Yesterday, my family and I traveled about 90 minutes to attend The Red Brick Church in Stillman Valley, IL. Dr. Chris Brauns, a good friend, mentor, and counselor is the Red Brick Church's pastor. It was great to hear him preach again and worship with "the Bricks," as Pastor Chris affectionately refers to the members of Red Brick.
The ability to visit other churches is a sabbatical blessing. Usually, I would not have the opportunity to visit other churches during the summertime because I would be preaching at my home church. So far, my family has been able to visit seven different churches this summer. And we will attend one more church this coming Sunday.
As I reflected on this privilege this morning, two main thoughts stood out to me.
1. I am grateful for my church.
Each of the seven churches we have visited so far has blessed my family. We sung some new songs (as well as plenty of familiar ones), we heard faithful preaching, and we experienced fellowship in the larger body of Christ. Additionally, we observed the Lord's Supper with brothers and sisters outside of our home church in two churches.
Do you know what else we experienced? Mistakes, imperfections, and things overlooked. The smallest church we visited was about 15 people, and the largest church was about 1,000 people in attendance. The rest of the churches were somewhere in between 100-200 people. In EVERY service, I noticed miscues with the lyrics on screen, mistakes in the pulpit, and even running out of Lord's Supper elements – my wife, daughter, and I had to share one of those prepackaged bread/juice deals.
Mistakes happen each week in my home church as well. And I feel bad about those miscues. But it was oddly refreshing to sit and experience them in other churches as well. It reinforced in my mind that perfection is not the goal. Progressing people toward Christ-likeness is the goal. Our Sunday morning services are not performances to be critiqued; they are opportunities to remember, reflect, and progress in our worship of Christ. Perfection is not required to meet those goals.
In addition to appreciating other churches' mistakes, I have been grateful for the strengths of other churches. One church has a musical depth that pushes me to the brink of covetousness. Another church does a great job with communication, signage, and welcoming guests. Some preachers were much better at communication than I am. Other people's strengths have been a blessing to me this summer.
Mistakes and strengths. Both have caused me to be thankful for the larger body of Christ. But both have also reminded me of the beauty of the church God has called me to serve. We are not perfect – we make plenty of mistakes. But we also have some strengths that God has graciously developed in us. For those, I am deeply grateful to Jesus.
2. I am grateful for the privilege of preaching.
I have not preached since May 30th. That's nine Sundays in a row that I have not mounted the platform steps, opened God's Word, and publicly proclaimed the wonderful Gospel message. This is the longest stretch in the last 22 years that I have not preached. And I have one more week to go!
The break has been fantastic. I particularly notice the break on Saturdays. Last Saturday, I cleaned/reorganized the garage, trimmed trees, got new tires for my vehicle, and went furniture shopping with my family. Never once did I think, "Am I ready for tomorrow? Maybe just a few more hours of prep will help." The thought that did come into my mind was, "So, is this what people normally do on Saturdays?"
Even so, I miss preaching. It is a beautiful calling. My work this week is preparing future teaching/preaching, and I am thoroughly enjoying it.
Hearing other preachers this summer has been refreshing. It has been wonderful to walk into a church with zero responsibilities other than spiritually encouraging my gathered brothers and sisters in Christ. But each time the pastor would open God's word, there was a part of me that wished I was the one with the privilege of preaching. Don't get me wrong. I have enjoyed the break – it was only a PART of me that wished to be in the pulpit!
Even so, I look forward to August 15th when, Lord-willing, I walk up the steps at Memorial Baptist Church in Verona, WI, ask people to open their Bibles and preach the wonderful message of Jesus Christ.
What a privilege.