So, what does a pastor do on a sabbatical? For one, he stops going to church on Sundays! Actually, he stops attending his own church and gets to visit other churches.
While on sabbatical, it was the first time in my life that I visited a different church (sometimes two churches) every Sunday morning for three consecutive months. I wanted to get a feel for what churches were like in the San Gabriel Valley and so I focused my church visits to within a 10-mile radius of my home. As I mentioned in my previous article, I was pleasantly surprised to find that most of the 18 churches I visited had vibrant worship and relevant, Bible teaching. There were a few churches that were disappointing but overall I was more encouraged than discouraged.
All the churches were unique and had their individual strengths and weaknesses. Some had incredible worship bands with vocalists who sounded like… ah… um… I would write a name of a current pop star vocalist here but I don’t know any. Ha! I’m such an unhip dad. Anyway, some had great worship and others had articulate and engaging biblical preachers who left me in wonder thinking, “Lord, you’ve truly gifted that kid!” I say “kid” because some of them were probably 20 years younger than me.
However, whatever strengths each church displayed - whether it was their worship, preaching, seamless transitions in the service, professional audiovisual ministry, or whatever - the one X-Factor that most impacted me and my experience of the church was its “warmth”. I’ll call it the church’s warmth factor. It’s the level of friendliness I experienced when I walked into the church and came into contact with its people.
When I walked into a church, I assumed the greeters or ushers would look at me and say, “Hello, welcome to such-and-such church.” That was their role and responsibility and so I expected them to do that. However, when a person in the pew, who had no role to play or obligation to fill; when they smiled, reached out to me and asked me a few questions… well… that was huge.
It was so huge that out of the 18 churches I visited, there were only three in which a person in the pew initiated conversation with me. But let me be clear, in all the churches I attended, the ushers and greeters did their job and so I was definitely acknowledged and not ignored. However, the warmth that made the greatest impression on me and blessed me came from the person in the pew.
So, let’s take heed to what the Scriptures and Pastor Dan has been urging us to do these past few Sundays. Let’s take the initiative, greet one another and maybe even meet someone new. You never know, you could end up becoming the most impactful part of the worship service for a guest that’s visiting our church that Sunday morning.