My favorite things in church

My favorite place in church is the altar area.

When I was pastoring, sometime in the middle of a weekday, I would slip in and kneel there and spend time with the Lord.

The question arises as to “Why? What makes that place special?” After all, even though we call it the “altar,” it isn’t, not in the Old Testament sense or even the New Testament sense. Calvary is the ultimate altar for believers. The only answer I can find is: “I don’t know. I just know I need it and love it.”

What I do not understand is believers who never come to the altar and pray. It seems that only the most spiritually sensitive do, and I sure want to be among that number.

I love, love, love those times in church when for reasons unknown the congregational singing comes together like never before and everyone is singing at the top of their voices, the hymns are circulating around the room, bouncing off the ceiling and coming back to fill us, and our souls are lifted. It feels like we have touched the hem of the garment of our Lord, and makes us long for Heaven all that much more.

What I do not like is when the worship leader tries to manufacture this on his own. I’ve seen them do that, and the result is fake, hyped, unworthy.

I love spontaneous eruptions of joy in a church service.

In the pastor’s children’s sermon a kid says something so perfect, so profound or so dadgum clever, that the place explodes with laughter that goes on for five minutes.  The service is transformed now.  If the pastor could, he would buy one of those for every service.  Alas, they can’t be planned.

Sometimes it’s a slip of the tongue by the pastor in the middle of a sermon, something that everyone enjoyed whether it meant anything spiritual or not. In fact, it may have embarrassed him a little. But he laughed along with everyone else. The enjoyment of that moment bonded the people and added something to the remainder of the service which had not been there before.

But this cannot be planned, staged, or faked.  When pastoring, I would frequently pray, “Lord, please do something in the service for which we have not planned.”  That could take any form He pleased–and usually did–from the sudden visit of a motorcycle team to some interruption in the order to a comment from a child.

I love a solo or instrumental number that surprises everyone–often including the performers–by its sheer force, its impact, its power.

While no one can plan how a song will go over, those presenting it can do their best to prepare to the utmost and pray intensely. God seems to prefer to bless those who take Him seriously.

I love to preach a sermon that connects in a way that few do.  When this happens, the pastor is lifted up and carried along by the wind of the Spirit, and he finds himself with an eloquence new to him. I’ve sometimes caught myself in the middle of a sermon and known that “God is here.”  It’s a frightening, wonderful thought. I “tear up” at the memory and my heart yearns for Him to do this again and again.

If we could guarantee that this would occur every week, you can bet we preachers would.  But it doesn’t. Even the godliest of pastors sometimes will deliver a dud. At other times he will hit one out of the park when he had felt unprepared. When that happens, he is more surprised than anyone.

I love churches that encourage their people to come to the front and pray and then do not rush them, but wait for as long as it takes.

I told a pastor how impressed I was by this in his church. In the middle of the worship portion (that is, maybe 15 minutes prior to the sermon), the worship leader invited the people to come to the altar area and pray, and they came. In fact, families came and knelt together, friends came with friends, and as some went back to their seats, others got up and came and knelt.  Most of the churches I’ve been associated with over the years might have allotted a brief time for this, but the leader would have grown antsy after 3 or 4 minutes. This church allowed people to come and go as they pleased and stay as long as they liked. And it was a traditional Southern Baptist Church too, if you can believe that! (smiley-face goes here)

My observation is that the people in our churches want to pray. But unless the leader(s) encourage it and clear off space physically and make time in the order of worship, most will not do it.

I love the sound of fellowship after the service has ended and no one has left the building.  Most of our readers know that when I visit churches, I sketch people before and after the services, trying in my own way to connect with them and make as many as possible feel special.  When the service ends, I’ll sit on the front pew and draw a long line of individuals, for as long as anyone comes.  This is often a full half-hour. During this time, church members mill around, talking, watching, laughing, visiting.  Sometimes I will whisper to one of the ministers, “Listen to that. It’s the sound of fellowship.” That is the music of heaven, I’m convinced.

What I dislike strongly is when the custodian or some guardian of the church finances goes over and flicks the light switch several times to suggest everyone go home. Such people are fellowship-killers and ought to be dealt with privately (in which they are instructed sternly not to ever do that again), and if they persist, they should be replaced.

I do love church. I love the Lord of the church, Jesus. I love the songs of church, the people of church, the preaching and praying and loving.  And furthermore, I have done so since childhood.

This is one thing that makes me know I’m going to enjoy Heaven.

You, too?

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