Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Visiting Different Churches

This is a true story!
This post is about what I have come to call my "drop-in" visits to churches. It will include some churches in my own denomination and some in other denominations. There will be some humor, some analysis, and perhaps what could be called criticism. However, I want it to be clear from the start that I have utmost respect and high regard for the people who carry on the teaching and preaching in these churches and especially do I respect the pastors in these churches.

I'm not really sure - I may have blogged about this previously. I'll check before completing this project. I read today (January 13, 2009) from someone else the following:

"Would I be intrigued enough to return to the Sunday meeting? Would I feel welcomed and a sense of identification with the community vibe? Would I be interested in learning more about the Jesus the teacher was speaking about? Would I feel like people cared if I was there and helped me know what to do being a first time guest? Would I know where to go and what to do next to find out more information about the church? Would I desire to get connected in a smaller group of people in the church as the bigger meeting isn't the place for true community to happen? Would I want to get to know the people there more?"
Actually the motivation I had for "drop-in" visits was not the same as the above but it did tell me lots about why some of our churches growth or lack thereof. My schedule in those days was not always full because I was serving as Field Director for our Church of God in Africa. I needed some days without specific committments so I could rest up after (or before making) one of my long gruelling trips to minister for two to seven weeks at a time on the dark continent. Monday through Friday I was in my office at General Headquarters and many week-ends were scheduled for fund-raising in local churches in several states.
One of the most memorable of those visits was my visit to a small church near our headquarters city. I went in about 10 to 15 minutes late (deliberately) to let the people have enough time to do whatever it was they were going to do under "normal" circumstances. On this particular day, the Sunday School lesson was about the passage of Scripture in John 4 where it is said of Jesus, "And he must needs go through Samaria." and the disciples could not understand why he wanted to go through that region since it was dominated by Samaritans. The male Sunday School teacher explained it this way -- "You see? It's just like today...you take these people over here at General Headquarters, they would never come by our little church. They think they are too good or too important or too busy to stop by a church like ours. But - if JESUS was here, he would come by and visit with us!" On and on he went for what I know was at least a full five minutes (seemed like half an hour) criticizing the people at General Headquarters.

When Sunday School was over and the teacher had been seated, the Pastor came to the pulpit and shortly noted that "I see (looking straight back at me) we have a visitor today. Brother we'd like to hear you testify today if you're saved."

I got up and said, "Yes, Brother, I'm saved, sanctified, filled with the Holy Ghost, a member of the great Church of God, married to one wife and pay my tithes regularly! O, and by the way, I am from over at General Headquarters but I just felt compelled to come by and visit you today!"


Favorite One said...

Okay, that was funny! Did that happen hear in the states? Or Africa?

Fred Alton said...

Ruthie, I may have accidentally deleted your comment. I tried to publish it but I don't see it. Anyway.....this incident happened here in Cleveland.

WatchingHISstory said...

brother Fred

The whole time I was in the COG ministry noone ever dropped in to visit in the way you mention. I was alienated in Turkey, Italy and Germany, Chicago and Tennessee and I had always wondered that when there was a visit from any officials it was for them to speak. Once an official came a couple days early and would not attend our worship service because it would be "anticlimatic" for him to make an appearance!

I always thought if I was in an official status I would schedule to do exactly what you did. I believe that folk would appreciate it. Good work.

God bless
Charles Page

Fred Alton said...

Brother Charles,
I'm glad for your comment! You know, the whole ten years I served as "Field Director" (the new term for the old Superintendent) of Africa, I did that a lot. I really enjoyed doing it. However, I was afraid that some would mis-understand my motive and think I was playing politics - i.e., trying to win friends and get elected to something. I still do a lot of "drop-in visits" to different churches even tho I'm now retired - and I thoroughly enjoy doing it. Sometimes someone in the church will know me - they will ask me to testify or something and I sing for them (especiall in those churches under 60 in attendance) then I'll often try to take the Pastor and his wife out for lunch. I usually come away feeling blessed. Still - I have this fear that people will mis-understand my motives and think I'm just one of those un-settled "church-floaters" who can't be happy anywhere for long. I really am a happy camper and have no axe to grind with anyone. God and the Church of God has been good to me!