Last summer (and into the fall) after Rebekah retired and we launched our epic “Derek & Rebekah Go to Church” series, we visited congregations all over The Triangle. We went because we love God, we went because we believe public worship is not just a sacred duty but a powerful witness, we went because we love church, we went to hear some of our friends preach, we went because we were traveling, we went looking for a church home. We worshiped with more than a dozen Presbyterian congregations in Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill, Wilmington, Wilson, and Washington DC.
Contrary to the expressed concerns of more than one preacher, we did not keep a scorecard, develop a ranking system, critique sermons, or post reviews on Yelp! If we had, I think the words of the psalmist – and I love the KJV on this – would come back to haunt us all: “If thou, Lord, shouldest mark iniquities, O Lord, who shall stand?”
Our decision (as to where to land) was simply going to be a balance between, “Yes, we would love to invest ourselves here!” and, “But could we sustain any meaningful level of involvement if we had to drive all that way?”
But we never thought to count the traffic lights!
One recent Sunday, concerned that we might miss the prelude, or maybe the announcements, or – gasp! – the call to worship, Rebekah said something along the lines of, “I’ll bet we hit ten lights this morning!”
“And that’s just the red ones,” I replied. “I wonder how many there really are?”
So this week I counted. The number, between our home and Hudson Memorial Presbyterian Church, is 29! This week, we went 7 for 29. That’s a fairly smooth run, zooming right through more than 75% green lights. Depending on the ratio, that’s the difference between ample time for prayer and prelude, and easing in so late we miss the entire first hymn!
For comparison we typically encountered three lights on the way to WFPC – or just the one if we drove through the seminary.
One day I’d like to live in a situation where we would be able to walk to church. I’m not sure why, it’s kind of a romantic ideal. We were able to do that when Rebekah and I bought the old manse on Piedmont Road in Pensacola.
This is a critical moment!
Regardless, Rebekah and I will always anchor our lives and the woking out of our faith in a house of worship.
We live in an age where social disconnection, isolation, polarization, anger, anonymity, the inability to listen, tunnel vision, and the absence of functional community have surged to the extent they define our culture.
In other words, the world needs the gospel now more than ever! This is not the time to shrug our shoulders and say, “It is what it is” while we wander, no longer believing in our mission, into irrelevancy!
If I hear another Christian leader say, “Well, we just have to accept the reality of church decline.” Or, “It’s just the way things are…,” I may well scream in protest!
“Glory Days” are ahead!
It may be true that looking back to “Glory Days”, or “The way things used to be” is always an unrealistic and impractical standard; looking over our shoulders never helps. But neither does that mean moving forward should be a confirmation of the wrong trajectory! In Christ, moving forward means moving into new life!
The Good News of Jesus happens to be the exact solution this disillusioned, fragmented, rancorous, despairing culture needs. We have the answer, and the answer is Jesus: “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). and, “What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31).
Church is where people will be able to find hope and assurance and an invitation into a better way to live!
So look around, take note of two or three people you have not seen in a while, and invite them to join you this coming Sunday. If you need to get together and chat about it first, schedule a time.
Community is not about agreeing on everything, it’s about being together, about doing life together, about love and encouragement.
This really is a critical moment for America. But isn’t that why we have been called together? – DEREK