What Will the Stranger Encounter in Church?
I have begun the long process of revising my book Unfettered Spirit: Spiritual Gifts for the New Great Awakening, (Energion 2013). I will be sharing excerpts as I revise. It will be a full updated revision, though the first edition is well worth reading. Below is an excerpt from the introduction.
When strangers enter a community of faith, does what they hear and see suggest that the denizens of the church are, in the words of Paul, “out of your mind?” Or do they hear and experience a message that discloses the secrets of their hearts, so that in response to their encounter in this place they fall before God in worship? Or to put it a bit differently, is it possible, that the stranger might enter into the church and declare: God is in this place (1 Corinthians 14:20-25). For many progressive/mainline churches this might seem like an odd expectation, but why is that? Why can’t we expect God’s Spirit to move in such a way that lives are changed dramatically due to their encounter with God?
This is the question that haunts the church in an age of wars and rumors of wars, an age of hate speech, pandemics, climate change, drive-by shootings, growing intolerance, racism, sexism, terrorism, bombings, and kidnappings. How do we bear witness to God’s grace and love and presence in this context? The questions become even more daunting because religious people seem to be stirring up much of the heat, while more moderate and progressive voices appear to be lost in the shuffle. Indeed, the news that is heard from pulpit and pew isn’t always good. Whether it’s “fire and brimstone” or bewailing lost influence, it often seems as if the church has lost sight of its mission. And yet the church possesses good news. This is news that if it’s shared will resonate with the hearts of people who face such a wearying barrage of negativity.
There are people out there, some who will enter and some who will never enter into traditional houses of worship, at least not without a gentle invitation, who are looking for words of hope and peace. They want to worship a God who will open up the secrets of their hearts so that they might find in God a source of healing grace. And so, the question remains: if the stranger walks into the church what will they find? What will it take for them to say: God is in this place?