I was a bored and fidgeting six-year-old, attending a special program at our local Baptist church. My older sister sat on my left and our neighborhood friend Russell Brooks sat on my right. We stared ahead at the churchy proceedings and I asked Russell what the tank of water was in back of the stage.
Russell was wiser and older (nine) and I often looked to him for advice. He explained that the tank of water was where people got baptized. I wasn’t a regular church goer yet but I had heard that word before.
“How do people get baptized?” I asked him.
Russell pointed at the ornate red chairs that were placed beside the pulpit on the stage, facing toward the congregation. “You see those chairs?” he asked.
“Yep.” They looked like little thrones to me.
“When someone feels like they are old enough to get baptized, they run really fast from the back of the church down the aisle, jump up on one of those chairs and try to fly all the way over the choir loft and into the water tank. If they make it, they are baptized.”
Wow! Suddenly I wasn’t feeling bored in church anymore. “What happens if they don’t make it?” I asked in fascination.
“Then they aren’t old enough to be baptized and they have to try again later.”
Okay then. I looked around at the congregation, mostly older folks, and figured they had already made their run long ago. I scanned the crowd for the younger people and wondered who would try out their wings tonight. It would take a lot of guts to try to clear that choir loft but I couldn’t wait to see someone try.
As the church service wore on, most people just sat there and listened passively to the pastor drone on and on. I kept glancing back at the back of the church, but no one was even warming up for their take-off, not even during the altar call. I started wondering if Russell was telling the truth, especially after I noticed my sister once shooting him a mean look. Maybe he was just pulling my leg, but what if wasn’t? That would be so cool to see. I kept an eye out just in case.
The disappointment didn’t lift sad to say because no one lifted off that night. I quickly learned that churches are predictable places. Although I am very grateful that I met Jesus at that church, I never did get a chance to clear the choir loft. I got baptized the old fashioned way.
Most people’s experience with church is boring and predictable. The world is longing for authentic community, a place where they can be real and known and loved unconditionally. A place where there is the give and take of real relationship. These seekers walk into our churches, feel a sense of shallowness and walk right out.
In my next few blogs posts I want to focus on two things to help our communities become a little less predictable and a little more vibrant: transparency and healthy conflict.