I rolled out of bed at 7:15 this morning - which is always a struggle for me, since I am not and have never been a morning person. Threw some muffins into the oven, woke up my children, who aren't exactly morning people but still manage to wake up at a more reasonable rate than I ever manage. Dressed, ate, into the car, hurry hurry so we weren't late for church.
I guess here's where my story should really begin, in the parking lot.
We pull into the parking lot behind several other cars, all of which proceeded to the rear of the building and were guided into parking spaces by brightly-vested parking lot volunteers who smile and wave at everyone as they arrive, rain or shine or snow. Why parking lot volunteers? Well, we belong to a large church. LARGE. I don't know actual attendance numbers, and don't need to know, but there are two Sunday morning services, both of which are generally quite full. Our church building was a textile factory in a former life. It's roomy, but even our factory-sized parking lot fills up quickly, and having volunteers who ensure that no spaces are skipped ensures that everyone finds a spot easily.
So we park, and say goodbye to Rachael. The main building houses the sanctuary, preschool and elementary kids' areas, high school classrooms, and adult classrooms, fellowship hall, etc. But the middle schoolers meet in the gymnasium, where they have a worship service with their own pastor and praise band before dividing by grade and gender into small group sessions. Rachael loves Sunday mornings, and I am grateful.
The rest of us head into the main building, greeted at the door by more smiling faces with church bulletins bursting at the seams with lists of upcoming classes, announcements, and opportunities to give and serve. We've just barely made it on time this morning (oops), so there's no time to stop by the cafe before the service for our regular caramel macchiato.
That's right. We belong to one of those churches...the kind with fancy coffee. Furthermore, the cafe is located just beside our large indoor playground. Yep. You can stop taking my church seriously now, because what kind of church has a playground in the lobby?
But wait, just let me finish the story, okay? So we find our seats just in time to catch the last few announcements on the screens at the front of the sanctuary - silence your cell phones, check. Membership class coming up soon, done that already. Download the new church app, got it. Oh yes, we have an app too. I can find my daily Bible reading plan on it, see upcoming events, and even listen to past sermons. It's quite handy. And now the countdown clock on the screen has reached zero, and a hush falls over the congregation as the worship leader steps forward, guitar in hand, and invites everyone to stand and sing.
Yes, worship leader - we have a praise band. On a typical Sunday, there will be three guitars, a bass, a drum set, more percussion off to the side, two keyboards, a few singers, and (my personal favorite) a saxophone. The music is loud, but it is wonderful. Our services are contemporary, with much of the same music that you'd hear on stations like K-LOVE, except (and I kid you not) I generally prefer the versions sang at church to those that I hear on the radio.
In fact, it was the music that first caught my attention at this church. It was very different from the small, traditional church where my husband and I grew up. At our old church, there was a piano, an organ, and a choir, and three hymnals that were worn smooth from years of use. And there was not a thing wrong with that. The hymns that I grew up with are beautiful and emotional and taught me more scripture as a child than I would realize for many years. But something was different at this church, other than the tempo and the volume. I had heard - many, many times through the years - people claim that they could feel the Holy Spirit in a certain service or place. But on the first Sunday that I visited what is now our home church, during the worship service, was the first time that *I* ever felt it.
So here we are, on a typical Sunday morning, standing with several hundred of our brothers and sisters in Christ, singing praises to our God. Singing about unending love, amazing grace. Every high thing must come down, every stronghold must be broken. I know who goes before me, I know who stands behind. You get the idea.
And now, my story flashes forward, several hours into the future...
Place: Back at home.
Time: Later that same afternoon.
Activity: Checking Facebook.
And I run across this article, shared by a friend: Why They Don't Sing on Sunday Anymore
Interesting, I think. Who doesn't sing on Sunday any more? *click*
Well apparently, it's the people who attend churches with praise bands. Those with "chipper worship leaders" who transform the congregations into "mute mannequins" because of "a number of unfortunate factors."
What it is, is prejudice against large churches. It's nothing new. There's even plenty of it around here, and extends to rumors that people circulate about large churches. Someone asked me once if we really had to show financial documents before we were allowed to become members of our church. Whaaaat? If my church only accepted rich members, they wouldn't even let me in for coffee.
But people are quick to condemn churches that are too large, churches that have coffee or playgrounds or seats that are too comfy. Churches with praise bands or drums or funky lights, churches that need parking lot volunteers. After all, churches of a certain size mean a larger congregation, and a larger congregation means more money in tithes and offerings, and more money means that the church staff is just lining their pockets and singing hallelujah (loudly, and accompanied by drums) all the way to the bank. I mean, clearly.
And now, I return to this morning's service...
The music ends. Tithes and offerings are collected. Our pastor's message today is about "making the most of 2016" - whether it's truly a *happy* new year or not, whether everything goes our way or not. How to do that? Devote ourselves consistently to prayer, to Bible study, to worshiping together, to serving and giving and sharing our faith. To helping people love Jesus and everyone else. Even when it's hard, even when we don't "feel" like it.
