Have you ever had a moment, day or even a situation where everything seems to have you questioning what’s the real meaning of “church?” Maybe you’ve been in church all your life and you’ve been hurt by others there or maybe you walked in to a new church longing to feel at home and were met with “you’re not welcomed here” looks and stares. I’ve been in both situations.
What I know from my own experiences is that people from all around the world come to churches to gather hope, receive love and be accepted.
The sun was brimming over head and heat melting down as it does in the south Texas summer. It had been an exhausting weekend pouring into hurt, broken, and lost friends on the streets, while feeding those in need. My prayer was that each one felt welcomed, loved, and noticed.
As I threw my weary body in the car and drew open the sunroof so as the sun-rays could wake-up my soul, I remembered I had promised a friend I’d stop by for a BBQ gathering.
A group of men who had recently been released from prison and their families were gathering. They had just completed a men’s study together and were celebrating their accomplishment. I was more than honored to be invited! Actually, I was amazed.
I arrived. Honored to meet the men who had completed this study I made my way around shaking hands. My heart was being filled by each sweet comment and each new family I met. We BBQ’ed, mingled, and visited until it was time to gather and share a moment all together.
The men rallied their families and we all squished into a living room to listen to a DVD. I sat there watching, not knowing what to expect. Each man and family found a spot to sit. The DVD lesson started and silence fell upon the lips. The reverence in the room was beyond words. Each man, women, and child hung to the words — life giving words.
I don’t know about you, but my children were never still and quiet in a church service when they were younger. They never hung on each word the pastor said.
But in this still moment, we all did. I could fill tears gathering in the corners of my eyes, but I was determined not to cry. Oh not now, please do not let my emotion seep out and me miss this beautiful moment.
The lesson finished. One man stood and began to share his testimony. Next another. Then another life story of the miracles Jesus had performed. By this time I was begging God to hold back the flood gate of tears that were now forming and trying to spill forth. No tears please! This is a moment to treasure.
We sat there and shared life and hard times, but mostly Jesus’s Grace! We remembered we were all sinners whether we were a murderer, drug or sexual abuser, adulterer, or struggling sojourner. In that moment our past’s did not matter. Nothing mattered but Jesus’ love, hope, acceptance and precious grace. One of the men soon mentioned, “let’s head outside for communion.”
A holy act where for years and through many churches I was told there was a right and wrong way. There always seemed to be a lot of do’s and do not’s. It seemed some people could be in on it and some were out. There were right “formula’s,” perfect emblems to use, and even exact scriptures to read. But this communion was different.
We gathered around a picnic table all sprawled out in the lawn. No one cared who you were. Where you’d been. What you’d done. Or even if you were accepting the bread and the wine “right.” I sat there trying to take in ever last moment. I didn’t want to forget. I breathed in the warm evening air full of BBQ aroma, bowed my head and prayed. It was a prayer of thankfulness and remembrance.
“Thank you Jesus for all you have done for me, these men, their families, and this moment. Thank you for your church — your people! Thank you for this place where I’ll never forget the grace I’ve felt today!”
I longed to linger at the table. We all did. We laughed, visited, and pondered the future. This was communion– Church, God’s people, real-life free of time and expectations. Yes, this was the way of Jesus. This was a holy moment.
A moment that left me with a lot of questions as I walked away from the table.
What is church?
I grew up knowing “Here’s the church, Here’s the steeple, Open the Door and see God’s people.” Hand motions and all. *wink, wink* So this incredible holy moment left me wondering what is church all about? There was no building, no steeple, nor door to open.
Obviously church is to glorify God and that we did. But what if church just wasn’t about Sunday’s. But rather also meant, “Here’s the BBQ, a holy place, let all come and feel God’s grace?” All the questions rumbling through my mind led me to scripture. And mostly it led me to Jesus and His words.
I’m still digging in. I’m sorting through what church is, and so far I’m seeing in Red Letters that Jesus continually sat in communities to shower the unwanted with truth and grace. These were chaotic times when the unexpected happened, and moments when all — cheats, frauds, adulterers, murders, liars, and religious fakes — were given the hope of a greater future.
The afternoon that I sat in amid the greatest men I’ve recently come to know, I knew this was church. I felt accepted. The moment felt raw and honest. No one was there to out-do one another, point a finger at another, but rather to encourage each person to carry on and to follow the One who had set them free.
That day I experienced Jesus’ church.
Church to the fullest.
Have you ever wrestled through what church is all about? I’d love to hear about your experience.