This Is Church
“These vagabond shoes
They are longing to stray
Right through the very heart of it
New York, New York.”
I sang to myself over, and over, and over again as we walked through the halls of the JFK airport. I had no idea what to expect from this trip. I didn’t know whether to call it a “mission” trip, a “leadership” trip, or a vacation.
All I knew is that I was pumped—real pumped. I had never been to NYC before, but I’ve fantasized about it my entire life.
Turns out it was everything I had hoped for. I felt overwhelmed by the energy and electricity that flowed through the streets. I had never been in a city so culturally, racially, and socio-economically diverse. I felt so connected and at the same time so small. It’s a humbling feeling, a feeling that turned out to be the theme of the entire trip for me.
Our main goal of the trip was to spend as much time in different church environments as we possibly could. And I mean vastly different. I grew up in “southern” non-denom churches. Pretty fundamentalist, pretty conservative, pretty “small.” So up to a few years ago when I moved out of my parents’ house, my church experiences were very limited. I had no reason to think other people experienced God and expressed their faith differently than I did, and if they did I was sure they were wrong.
While we were in New York we went to big churches and small churches. We went to churches that thrive on spontaneity and churches that prescribe every single aspect of their service, down to the prayers. Old churches that meet in grand cathedrals and new churches that meet in concert venues. Churches that fall squarely within traditional American theology and churches that some would argue are not in fact “Christian” churches because of their inclusive values.
At the end of our trip, I felt an extreme sense of connectedness, and yet I felt so small. It was humbling and scary. How could I know I’m living out an honest and true expression of my faith? How could I know my theology is acceptable and honoring to The Lord? How do I locate myself in the ranks of a people that are so different and often opposing?
Then it hit me. That’s the beauty of it all.
In the churches we visited there were rich people. There were poor people. There were “religious” people. There were “sinners”. There were black, white, Spanish, Asian, and every color in between people. There were far left and far right people. There were gay people and straight people. There were people who have known God their entire life and people who still don’t believe in a God.
And I realized that this is church.
Church is the messy intersection of it all, a perfect representation of us; beautiful, ugly, young, old, upright, downtrodden, full of faith, and full of doubt. And right in the middle of it all is Jesus. Beautiful Jesus.
Jesus says “Come to me, ALL you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” There is no qualifier, no gatekeeper, no hurdle too high between us and Him. There is only a perfect Son with arms outstretched wide, with enough room for all of our expressions, all of our theology, all of our political views, and all of our brokenness.
What a beautiful Savior.
Friends, our trip to New York this summer was a pivotal moment in my life. It was an amazing experience full of relational bonding, serving, and growing. I would encourage anyone and everyone to go next year.
Peace and Love,