As strange a place as I've ver been in! I've been preaching pretty much, regularly since I was 15. That engulfs 30 years of preaching. Since I started preaching fulltime I have never had two Sunday's, back to back where I did not preach. not been 2 consecutive Sunday's that I have gone without preaching. Every time I've changed jobs I've gone from preparing a challenging "goodbye" one week, moving during that week and preparing a challenging "hello" sermon the next Sunday. Worn and frazzled I'd limp into the new work. Folks expecting my best on my first Sunday, but getting, well, getting what they got.
When this move started to look real I decided I was going to, regardless of when I stopped and started, actually take a few breathes between works. Some time away.
When I started discussing it with Melanie she said I would be miserable. My response: "Oh, I hope she's right! Think how bad it would be if I actually discovered I liked not preaching. "
It's not that I don't have anything to do. I have more manuscripts due before September 15 than I've ever had at once before. I have several speaking appointments and of course there's editing to be done. So I have plenty to keep me busy. It's just I don't have the Thursday pressure of an outline to turn in or the Friday pressure of a manuscript to send off for Power Point purposes or the restless Saturday's that seem to be a part of this field. Never finished until I'm finished. I used to think I procrastinated, I may, but I've decided that actually I work on whatever project I'm concentrating on until it is complete. That said, I've got a lot to get done in these "days off". But so far, I've enjoyed it.
One of the things I've really looked forward to was getting to visit some places. When you preach you never get to just go and be. It's been so very rare for me to have a Sunday to pick where I "go to church" (I hear my pre-doubledigit boys squeaking - "Dad, you cant' GO to church...").
I got to hear my college roommate, the one and only Van Vansandt! First time I've gotten to here him preach in 20 plus years. I first heard Van back in 1979 when I was a Senior in High School and remember it to this day - I wanted to preach like that! Pure energy and love for God that came through with a smile as big as Texas but an intensity like none I could remember from anyone that young. I spend years trying to imitate him before I really knew I could never be him. It was great hearing him again. He has that same intensity but the maturity of years has given him the added dimension of depth. So my first experience sitting was great. We had people who met us at the door and welcomed us, people in the lobby who made us feel welcome, the people in front of us shook our hands and welcomed us. So nice. The building was comfortable, the singing strong, they had powerpoint and good lighting. We were welcomed warmly from the pulpit. If I'd been a visitor looking I would have come back. I won't tell you where we were Sunday night. It was a large church. We got there about 10 minutes before the service started. Passed a couple of families on our way into the building, walked down the hallway, into the foyer area, into the auditorium, down about two-thirds of the way to the front and took a seat behind some people. Had about five minutes or more after we sat down before the service began. NOT A PERSON SPOKE TO US! Not a one. I was embarrassed for them. People around us were visiting with each other - and we both had had a shower - I even had a suit on. They had powerpoint but did not use it. Now to their credit after the service several people who know us spoke to us. Most of those people I did not see coming in (perhaps friendly people need to think to come earlier?).
Folks, being friendly is important and ever member is responsible for the friendliness of the congregation. It is the bottom shelf, it is the least we can do, but it might be the most important thing we can do. Make people feel welcome. Don't be afraid of overdoing it. I've NEVER heard anyone say, "You know, those folks were just too friendly!" A friendly church opens the door to much MUCH greater impact.
Is the church really friendly, or are they just friendly to each other, just friendly at certain times, just friendly to friends of members (i.e. People who come with a "sponsor"). Set up a test: have a friend visit your congregation anonymously and give them a score card to rate you. And then challenge the church to figure our real and concrete ways to make sure you are friendly, but more than that, set yourself up as a "one man welcoming committee" to every person there.
JUST REMEMBER IT'S YOUR RESPONSIBILITY.