Two things happened as I worshiped on July 16 at the Downtown Presbyterian Church in Nashville, Tennessee.
The first thing has to do with being a visitor. It’s harder than it looks.
I had joined my wife for a long weekend in Nashville while she was in the midst of a business trip. We decided to worship at a Presbyterian church just a block from our hotel — a rare experience for me to be a first-time visitor. I learned some things:
- I wasn’t sure how to dress.
- I wasn’t sure by what door I should enter the church.
- I wasn’t sure where to sit (was I taking someone’s usual spot?).
- I wasn’t sure how to go about greeting others during the passing of the peace (which went on for a very long time!).
If this was hard for me, a church professional with a lifetime of worship experiences, imagine how hard this is for someone new to the idea of church, or not sure about what they believe, or deeply wounded by a personal matter.
I remember when pastor and author Don Everts was with us this past March. He gave us the image of gently leading someone by the arm into the life of the church and the things of Jesus. I now better understand how important that is.
I remember the words of the Apostle Paul from the message I preached on July 9 “practice hospitality” (Romans 12:13, NIV). I now better understand the urgency of that.
There is a sweet spot for us to find where we give people space to check things out at their own pace and yet also provide a warm welcome. May God help us find that!
The second thing has to do with worship. It’s harder than it looks.
We went to worship with low expectations, not sure that this congregation outside of our denominational home would have much to offer us. We were wrong.
It happened during the prayer of confession, as we prayed “Patient and persistent God, we come, polished and presentable, to this comfortable room as if we knew what to expect, as if this were a safe and predictable place, as if we could simply observe…”
Suddenly we were convicted. God wanted so much more for us than we could ever get simply by observing.
I remember Jesus saying, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30).
So we focused our hearts, our souls, our minds, and our strength on loving God. In this large downtown sanctuary with about 50 people present, not one of whom we knew, God was gracious and met us. We were encouraged and we were humbled.
Being a first-time visitor is harder than it looks. Let us remember that as we practice hospitality.
Being a fully-invested worshiper is harder than it looks. Let us remember that God is eager to meet us when we make the effort to meet him.
What a wonderful thing is the church, of which Jesus Christ is head! We preach the “unsearchable riches of Christ, so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known” (Ephesians 3:8-10, emphasis added).