Overheard recently: “I’m wondering what’s the difference between church and the bar?”
In church you pray for the Spirit. In a bar you pay for the spirits? (Sorry, couldn’t resist!)
Everybody knows your name…
When Jennifer and I lived in Springfield, MO, and worked at the Assemblies of God headquarters, our friendly pagan neighbors invited us to join them at a neighborhood bar for lunch. We were on our way back home from church where we had invited them, so we figured a little tit for tat was probably in order.
When I write “neighborhood,” I mean, it was 1.5 miles from our home (plus, incidentally, 1.3 miles from the A/G HQ). And when I write “bar,” I mean it was one of those windowless, pre-fabricated metal buildings that you always imagine when the words “biker bar” appear in news print. And, yes, there were occasional twisted-iron road gators resting out front.
Never having been a regular customer of neighborhood bars before (or since), we were a little nervous about going inside, but our young urban neighbors encouraged me to “man up” and bragged that this was the best place in Springfield to get a good, cheap, dinner of steak and potatoes … and boy were they right! The steaks tasted so good that Jennifer and I made Dan’s Place a regular stop on our way home from work.
Now, Dan’s Place had two coin-operated pool tables in the crowded center floor. After a few visits Jennifer and I joined in the fun. Really, we couldn’t resist. Before long, we’d eschewed the banged up house cues and we went and bought our own sticks from a pro-shop, just so we wouldn’t have to keep hunting down the one or two decent pieces of wood in the bar.
After a couple years of eating regularly at Dan’s place — competing against the neighborhood pool sharks (who, interestingly, shot better “under the influence” than sober), sipping her tea and my diet Cokes — we became part of the family. Whenever we’d enter, the patrons would shout our names: “Hey, Jennifer! Hey, Rich!” Our friends would sit with us during dinner and regale us with their tales of woe and victory. They’d show us their latest photos, and talk of the last trip they took to Arkansas, or Silver Dollar City. They’d talk about their children, their jobs, their spouses and their divorces. They became our friends.
On our last night in Springfield, we announced our departure to Chicago.
They bought us shots. They hugged us. And told us to stop by — any time.
We drank the shots. We embraced, and we promised to visit.
During the time Jennifer and I haunted that smoky old joint, I frequently found occasion to compare the neighborhood bar with my local church. Unfortunately, I noted some differences where I wished our churches were more like bars.
- People went because they wanted to be there, not out of duty or obligation
- The singing was celebratory and sometimes therapeutic
- Greetings were heartfelt and welcoming
- Everybody had a seat waiting for them, if there wasn’t room, someone gave up their seat
- Everybody got a chance to play, but you didn’t have to play if you didn’t want to
- People notice when you stop showing up
- Nobody puts on “airs” and when they do, they get called on it
- Thus, nobody expected anybody to be perfect, and nobody pretended otherwise
- If you make a mistake, you get called on it
- If you admit your mistake, you get forgiven
- It was a great place to go when feeling lonely
- It was a great place to go when feeling sociable
- It was a great place to go when feeling down
- It was a great place to go when feeling up
I’ll leave it to you to determine how your local church does or does not reflect those differences. But in my opinion, most churches could afford to be a little bit more like a bar.
Sure, there are differences that set church apart from any bar — notably the sacraments, the preaching of the Gospel, the fellowship of the saints and the power of the Spirit. But, if your church is doing its job, you should also have a few drunks in attendance, you should need a few ashtrays out front, and you know when your regulars are missing.
And everybody should know your name.
Update (07/24/2007): Be sure to check out the article from Chuck Swindoll I found and have included below.
[tags]alcohol, bar, blogrodent, charles-swindoll, christ, christianity, chuck-swindoll, church, church-culture, commentary, communion, community, culture, drinking, fellowship, friends, friendship, gospel, intimacy, love, marine, neighborhood, preaching, relationship, religion, spirituality[/tags]