Years ago I heard the story of a hippie-type couple searching for spiritual truth. Their home was an old school bus and they wore tattered blue jeans, so they didn’t dress the part of typical churchgoers – at least in those days. But they had started to visit one particular congregation anyway, and intrigued by what they heard, continued to attend.
At the same time, they frequented a bar where they formed some friendships.
As it happened, the couple both came down with a temporary but debilitating illness, so they holed up in their school bus for days, too sick and weak to venture out. One afternoon there was a knock at the door of the bus. Outside stood a group of people, arms filled with food, concerned because they hadn’t seen the couple in quite some time. It was their friends…from the bar.
Later the couple would become followers of Christ, but admitted at that moment in their lives, “If we had had to make a choice, whether to join the church or to join the bar, we would have joined the bar.” True story.
A praise song declares, “They will know we are Christians by our love,” but too often that’s not the case. We’re so busy judging people according to how they dress, how they talk, or how they act, we don’t have time – or the inclination – to show them actual love. The kind Jesus modeled.
That’s why I’ve concluded – along with being like a hospital, as I wrote earlier this week – the Church in the 21st century should be kind of like a bar. Or pub, or tavern, if you prefer.
|Displayed at the Hollywood Entertainment Museum, |
this bar served as the setting for the "Cheers" TV sitcom.
I’m not talking about breaking out six packs of beer, downing shots of whisky, or mixing margaritas while the offering plates are being passed. But there’s something comfortable, non-threatening about the atmosphere of a bar. After all, it’s the place, if you remember the old theme song for the “Cheers” sitcom:
“Where everybody knows your name,
and they're always glad you came.
You wanna be where you can see,
our troubles are all the same
You wanna be where everybody knows
Country-western singer Toby Keith is not one that’s noted for personal piety, but in his song, “I Love This Bar,” he describes a setting, complete with a very diverse collection of people, the hippie-type couple might have identified with:
“I love this bar
It's my kind of place
Just walkin' through the front door
Puts a big smile on my face….”
Isn’t that how a local congregation should seem? Everyone knows your name – can you say that about your church, if you attend one? Are they truly glad you came, regardless of the baggage you drag through the door? Are they honest enough to recognize their troubles are the same as yours? And when you walk through the front door, does it put a big smile on your face?
In Hebrews 10:25 we’re told, “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another – and all the more as you see the day approaching.” It would be a lot easier if it were a place where everybody knew your name and was always glad you came. Wouldn’t it?