As a minister, I’m often asked whether I can recommend a local place of worship.
Sometimes the question comes from a new resident who is genuinely looking; other times the question comes from what I call, “hoppers.”
Like Easter bunnies, hoppers tend to come in the spring. Hoppers really are just discriminate shoppers looking for a perfect worship place. They want a youth group for Johnny, a children’s program for Sissy, and a nursery with closed-circuit television monitors and daddy pagers.
Throw in Big Gulp communion cups and pews with first-class legroom, and you have what many would consider the perfect faith community.
The problem with asking me to help you find the perfect church or place of worship is that I’m an “insider” who knows too much about the inner workings. I’m much like the meatpacker whose knowledge of the meatpacking process will cause him to avoid his own bologna.
In some churches we’ve visited, my wife will tell you I morph into the ecclesiastical quarterback who has been benched. From my pew bench, I wonder things like, “Where did this guy get his degree?” Or, “Does she really think she can pull off a 45-minute sermon? Or, “Is he going to quit preaching before the guy sleeping beside me cracks his skull on the pew?”
Sometimes I find myself sitting in the pew daydreaming about the good old days when I was preaching fresh sermons every week.
Of course, my wife will tell you she remembers those days differently. She’ll tell you about the times she found me sleeping at my desk, whereupon she’d ask, “How do you expect people to stay awake if you fall asleep writing your own sermon?”
That always was a stumper.
Maybe I should give hoppers some credit. At least they are looking for a place to belong.
There are many folks who don’t see the point in searching for a worship place at all. They believe they can have a spiritual life without a spiritual community. They often will tell me they don’t belong to a faith community because there are too many hypocrites there.
To that common complaint, I’m always tempted to say, “Don’t worry, I’m sure they’ll’ have room for another hypocrite.” Hold your e-mails. I think it, not say it.
Instead, I try to get folks to see that faith communities are very unique. It remains the only gathering place in the world where people assemble for the sole purpose of publicly acknowledging they are not perfect. In fact, a good place of worship often will celebrate that their congregants are far less than perfect.
I like to explain it this way: If you visit a community service club such as the Lions or Kiwanis, the members naturally will brag about being part of the best club in the world. Well they should. These are fine organizations.
Within the community of faith, however, you’ll find just the opposite. You should find a group of people who will admit they are a fatally flawed group — all sinners in need of a higher power other than themselves.
Indeed, one day I’d like to begin the worship service in much the same way Alcoholics Anonymous begins its meeting.
It would be a place where I’d like to imagine the congregants forming a single-file line to the lectern. And from the lectern, each will take a turn saying something like, “Hi, I’m Norris. I’m fairly messed up, but I’m still going to need a place where I can experience nurture, love and acceptance.”