. Prayer is our extension into the heavens. It’s the cry, “Abba Father!” It is where we go when the church hurts us. It’s where we go when we’ve hurt the church. It’s how we will see landscapes change and it is our only hope for revival.
My dear friend, my dear American church-goer, a dying world needs us to flourish right where we are – pews or chairs, hymns or Hillsong, skinny jeans or suits. We can do this, Church-friends. I believe in us so much. I believe in you and me, but mostly I believe in Jesus. Jesus paid too big of a cost for us to play dead and fight over petty issues. I’m counting the cost and praying for the Church. Join me?
And tell me, how have you seen your church flourish, when you decided to come alive right where you are?