I have spent my whole life in church. Yet, I could count on one hand the number of hymns I know, and I don’t really understand the phrase, “Sunday Best.” Well, I get what it’s supposed to mean, but in my experience, it just means wear your cuter jeans and switch your flip flops out for high heels. Now, in some way that’s a matter of preference, as I do tend to be a low-maintenance dresser. But, you get my point. Church isn’t something you have to dress up for.
I’ve been thinking about this lately, as a matter of change in style. Right now, I am staying on a church campus, along with a handful of other folks. This isn’t the first time. Having spent years in full-time ministry, I have stayed in many churches. I know churches. I GET them. But the other day, I had something of an emergency, and had to cross the parking lot to go get someone out of a service in progress. I didn’t even think twice that I walked into a church meeting dressed exactly as I was–flip-flops, tank top, and sweatpants.
Granted, I wasn’t attending the service, but no one batted an eye at my dress code. And the reason I had no problem with it, wasn’t a lack of reverence. I grew up this way. You could say I’m something of a church rat. The sort of people that have spent so much time in church, it’s as comfortable and homey as their own living room.
I grew up believing God was approachable, friendly, and jovial. God wanted more than anything, to see us enjoy ourselves. He wanted us to feel welcomed in his home. I did. As such, I see no problem with being relaxed in a church. Totally relaxed. Church for me, is a comfort zone. I have been to churches all over the country, and this is the way things typically go.
I thought every church was this way, until one time a few years ago. I was with a group performing in a church that was a bit more formal than others. It wasn’t a formal denomination, but the building was beautiful. This doesn’t typically mean anything as far as behavior, so other than treating the building and furnishings with a little more care, I didn’t think anything of it.
So, as I was “working” the event, I scurried about, the church rat that I am, doing this, finding that, tracking down this person…Then in the middle of the service, I needed to squeak, squeak, scurry into the sanctuary. Suddenly, I was stopped by large, rocks of security guards. They stood blocking the doorway, in three piece suits, staring into lobby, like sentries on duty. They didn’t say a word. They just reverently blocked my way. I was confused.
I tried to ask them why I couldn’t go in, and they stared wordlessly ahead. I looked past them at the stage, and noticed someone was speaking on stage. Then I figured out their protocol. No one could come in when someone was speaking. I stood in the lobby a little shamed, but still confused. In all my years, I had never encountered that sort of formality. Reverence. Had I been raised wrong? Was my idea of God’s house as a comfortable, relaxed place in fact, irreverent? As I pondered this, the speaker finished, and during the polite applause, the sentries silently stepped aside allowing me through. I stayed in one place the rest of the night.
I had forgotten this incident until a couple of days ago, when I was sitting in another church service. The low meandering worship was like a soft lullaby and I wanted it to quiet and soothe my soul. I sat cross legged in a chair and kicked off my high heels and silently listened. It was then that I was struck by how casual and comfortable I had become here. And, was that wrong? Should we encourage people to be more reverent in church?
But, then I think about why we are so relaxed. We are so relaxed because we want people to come. Come as they are. Come with their shorts, and their flip-flops. Come with their live-in boyfriends, and their same-sex marriages and their drug problems and obscene music. Just come. That’s all we ask. We can help you with the rest. All we ask if that you come.
And, if you’ve looked around at America’s pews lately, even that tends to be hard enough. So, how in the world, can we ask them to “respect the house of God,” when they don’t even believe that there is a God? They just came for the free pizza. Not only that, they don’t even respect their own houses?
So, by cultivating a casual, comfortable atmosphere among the incumbent church rats, we set the bar that “coming” is all we ask. I think that’s how Jesus would have done it. After all, He wore flip-flops.