A few years back I was a bi-vocational pastor. I ministered at a small church in a rural Alabama mountain community about 60 miles away from where I lived and worked.
I was also working as a machinist in a growing shop.
After serving at the church 6 months as an interim and for 2 years as senior (means only pastor, fill in Sunday School teacher, bible study teacher, janitor, secretary, you get the picture) pastor, my work schedule changed, and I had to go on 7 days a week at the shop.
The demands of the job were such that I couldn’t keep up with the study and prep required to preach 3 sermons a week along with visiting those that were sick, home-bound, in the hospital, or in the nursing home while working 60-70 hours work week at the shop along with the 60 mile commute back and and forth to the little church on the mountain.
Circumstances dictated the outcome. I had to resign.
Three years later, I am about to change jobs which will free up my time. After 3 years of night shift and 60+ hours a week, I will be going back on days and have my nights and weekends free once again.
During the last 3 years, I would run into folks from several churches that we attended and served in over the years (I have been preaching and in the ministry for 26+ years), and the same question would inevitably come up, “So, where are you GOING to church?” I would explain my current work situation to a glassy-eyed stare. Almost on cue and as if they didn’t actually hear a word I just told them, they always follow up with an invite for me and my family to come back, or at least visit sometime.
“Hello”, did you not hear me? Seriously? I just said I work nights and weekends was what went through my mind. I would then try to explain to them that my schedule is such, and that we only had one vehicle at the time, that neither I nor the family could be there for any of the service times their church had available.
Then they would always say something to the effect, “Well, maybe your schedule will change. You really do need to be GOING to church.”
There’s that phrase again, “GOING to church.”
What they really meant was that I should be GOING to their church. They were bothered by that. They were bothered that I wasn’t giving my time or money to their particular congregation. Upset that I couldn’t be a statistic for there Sunday School head count.
They didn’t ask about where I was BEING the church. They didn’t ask about where I was able to minister to folks hurting and in need.
I may have had to stop GOING to a building, but I was still BEING a part of the body.
I was still ministering to those hurting, those with questions and doubts. I was still sitting by the bedside of those sick and dying. I was still studying to be ready to give an answer to any one that asked about the hope that was within me.
Yes, I had stopped GOING to church, but I was still BEING the church.
I wasn’t in the building being bored to death with vain repetitions. I was living life. Forced to adapt to my circumstances, but still living life.
I wasn’t delivering 3 points and a poem every Sunday morning at the same time to the same people. I wasn’t trying to teach a Wednesday night bible study to a handful of people without any participation and who all looked as if they would have rather been anywhere else.
I was ministering to new faces, seeing new places, and learning new things about people. Hearing what their needs were, both spiritual and physical, and doing my best to help them meet those needs. I worked on their cars. I bought them groceries. I helped them set up a monthly budget. I visited the hospitals. I listened when they needed an ear. I gave when they needed money and I had some. I taught when they needed an education. I sat and talked with the homeless, I was able to offer comfort to those who lost a child, I had in depth discussions with those of differing faiths and with those that had no faith at all, talking about what and why they believed.
I saw immediate results from some encounters, and others, I may never know the outcome, but I wouldn’t have ever had the opportunity if I had not stopped GOING to church and decided to start BEING the church.