Pastor’s Friday Comments (11.08.19)


William Riley, a recent graduate of Candler School of Theology at Emory University and now the pastor of a Baptist church in Kentucky, realized he had a rare opportunity – as a minister – to visit a large number of churches of many different denominations. He had finished his student church commitments and was not yet going to Kentucky, so, from September to March he worshipped with about thirty different congregations.

You can read the details of his experience here

He noted that no matter where he visited he always came away with something that impressed him. As a fellow Baptist minister, I would love to pick his brain about what he experienced that he thought might be transferable to his congregation. For that matter, I would like to be able to visit around as much as he did, but I’ve got a full-time gig at the moment.

What impressed me most about his experience, however, was the fact that he broke it off. He could have continued at least until the start of summer, but he decided that he had had enough.

An interviewer asked him if he would recommend that others try doing what he did. His response was, “I would be hesitant to do that because the biggest thing I learned was that I ended up hating it. That’s why I stopped in about March or so. It was exciting and fun at first but then I noticed I wasn’t experiencing that intangible sense of the spirit that happens in worship. I was getting that less and less. It wasn’t resonating with me spiritually, as much. The problem wasn’t the churches themselves. It was because I was not worshiping with a sense of community – I wasn’t worshiping with my people. I think there is something powerful about that. Worship had become something I consumed and not something I was filled by. I learned how important it is to worship at the same place.”

I think he has stated quite eloquently one of the major problems with Christians in the United States today. Too many have become spiritual dilettantes, consuming a worship product, often in many different places, but perhaps more often in the same place but without ever becoming part of the community. It is those relationships that help us to develop what Riley called “that intangible sense of the spirit.” Take note again of what he said, “I was not worshiping with a sense of community – I wasn’t worshiping with my people.”

Two people sit in the same room at the same time. What is going on at the front of the room is witnessed by both. They are asked to do the same things. But one feels connected and the other doesn’t. And the disconnected person might think, “Well, that didn’t really do much for me. Next week I’ll try somewhere else.” And then they are disappointed when, again the next week, they don’t feel “that intangible sense of the spirit.”

I seriously doubt that, if I were not the pastor at Parkway, I would be drawn to worship here just because there is someone who preaches like I do. I would probably come because I like the music. But I would definitely want to become part of a warm and welcoming fellowship like the one that I absolutely know exists at Parkway. I’m guessing that has a lot to do with why you’re here too.

The first takeaway for me from Riley’s experience was gratitude for what I get to have a part in every Sunday, and many other times throughout the week. But the second takeaway was the confirmation of what I already believe: others need what we have and it’s up to us to let them know it’s out there – or more aptly, in the family of faith at Parkway. Let someone know about it, won’t you?