And now? We pray, and the praise band closes with one more song. The sanctuary is filled with singing. And then the people disperse. Some head to the parking lot, others to the lobby and to classrooms and yes, the cafe.
We're among those headed to the lobby, where we collect security stickers from the volunteers outside of the kids' area. Past the volunteers who man the doors leading into the kids' area, checking for stickers, and Milly joins her class for a mini-service in the kids' sanctuary and then for small groups. I head to the nursery and love on a precious little ball of chunk that can't be more than four months old and projectile vomits into my shoe. Yes, I said INTO my shoe. Don't ask how it happened. He was squishy and perfect anyway, and I hope I get him again next week. I'll be back with my class of first grade girls on Wednesday nights, but on Sundays, it's all about the itty-bitties.
After church, the girls and I have lunch there at the church with a large group of church staff and people who are getting ready to attend OBC 101, the pre-membership class that informs them of the beliefs of our church. We want for new members to know exactly what we believe and why (ie, because the Bible says so) before making a commitment to join. And there are a few others who, like us, have children who are staying after church for the pre-baptism class.
Yes, my Milly girl has expressed an interest in being baptized...and as with those prospective new members, our youth pastor wants to be certain that children understand what baptism is, what it symbolizes, and the choices that must be made before baptism, before taking the plunge.
For those keeping count at home, that's at least thirteen areas that I've mentioned where people are serving other people, just on Sunday morning. There are many more that I haven't encountered on this particular Sunday.
We are not consumers, sunk into our plushy seats with steaming cups of Seattle's Best, here to be entertained and uplifted by a touchy-feely feel-good sermon.
We are people who love Jesus and want to share His love with others, here to serve, to give, and to learn how to be more like Him once the service is over. We want to glorify him as much on Thursday afternoon as we do on Sunday morning. We just happen to drink coffee while we do it, sometimes. And proceeds from that cafe? They benefit missionaries, new church start-ups, orphans. Not our church staff, who most assuredly deserve several times what they earn, for the hard work that they pour into every aspect of our ministries.
We get our toes stepped on every single Sunday - but in the process, we learn to better follow Christ. Isn't that what church should teach us? And if so, why is it such a bad thing that our church is teaching *many* people at once?
Why the automatic hostility toward large churches? Why the negative assumptions?
Visit our church. Learn what we believe. See where we serve and who we help and what we give, and THEN form an opinion.
But please, don't assume that we don't sing because we have a praise band.
Here are the "number of unfortunate factors" listed in the article, in case you're interested.
Spectator set-up: the congregation assumes the role of "good audience" and watches "the spotlighted musicians deliver their well-rehearsed concerts." Fact: making music requires practice. Even the pianist at our old church had to practice, or she wouldn't be able to play the hymns. If you have ten people playing together, yes, they have to rehearse, or it'd sound like a train wreck. Would that be a JOYFUL noise to our Lord? No. Does He deserve better than that? Absolutely! So the problem with rehearsing is...?
Professionalism: "the people in the pews know they pale in comparison to the loud voices at the microphones." Well, yes. We have one woman in particular at our church who could sing the phone book, backward and in German, and make it sound GOOD. I love to hear her sing. But you know what? I sing along anyway. Because I'm not there to hear her perform, and if I were, then the real problem would be with me and my intent, not with the person leading the song. I also sing along with songs on the radio in my car, even though they sing better than I do. It's not about how well I sing; it's about the emotion behind the singing.
Blare: "The musicians' volume is cranked up so high that congregants can't hear their own voices, or the voices of those around them, even if they would sing. So they don't sing." What an interesting - and flawed - assumption. I am afforded the luxury of being able to sing along loudly and with feeling because the volume drowns me out. I love being able to worship unabashedly, not worrying at all whether someone nearby is snickering at my off-key singing! Bring on the blare - the louder you play, the louder I'll sing!
Music choice: "Sometimes people refrain from singing because the songs are unfamiliar, hard to sing, or just cheesy." Whoa...spoken like someone who doesn't attend church regularly (else, the songs would likely be familiar), is overly self-conscious of their singing (but the blare - no one can hear you anyway!), or maybe needs to check his cynicism at the door, because you ain't seen "cheesy" until you've sat through some of the VBS puppet shows that I grew up with.
Okay, I'll admit: this article rubbed me the wrong way. It was just another criticism in what feel like a steady stream of judgments against large churches, usually made by people who belong to small churches. And I get it - I do. I used to be a church coffee snob myself. Holier than them because I still sat in a pew. Those assumptions were super easy to make from a place of zero understanding about what really went on inside a large church.
All of us who believe that Jesus came to earth as a baby, lived a perfect life, died on the cross for our sins, and rose again to ascend to Heaven - we are ALL parts of the body of Christ. Different parts of the body, sure, but all parts are important. And let's face it, my mouth sings differently than my nose or my foot.
But the point is, that I SING. Loudly. Joyfully. Often. Even with my praise band.
So please stop judging my big church because we have drums.