Friday, September 01, 2006

"I grew up in a church like that"

When I was six, my family and I moved from Birmingham, Alabama to Denver, Colorado. After we had taken time to get settled, we went out to search for a church. It happened to be Easter Sunday, so we would see these churches put their best foot forward.

We went to one church that had it's own children's service, so my four year old brother and I went in. There was a lady in a pink Easter-Bunny suit who spent most of the time giving out candy to kids. Some guy with a large Donahue-style wireless microphone was interviewing the Easter Bunny and asking her what Easter was all about. She replied that it was all about her giving candy to children, to which all of us kids yelled back, "No! It's about Jesus rising from the grave!" This was the extent of the spiritual teaching at this church. The host then encouraged us to come back the next week because they would have a six-foot tall chocolate bar for us. Obviously, my brother and I were hooked.

Something weird happened after that, though. Our parents came to pick us up after the service and we were all excited from all the sugar they had given us and were dying to come back for the giant chocolate bar. Our mom, however, told us that we couldn't come back. When we asked why, she said, "Because I grew up in a church like that."

This did not compute in my six year old mind. She grew up in a church with giant chocolate bars and she didn't want us to have that experience? Aside from our teeth rotting, what was the problem? This place gave you tons of candy just for showing up!

Instead, they made us go to a church that didn't give us candy very much. This church, and the church we attended when we moved to Nashville a few years later, weren't nearly as entertaining as the church with the giant chocolate bar. Instead, these churches made us read the Bible and made us ask tough questions instead of giving us candy and easy answers. Instead of big church productions, they made us go out and serve people who weren't as well off as we are because Jesus had said something about "the least of these". They made us get to know the people in our church so that we would have meaningful relationships, instead of letting us just sit next to strangers who, like us, were being distracted by a flashy show.

When I was six I wanted to go to the church that was easy and entertaining. Instead my parents made me go to a church that pushed me to take a lifelong spiritual journey. I'm a pastor today because "I grew up in a church like that".

Back then I probably said something like, "You're mean." Twenty years later, all I can say is, "Thanks, Mom and Dad."