Tanya and I have enjoyed an unexpected blessing these last few weeks of the summer: we’ve been asked to sing with the worship team at Devleskero Kher. It’s fun for us – we love to sing, and we enjoy singing in harmony with others! It’s also a challenge, because we’re learning new songs each week, and they’re always in either Slovak or Romany.
Another thing I’ve enjoyed about singing up front is that it has changed my point of view – quite literally. For the past year, we participated from the pews – a welcome change after many years as a minister in the pulpit. Now that we’re back up front for part of the service, I’ve noticed some things I didn’t see before. Now I can see the faces of our fellow worshipers, and hear their voices more clearly. It is a beautiful thing to watch our Roma brothers and sisters worship!
But I’ve also begun noticing something else I didn’t expect – the view out the front door.
Air conditioners are a rarity here in Slovakia, so on most temperate days the doors the church’s front doors are wide open to the street. Standing up front, I can see out those doors and notice many things. I see church members rushing in the door a few minutes late – a reminder to me that they really want to be here, some traveling as much as an hour each way by train, bus or car. I see cars driving past, runners, and people walking their dogs on the street – a reminder to me that we’re in a city and a culture that doesn’t honor Sundays as we were accustomed to in the Bible Belt.
What’s most interesting to me lately is that some of those passing faces stop to see what’s happening. Each Sunday of the last few weeks I’ve noticed at least a half-dozen strangers stop and step inside the door for a few moments.
“Why aren’t those two singing the same words as everyone else??”
I’m sure what makes them stop first is the sound. The church’s PA system is usually turned up very high in the small room, so it’s loud! Some of those passers-by might stop and peer in, thinking, “Are these people hoping to go deaf, with all that noise in a small room?”
Maybe they hear our music, and they’re thinking, “What beautiful singing and playing!” Or more likely they can hear Tanya and I flubbing the lyrics, and they’re thinking, “Why aren’t those two singing the same words as everyone else??”
But whatever gets them to stop and peek inside, I have been watching their faces. And I imagine what they are thinking:
“Why are all these people here? What’s so special that they took time to come here on a Sunday morning?”
“Some of these people are white, and some are obviously Roma… why are they even in the same room? What could bring these people together?”
“These songs they’re singing… this doesn’t sound like the God I’ve always heard about.”
To me it seems like a little version of Pentecost each week – a loud sound that shakes the building, and the sounds of many languages being spoken at once (haven’t noticed any flames yet). It’s not nearly as supernatural as that first event, but even so, it still makes people stop and stare. And Pentecost itself was a little vision of heaven, where we see people of every nation and language worshiping before God’s throne. In a world that is fragmented by anger, blame and racial divides, that kind of vision makes people stop and take notice!
There’s been a lot written in recent years about “attractional” vs. “missional” models of church. The idea is that many churches stop going out (being missional), and they end up only doing things to attract people – elaborate programming, new buildings, and so on. Both models can be done well and poorly, but I don’t want to dwell on that right now. Let it suffice to say that I think the truth does not lie on one side or the other, but somewhere in between. We are called to be both missional and attractional.
After all, the same Jesus who said, “Therefore go into all the world” (Matthew 28:19) also said, “Let your light shine before people, so that when they see your good works they will glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). Jesus was absolutely missional – both in nature (God-come-to-earth) and in practice. But there was definitely something attractive about Jesus’ life, actions and words that drew people to find him, question him, follow him.
How am I letting my own light shine?
Sometimes the “attractional” part happens by accident. Like Sundays here at Devleskero Kher, when the doors are left open and people hear the sounds of worship and prayer spilling out onto the streets. But when Jesus asked us to let our lights shine, I get the idea this is supposed to be intentional, not accidental. And this has made me stop and think about my own life each day:
How am I letting my own light shine? When people see and hear me, can they see and hear Christ, or only me?
As I live into my faith, am I doing things that make people stop and take notice – not in effort to draw attention, but because what I’m doing is so different that they can’t help but notice?
How are my actions projecting an image (however weak) of what heaven is going to be like?
May God give each of us grace to live attractionally, and courage to live missionally… wherever we find ourselves today!
You are the light of the world. A city located on a hill cannot be hidden. People do not light a lamp and put it under a basket but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before people, so that they can see your good deeds and give honor to your Father in heaven.
(Matthew 5:14-16, NET)