I’m fresh back from New York City. I had a few days in this lively and exciting town topped off by a glorious Sunday at the one and only Hillsong Church. Being there again, reminded me of the very first time I visited their church five years ago. I was stunned to see lines of people wrapped around the building all day (I’m not exaggerating) waiting for an opportunity to file through the doors of the Irving Plaza in Manhattan.
Yes, folks, that’s the Irving Plaza. Also known as one of the oldest Rock N’ Roll clubs in New York. Now home, on Sundays, to Hillsong Church where throngs of worshippers gather to passionately worship God.
Sure, the place might look like a rock concert or club on other nights but for the six pulsing, fill-to-capacity services on Sunday, the club/bar is transformed into a sanctuary where God’s Word and worshipful praise to His glorious name ring out with power. And it still looks pretty much like this a rock concert . . . except people’s hands are lifted in a different direction and for a different purpose.
And, it’s refreshing.
Yes. It. Is.
Because the passion of these people, many of whom weren’t raised in churches lined with soft padded pews under the watchful gaze of a suit-wearing preacher with shiny shoes and bellowing voice, is so real you can almost touch it.
And indeed there was . . . and is.
The vast majority of the believers that gather here aren’t from the Bible belt – where churches with tall steeples dot every street corner and potlucks in the fellowship hall proceed a nice Sunday afternoon nap. Nope, some of these folks didn’t go to Sunday school as a child and weren’t taught Scripture at an early age. Many of them just got saved – like yesterday . . . or last week. They are brand new to Christ, to His church and to His family.
And that’s just the way Hillsong NYC wants it. They opened their doors right in the heart of the city for the purpose of inviting anyone and everyone who would come . . . and especially anyone and everyone who might not come if they weren’t in a bar/club, with loud music, strobe and spotlights and a pastor who wears a mohawk and tattoos.
This is church.
And it’s working.
The palatable excitement and eagerness of these new believers is reminiscent of a kid the night before Christmas. Remember that feeling? They are expecting Jesus to show up with something so they are eagerly looking for Him. They haven’t been lulled to sleep by comfortable, convenient Christianity – not out here in these trenches of the sin-sick city where lives are at stake and just “playing church” is not an alternative. (And just to be clear we, who live in the Bible belt, are also in the “trenches” and there is just as much “sin-sickness” to be dealt with. Our trouble is that we’d rather polish it up real nice than deal with it and we’re not better off for it.)
So, as I watched these fresh Christians’ willingness to stand in line outside the building and then (for many of them) stand inside during the service; as I watched them sweat from the faulty AC system and bunch into too-small seats, I wondered if my passion matched theirs. I wondered if I’d become so familiar with church in my Bible-born-and-bred life that the fervor of my faith had dulled a bit.
Was I willing to stand?
To be inconvenienced?
Or have I – have we – gotten so use to the “comfort” of church we’ve forgotten all about its main cause and mission.
Which is not to make it easy for us to find parking . . . or check our kids into Sunday school . . . or make sure it’s easy for us to get hot coffee before the service begins.
Nothing wrong with these things – as long as they aren’t what we come for.
The bottom line is this: familiarity can be the thief of enthusiasm and appreciation.
That’s what I’m taking away from church this weekend. Lord, help us never to become so familiar and comfortable that the raw passion and excitement You redeemed us for begins to wane.
So glad ya’ll let me vent sometimes. Thanks for listening . . . and responding. 🙂