This is another installment of my thoughts from World Changers in upstate New York.
On Sunday, the 5th of July, the crews that I would be working with were blessed with visiting the church who would be sponsoring our lunches all week. I really enjoy visiting other churches because it gives me a chance to see how others conduct themselves when gathered together as a body of believers. I was really interested in experiencing the upstate New York Baptist church that we were going to visit.
We arrived at service time for the small church that sat next to a muddy river in the foothills of the Appalachians. I was immediately taken back to the small churches that I had visited down in the south (Kentucky and Tennessee). Our 17 World Changer members did two things to that church that morning: doubled their attendance and lowered the average age drastically. I wasn’t surprised to learn that the pastor was a transplant from Kentucky because the little church and its members could have been picked up from the south and dropped right there in New York such was its make-up and conduct.
I wondered if that was an underlying reason for the small size of the congregation. The church conducted themselves like a southern church while being surrounded by northern people. They had been able to attract congregants that had grown up in the south and now found themselves in the north because that was the demographic to which they had made themselves relevant.
Now the gospel is relevant to all, so don’t get me wrong, but the way that we practice community can be very different from one demographic to the next. Most of us would find ourselves in an uncomfortable situation if we were dropped off in a Christ-believing church in a small African village for no more reason than we may not be able to understand their language – though that is an important reason. The interesting thing about language is that its not limited to just the spoken or written word. We communicate through our actions as well and the church that we visited acted like a southern church though they were surrounded by northern people.
Let me mention one weird thing… we pledged allegiance that morning to the United States flag, the Christian flag, and the bible. I understand that this is common practice in some schools and even in some churches. To me, it was just weird. We followed that up with a bunch of patriotic hymns – most likely because it was Independence weekend. For some reason, that just carried over the weirdness of all the pledging to the music part of the worship.
The pastor got up and preached a message that was fantastic. He geared the message that morning to those of us there from World Changers AND to his congregation. In short, his message to us was ‘make sure you are here for the right reasons’ and to his congregation he challenged them to follow-up on the work that we would start in their neighborhoods. I really appreciated what God had led him to speak that morning.
Following service, they invited us to a meal that they had prepared and, boy, were we blessed. That is where the southern community can speak the universal language – food. There were at least 7 different potato salads on display that day and I had my first home-made whoopee pie. Being an extrovert, I enjoyed getting to know those that sat around me during lunch, and truth be told, some that were not so directly around me. We laughed and cut up like we were old acquaintances. I can’t say how much I enjoyed lunch with that body of believers. Its interesting how eating together can have that type of impact… no wonder the bible records that as one of the many things that the early church did.
As I sit here and reflect on them today, I pray that God blesses them and hope that they accepted the pastor’s challenge to follow up on the work we had started. I met several people in their neighborhoods that were touched by the love on display that week…people who needed the ultimate touch of love that only knowing Christ can bring.