You know that New Life Church is down a pastor or two these days. Some of you have expressed concern for me in our current shorthanded situation–I appreciate it. But I believe that, in God’s providence, the departure of leaders can be a very good opportunity for all of us who remain to grow in our understanding and practice of “doing church” together. This is potentially a good season of reminder to all of us that the church is not an institution but a body of people, and that these people are only infrequently celebrities or even extraordinarily gifted people. We’re mostly painfully ordinary, old and young and middle-aged like me, people with foibles and eccentricities, extroverts and introverts, those who have followed Jesus for fifty years and those who have followed him for six months. And when we talk about “the church” we don’t actually mean a few decision-makers in a smoke-filled room but rather, all of us. What the church does or doesn’t do is what we do or don’t do, individually and together.
Let me encourage you today in one aspect of “doing church”–this is the first of four quick essays. Today let’s consider praying together. In a healthy church, conversation and prayer are woven together, in and out, all the time, in acknowledgment that Christ is among us always, in invitation for him to be so more and more. If you encounter a brother or sister–perhaps on Sunday out in the parking lot, or on Tuesday in the hardware aisle at Lowe’s, or on Thursday when you’re picking up your kid at school–pause a moment and have conversation. Ask questions, listen to the answers. When you’re asked, answer honestly (“How are you today?” “A little frustrated/anxious/tired.” (Or, it’s OK to say, “Very well, thanks”–and to mention some blessing, some reason that you are encouraged.) And then, can you say, “Can we pray a moment?” And then right there and then, briefly give thanks for the blessing, or lift up the frustrated brother or the tired sister. Sometimes it’s four minutes, total, from Hello to Amen, and off you go. For some of you this is second nature; for others, it’s kind of weird. The first few times feel forced and awkward. (The devil whispers, “Praying here, now? Really?” He rolls his eyes. But don’t let him intimidate you.) Think of it like breaking in a new pair of shoes–not yet comfortable, but this is a pair that you intend to wear for a long time. It gets worked into your way of life, your history. Several years ago Becky Wilson and I prayed together at Genuardi’s–we both remember and refer back to it, part of our shared history following Jesus. The other day Andy Collins asked me and Tim Earnest to pray for him at Giant (same building, different name). Of course we were glad to. And so the supermarket becomes a house of prayer, as a portable church (us!) takes Jesus with us wherever we go.
These are the things that shape the culture of a church. Programs come and go, pastors come and go. But these are the rhythms, the way of life, of a people. And that’s what a church is.