Resepct the flow. Or else.

I recently had a conversation with a good friend who is in the midst of leading his family into a new direction when it comes to church. They had been actively involved in another church ministry for many years, yet there were some issues within the church which led them to believe it was time to find another body of Christ in which to plug into and serve. Some may balk at this idea, feeling that one must simply stay the course and ride out the rough times where you are, but life and ministry aren't always so cut and dry. When God leads, we follow, and that is what my friend is striving to do.

Recently they chose to attend a newer church plant that has been successful in reaching across ethical and socioeconomic backgrounds. If the website for this church was correct, they possessed a vision for the gospel and the community that totally jibed with my friend and his family, so they were excited to attend the next Sunday morning. Upon arrival they were impressed with the organization of the volunteers and how the "flow" of the church made it easy for them to navigate their way around while being made to feel welcome there. When it came time for the service, they opted to keep their infant child with them because, being a new experience for all of them, they wanted to experience worship in a new place as a family. And, truth be told, they were leery of placing their child in the care of those they did not know. They chose to sit in the back of the worship center so that if the baby became fussy they could quickly exit to the lobby.

The service began and immediately my friend was excited about the atmosphere of the worship. As he scanned the room, he noticed many different skin colors and ages represented, attesting to the church's "success" in reaching across racial and multigenerational lines. Before the second song had even kicked in, an usher approached them and asked them to please check their child into the nursery. Not exactly sure what this gentlemen was asking, my friend told him that since this was their first time here they felt more comfortable having their child with them and that they would make sure to quickly go to the lobby if the child became fussy. This is when things got a little weird.

The usher became insistent that they check their baby into the nursery and so, in order to not create a scene and to gain greater clarification, they all stepped out into the lobby to continue the conversation. Once outside the worship center, the usher informed them that it was the church's policy that all children be placed in childcare since they didn't want to encourage anything that would cause an interruption or hurt the worship experience. Besides, he had asked two other families to remove their children from the service and he needed to remain consistent in asking them to do the same. [Note: Their baby had been asleep the entire time they were there.]

My friend explained to him again that they would be diligent to leave the worship center at the first peep from their child, but the usher was not to be deterred from his assignment. Their child had to go to the nursery. So, without making any further ado, my friends decided to take their family and leave.

Some of you reading this may think that my friend overreacted. I mean, couldn't they just follow the rules and place their child in the nursery? These churches work hard to implement a certain flow and direction during the Sunday morning worship experience and we should respect that. Right?

These newer expressions of worship that many church plants (and several existing churches for that matter) are introducing are often inviting and very refreshing. I am witnessing first hand how this plays out, as each Sunday I am surrounded by people from my community who are new to the whole "church thing." It's exciting to see barriers being crossed and gospel conversations being had, yet it's not all peaches and cream. If the theology is bad, then it doesn't matter how great the music or warm the environment is.

Also, if it's more about procedure than it is about people, then that's bad too. This is where I want to camp our for a little while in the rest of this post. It's cruelly ironic to me how so many who flee the program-driven, tradition-laden churches of their past wind up in these newer procedure-driven, flow-specific churches. The family dynamics may have changed, but the same blood still flows through the veins.

When my friend shared his story with me, my mind was racing in dozens of directions. It's too easy to be negative about church and spout off all of the stuff that we don't like, so instead let's mix in the positive and see what comes up.

First, when it comes to the church, the gospel must be central. It's about the glory of God in Christ Jesus, His beautiful atonement for us, and the grace that He extends to such an unworthy people. The gospel must always be preached and the beauty of Christ magnified and adored in our worship. But are we willing to beat the gongs of grace from the pulpit yet not extend it to those who enter our doors on Sundays?

Second, while we need not be "seeker sensitive" in our approach to worship, the church should be sensitive to the fact that newer expressions of worship will draw in those who are curious or who have finally garnered enough courage to come and check things out. If my friend was an unbeliever who finally moved past his fear of coming to church, then I can assure you after being told that he couldn't attend if he didn't put his child in the nursery then he would most certainly never come back.  It's one thing to be offended by the truth of the gospel. It's another to be offended by silly rules.

Finally, if the church of today is going to promote authentic community, then that should mean that we strive for it in all areas of worship and gathering. Small/Life/Community/Cell groups are awesome in that they afford people a chance to connect with each other in an intimate setting, often away from the church site. However, when we insist on tearing families apart during our corporate worship time, then we have gotten things backward. I know, I know, we don't want to hurt the "flow" or "experience" of the worship service with the presence of a crying baby, but do we do so at the expense of the family being able to worship together? It sure would have sucked to be you back in the days before nursery and childcare was available during church services. They just dealt with it.

Whether today's church is failing or succeeding is something that I really can't comment too much on, for I don't even know how to truly define those terms. But I can tell you that with the ever-changing models that we see before us, there will be those people who will consider giving church a "second chance" or who might decide to come for the first time ever. Shame on us if we do anything to push these people (or any church member for that matter) down some scripted and rigid path of agenda assimilation for the sake of aesthetics. 

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