Not everything has a hidden meaning

It’s funny to hear what people think when they visit a given church. Sometimes what they think reveals more about themselves than it does about the church. Often people who visit our church think things mean something that they don’t. As you will see, their thoughts are often contradictory. (And I’m certain the same thing happens in other churches, as well.)

And yes, every one of these examples below really happened in the church where I serve.

  • Just because we do something differently from another church doesn’t mean that we think other churches are sinning, heretical, apostate, or anything else. Nor does it mean that we are those things, it just means we do some things differently.
  • Just because we sing from the hymnal on Sunday morning doesn’t mean we think PowerPoint is evil.
  • Just because we sing from PowerPoint on Sunday evening doesn’t mean we want to throw out the old hymns (I mean, some of the songs we sang were hymns).
  • Just because we had no organist that day doesn’t mean we’re thinking of ripping it out and bringing in a praise band. (The organist was probably sick, or out of town. We do this 52 weeks a year; you were only there for one.)
  • Just because I read from the New King James doesn’t mean I hate the KJV.
  • Just because I read from the New King James doesn’t mean I’m TR-only.
  • Just because we don’t have a cross on our steeple or on the pulpit doesn’t mean we’re opposed to the cross as a symbol (I mean, come on).
  • Just because we have a cross on our sign doesn’t mean we genuflect before a crucifix on Sundays. (Either way, I was six and lived a thousand miles away when they built this place; they didn’t consult me.)
  • Just because our sign wasn’t lit up when you drove by doesn’t mean we’re ashamed of ourselves or embarrassed. (I’m still trying to figure that one out. A windstorm the week before caved the sign in and the sign company wouldn’t fix it until the winds slowed down. Nothing more.)
  • Just because there was a woman present wearing a low-cut blouse doesn’t mean we condone sexual license. Not only is that a bit of a stretch, if this is your first time here, how could you possibly know if the woman was even a member of our church? (She wasn’t. Both of the complainer and the one he was complaining about were first-time visitors that day. We never saw either one again.)
  • Just because our name is Zion doesn’t mean we believe in supercessionism (aka replacement theology). I don’t know why they chose the name. (Again, they didn’t consult me.)
  • Just because we’re a Baptist church doesn’t mean we’re like the Westboro Baptist Church (or that Baptist church you went to before and hated).
  • Maybe the people didn’t seem friendly to you. Maybe you didn’t exactly seem friendly, either. (It’s a two-way street. Maybe they just didn’t want to overwhelm you.)
  • Everybody seemed sad and you like joy in your worship. (We had just suffered some tragedies in the church; we were sad. But you only saw us on that one day.)
  • Maybe you visited one Sunday and I preached from the Old Testament but you like New Testament sermons. Maybe I told a funny story or didn’t tell a funny story. Maybe I mentioned this topic or didn’t mention that topic. Maybe I walked around while preaching, maybe I didn’t. The point is, I’ve been preaching here every Sunday for almost twelve years; you only heard one sermon. Sometimes I preach from the Old sometimes the New. Sometimes I tell funny stories (or sad stories, or no stories). Sometimes I walk around, sometimes I stand still. Sometimes I preach on this sometimes on that (what I preach on or about is always driven by the text in front of me).

Not everything necessarily means what you think it means. Maybe you’re disgruntled by something that happened in the church you left. Maybe you’ve had a bad experience before. Maybe things seem too good to be true.

But trying to discover hidden clues in something (or everything) doesn’t do anything but foster a sense of suspicion, not to mention spiritual arrogance. It really does reveal more about you than it does about us.

And what if we assumed bad things about you based on the same scant evidence? You wouldn’t like that, would you?

Searching for a church is a two way street. You think you’re wonderful and any church would be blessed to have you. Maybe that’s true. But when you judge us like this, we’re unable to get past your judgmental spirit and see how the Lord might use you to minister to us. All we’re thinking is, “I pity the church and pastor who ends up with them.”

The fact is, we know we’re not perfect and we’re excited to see what the Lord is doing in us as he grows in grace, love, and in the faith. We don’t need you to tell us our shortcomings, especially when you’ve read the signals wrong from the get-go.

Instead of assuming the worst when you visit a church, why not give your brothers and sisters the benefit of the doubt? Why not ask the Lord to minister to you and through you? Maybe there is a problem here and you are the one the Lord has sent here to gently guide us into greater grace and holiness. But maybe there’s something the Lord wants to do in your heart and life and we’re the place he intends to make that happen.


About Michael R. Jones

Pastor and PhD candidate writing on Paul's theology of suffering.
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