What being in being 7different churches over 7 Sundays has taught me
Church isn’t supposed to feel routine but sometimes it can. Sometimes we can be on autopilot getting the family ready and out the door and it can take a little while and some discipline to clear the mental cobwebs of the rest of life and really pay attention to the words of the songs we’re singing and to what the pastor is saying.
Over eight Sundays starting with the week before we left for missionary home assignment and ending with the last Sunday back in our home church in Monterrey, we worshipped with 7 different congregations. Some big, some small, some in the city, or suburbs, some very rural. One in Spanish, six in English. Some with family and friends we know well and were welcomed with hugs and open arms and some where we had never met anyone and were equally welcomed with hugs and open arms. Bringing me to a few things I’ve been reflecting on and been challenged by over these 8 weeks.
The first thing that struck me was how often do I sing without really paying attention to the words of the songs I’m singing? This reflection started the last Sunday we were at our home church. I tell my husband my brain is sometimes like a ball of spaghetti that I can’t quite sort out and it takes effort sometimes to focus. That morning we sang the song “No Other Name” by Hillsong and the thought, “Do I really believe what I am singing? "Came to my head. Do WE as the church really believe what we are singing? In Spanish the bridge and part of the chorus say the following (in parenthesis is my translation of the Spanish words):
Con tu poder se rompen cadenas(with your power chains break)
Cantaránel Cielo y la tierra (Heaven and Earth will sing)
Santoeres Jesús, Santo es tu nombre (Holy are you Lord, Holy is Your name)
Ven a adorar al que resucitó (Come andworship the resurrected one)
La luz del mundo que nos rescató (Thelight of the world who rescued us)
No hay otro nombre igual (There’s noother name)
No hay otro nombre igual (There’s no other name)
This is not near the first time I have heard or sung this song in Spanish or English but that morning that first line of the bridge focused all the wayward thoughts in my brain. The English version says, “Chains will break as heaven and Earth sing Holy is the name, Holy is the name of Jesus, Jesus, Jesus”. But something about the Spanish translation of that line set me to thinking that morning. Are we really believing what we’re singing? We are singing praise to a God whose power can break whatever struggle we have. We are singing those words; I am singing those words. Am I, are we, living like we believe them? Am I letting His power transform me?
It probably will always take discipline to set aside the rest of life and enter worship wholly connecting mind, heart, and body but I have enjoyed the experience of the variety of songs that we sung in these seven churches. Some with a full worship band and a some using just a piano or a recorded track. A few hymns that I’ve known since I was a child, a couple “praise chorus” that I learned as teenager and a few more recent songs, some known and some I’ve never sang before. But all declaring truths about our Savior taken from the Bible to remind us of who God is and to bring us into worship together.
The second big reflection I had has to do with something I mentioned earlier. We visited 7 churches in 7 Sundays not to mention the midweek services and individuals we saw that represent another 7 or more churches and we were welcomed in them all whether we knew almost everyone or almost no one. It seems it’s not hard to find negative comments and criticism about churches today. And we ourselves have not been immune to hurt in the church and I certainly know it’s not easy to heal from that. Frequently, I must remind myself what Jesus said in Mark 2:17 after being criticized by the pharisees for eating with Levi and the tax collectors “…Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” That’s what the spirit was putting in my heart over the next months. Each church was unique, but I guarantee not one of them was perfect. Yet, with the eyes of a visitor, I saw pastors, worship teams, greeters, and individuals with a desire to serve God and love others to the best of their ability on that day. Does everything always go smoothly? Has no one gotten upset lately? Did no one fall asleep during the pastor’s sermon? Probably not. Were the instruments too loud or the voices off key? Was someone covering a sadness, disagreement, or lack of sleep with a smile or a cup of coffee? Quite likely. But were there imperfect people showing up and praising their Savior? Yes. God used imperfect people to welcome us and show us love, to plan potluck lunches and ask how about life and ministry. To give us unexpected gifts of all kinds. To smile at our daughters and give them a piece of candy. To overlook the antics of an energetic 4-year-old in an unknown church who had been stuck in a car for 15 hours the day before.
We truly enjoy getting to share about what God is doing in Monterrey and invite people to partner in the work, by prayer, giving, or going. However, my oldest isn’t alone in the hesitation I see on her face and in her movements as we get out of the car to head to a church we don’t usually go to. But in every place, we were greeted, welcomed, and even treated to lunch. That is part of what it means to be the church family; to love on others. I’m sad it doesn’t always look like it should. But I’m refreshed to know it's not extinct.
So, while we’re thrilled to be back in Monterrey in our church home. I’m glad for the opportunities we had to see and be a part of a few other church families during our travels. It’s a blessing to see the church in action and together sing “Holy, Holy, Holy” to the name that is like “no other name.” Sometimes I need the reminder that that’s what it’s about. A bunch of imperfect people who make up the Church family of God coming together in a local church to praise the name of the only One who alone has the power to break the chains that hold us and so often hurt us and those around us.