Can I just start by saying, Thank God Summer is OVER!
The kids are back in school, I have my house back, my sanity is slowly returning, and I feel the wheels of creativity slowly beginning to rotate. I’m taking time to smell the flowers and really look at gardens. I know I’m a little late since our local weatherman warns everything may be covered in snow soon.
As I look at these gardens I see two schools of thought.
“Keep everything orderly and grow similar flowers grouped together”
“Let it all hang loose. Mix it up a bit and grow everything together. You can even add big rocks!”
Both are pretty and both could be pictures of the church.
Take the orderly one, how many times have you walked into a church and found all of the same people. They all talk the same, look the same, and think the same? I’ve been there, heck, I’ve probably led that church. It never feels right; it’s comfortable but there’s something unsettling. Just like the flowers in this picture everyone is sectioned off, grouped into cliques and no one switches around. In my experience, these are stagnant churches with not much happening but the occasional carpet change. People flock together because everyone is like them and they think as one. Few think for themselves in this type of church. It’s also the type of church where people tend to be encouraged to invite people they know. The problem is, they only know more people like themselves since there entire social life revolves around church services and any special outreaches. The new people in their lives are the new employees at the grocery store or Starbucks.
Then there’s the messy garden. No two plants look alike and you never know who is going to grow too big for the planter. Who will overtake whom? It’s scary and very unpredictable. In this church, people come and go. People offend others often. People don’t think alike and grace is practiced on a regular basis. If there is a healthy dialogue and communication this church can succeed and my money is on people feeling more alive in this type of environment. They may not be comfortable, but it feels right.
I wanted the second church or the “messy” garden. In order to see this happen, I made a change years ago. I started preaching a different message and that was to stop allowing the church to be their only social group. When that happens we don’t meet anyone else on a real level. I told the church we would not be having Wednesday or Sunday evening services and that we would be finding ways we could connect with others within our community ourselves. I joined a book club, starting running races with people I had met at Starbucks, got a job outside of the church, encouraged my kids to join clubs or teams. In all of this, I met WAY more people than I would have had I stayed busy doing church things and occasionally inviting people I met at the grocery store or at Sam’s Club.
For years we have lived like this and I will be honest, it has NOT changed the attendance of our church for the positive. In fact, we lost people. We were told we didn’t have enough for them to do. Sometimes I wondered if I had really heard the Lord in this, and then this summer happened.
The Birth of Friday Nights
At the start of this past summer, my husband and I decided we would open up our house on the first and third Friday nights of each month inviting everyone we knew. This meant friends, family, co-workers, church members, neighbors, seriously everyone we knew. We weren’t going apologize to anyone for someone else bringing beer, we weren’t going to warn anyone if someone was a bit more evangelical than others, we weren’t going to enlighten anyone on someone else’s sexual orientation, political leanings, or religion of choice. It was meant to be a selfish act on our part, we simply wanted to see the people that have meant so much to us over the past few years, and if they made friends with any of our other friends, lovely.
What we found was that each Friday Night was beautiful and unique. Each one was filled with surprises. Even though we invited people we knew, there were parties sometimes filled with people we had never met. People would bring other people counting on the fact they would be warmly welcomed. In the middle of one party, my husband took the dog for a walk and came back with four neighbors we had never met. Those wonderful people stayed until the bitter end of the party and helped me clean up. I never imagined when the Lord asked us to open up our house to our friends; He would be sending new ones.
On the penultimate party, (don’t you love the word penultimate?) we had friends from out of town stop by. These are people we have known for over twenty years and they brought with them the associate pastors from their church in Iowa. The pastors fit right in and didn’t even bat an eye as they grabbed non-alcoholic refreshments after wading through the alcoholic choices. We made dinner plans for the next night and I admit I was curious to hear what they thought of our little soirée.
The usual questions were asked of us: Why are we doing this? Did God tell us to do this? How did we invite all the people? Fliers? How did we get such a diverse crowd? It was when we were asked if there was a name for what we do that my mind flew to the hundreds of church staff meetings and outreach planning sessions of our past. I realized at that moment that because we are pastors it was assumed this was some sort of planned event so we could invite “friends” to church. I’ll be honest I haven’t thought that way in years. Our church is so small; we don’t even have a staff to rally for staff meetings or to plan events. Our planning consists of me standing in front of them on a random Sunday morning and asking, “Hey, what do we want to do for Easter this year?” Just like a family.
And then it hit me, what happens at our house on Friday nights with our friends and church family resembles the messy garden. It’s everything I have ever wanted, lots of different people, some loud and in charge, some quiet and reserved, but all welcome. My life IS a messy garden and for this very orderly, routine driven girl, I couldn’t be happier.
What about you, what type of garden do you prefer in your life and why?