It was 101 degrees and the building had no air conditioning. Instead, the attempted remedy for this minor inconvenience was one that would not have been my first choice. Those in charge decided to open every door leading to the outside so that the wind could circulate around the room. It didn’t work. I was sweaty, tired, and somewhat hungry.
I was a teenager on a mission trip in the middle of a Navajo reservation, so I decided to take these discomforts in stride and accept the experience for what it was. It was different…and it was their way of doing things.
First…a little background: I was raised in an amazing church. One that was (and still is) known for its thriving ministries, wonderful preaching, and inspiring music. Everything was polished and perfect. No distractions other than the occasional baby crying, but no one minds for the most part. People lined the altars on a regular basis to give their heart to the Lord, and no one doubted the anointing in that place. You could (and still can) feel the Holy Spirit thick and active in that place. I have become accustomed to a certain type of experience.
The church I was sitting in on this particular Sunday morning was different. The moment I sat down, I was uncomfortable. Hot. Sticky. Tired. We were there early, so not many had arrived. To be honest, I really wanted to go to a big church; one with better programs, great music, and a dynamic preacher. I suppose, however it was only one Sunday morning, so I could survive this little church (that could only seat about 40-50 people at the most) for one Sunday.
Ten minutes before the church service started, a few more people trickled into the tiny worship space. It wasn’t until about 2 minutes before the beginning that, we as a group of teenagers, got to see the true commitment of the worshippers dedicated to that church. We saw it alright. A space that would feel full with 50 people sitting in it was packed with over 100 attendees. People were on the floor, sitting on the back benches, and standing in the doorways. There were people everywhere.
The pastor walked up to a podium. He looked like what Colonel Sanders would look like if KFC were a biker club. What he said next blew my mind (because there were so many people there)…He looked to the left and the right and asked if anyone knew how to play the piano. They needed a piano player to play the hymns for the day. One of our teens knew how to peck out a few tunes and had taken some lessons, so she was the one chosen. No other musicians were in attendance. The songs were old too…really old, but the members sang at the top of their lungs. Our poor piano player tried to keep up.
The offering plate was passed, the announcements were made, and pastor prayed a prayer. He then stood up to preach, but was less seasoned in the art of preaching than I had hoped. I started to grade his performance and delivery. Meanwhile, I couldn’t hear some of the message because so many were “amen-ing” every word he said. It was bizarre. This one room church, that could not hold many people, was overflowing with people eager to experience the love of God through worship. Then, something even more powerful happened. The pastor called the congregation to a special time of prayer. This was a time of requests, confession, and praise. The power was palpable. There were some on their knees. Others were sitting with their head bowed. A few were standing while holding their fussy babies. All were praying out loud.
At the time, my mind could not compute what I was experiencing. The music was not planned out well, the preaching was not amazing, kids were running in and out of the sanctuary, and the building was unattractive. In fact, the sign in front of the church was old and rusted so you know that this church was not heavy into marketing. There were other churches in town, too.
I realized the presence of God does not favor the polished, put together, and the talented. The presence of God favors (for lack of a better word) things like desperation, desire, and dedication.
That small, Navajo church taught me something I have never learned in any church growth book. God must be present if real impacting growth is to happen. As a pastor, I can manufacture excitement, and manipulate people to fill the seats in many different ways. I have studied enough psychology. What church, though is really worth being at if God’s spirit is not there? There must be power.
That day changed the way I look at church. It is not about an incredible experience or impressive marketing campaign. If God is real, then he can take the preparation that we are able to give, the heart we sacrifice, and the attitude that we offer, and use that to change hearts. His spirit works.
Love you all.