First impressions

It was 14 years ago. Lisa and I had recently been married and I had just gone on staff at my first church as a Youth Pastor. She was finishing her teaching degree driving an hour each way to and from school. I was full on diving into ministry, trying to change the world. It was a pretty tradition church. There was an organ and a choir in the sanctuary. It was a suit and tie kind of a place, cool church, just a traditional style church. The youth ministry was growing at a pretty quick pace and students started coming to this church that didn’t look, act, talk, or smell like they had ever been in a church before, and that was because they hadn’t. Being a pretty conservative environment, the church actually had a hard time with these new students walking through the doors. But something about the whole thing felt right. To fast forward, a young man by the name of Will came to the Student Ministry one evening and got radically saved. Immediately we started praying for his little brother. Eventually Will’s little brother shows up at church one Sunday morning. I can remember, he walked in all thugged out with his saggy jeans, black t-shirt, stocking hat pulled down to eye level, and a chain hanging from his wallet to his jeans. He walks all they way down the center aisle of the sanctuary and plops down on the front pew. He slouches down, crosses his arms, and didn’t move the entire service, not even when we stood to sing. He just sat there, as if to say, “I dare you.”

He stood out in stark contrast to everyone else in their Sunday best suits and ties, slacks, button downs, and conservative dresses and hats. As you can probably imagine the whispers and looks starting coming his way. But the students who had been praying for him just continued to pray during the service with excitement that God might just do something. The service ends and I’m hanging out with some families when out of the corner of my eye I catch a deacon coming down out of the choir loft with his robe on making a b-line for this kid. Understanding what’s about to go down I do my best to get there as fast as I can. I’m jumping pews and cutting through people having conversations in an attempt to get between these two. But by they time I arrived on the scene it was too late. The damage was already done. This church leader had gotten right in the face of this young man and with a heart full of pride and self righteousness said, “Don’t you ever come in here looking like that again.” And you know what? Will’s little brother never walked through those doors looking like that again. In fact he never came back to church at all. And to the best of my knowledge Will’s little brother has never met the Jesus that you and I love and serve because of that moment in his life.

It’s a moment that’s been burned into my memory and has haunted me ever since. It’s a moment that 14 years later I still can’t get away from, I’m not sure if I want to get away from. It’s a moment that’s made me think ever since…I thought the whole reason the church existed was for people like Will’s little brother.

Posted in Creative Arts, Leadership

3 Responses to “First impressions”

  1. tymm July 26, 2010 at 7:42 am #

    Amen to your last sentence. Stuff like that is the reason I stayed away from church for so long, the reason I didn’t find Jesus til I was 31, the reason why I still bristle a little when I walk through the doors of the church sometimes… I hurt for Will’s little brother because he will likely never know the overwhelming joy of having Christ work in him and through him thanks to a self-righteous pompous modern day Pharisee. American church needs to change – it’s high time we realize it ain’t all about us…

  2. Lauri Barkman August 14, 2010 at 4:35 am #

    I remember you telling this story at Cornerstone once. I can totally see you jumping over pews! My little brother is 22 right now, he grew up in church but is in his rebellious stage, he is very close to our mother and will sometimes go to church for her. The last time he was there he whispered something to my mother and the person sitting next to me leaned over and very rudely said “shhh I can’t hear”. 1st of all Jeff Gokee was speaking so to say she couldn’t here, she must have been almost deaf, for as you know Paul, Jeff is pretty loud! (Even without a microphone) 2nd I could barely hear my brother, so I don’t know how she did…my brother was angry and offended, he talked about it the rest of the day. The woman only said one thing, but if she would have said something else, I would have asked her to please be patient with my brother, for he does not come to church often! Sometimes people just don’t think…its crazy to think if they are at church and want to be like Jesus, how some people act!!

    P.S. Paul you and Lisa are missed at Cornerstone,I pray all is well at your new church!! smile

  3. peter robinson December 7, 2014 at 11:18 am #

    Thank you Paul for your wisdom.

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