How important is it to “just show up”???
I remember it like it was yesterday. Three years of formal seminary training and the countless hours reading and researching about how to be a pastor could not have better prepared me for pastoral ministry than what I learned that day. It was a Monday morning during September 2003 as I walked into First United Methodist Church in Opelika for my first class. Dr. Tim Thompson was the Senior Pastor and the Facilitator of a course entitled “Teaching Parrish” for seminary students that were serving a local church. (Little did we know that one day we would serve together at Frazer UMC in Montgomery)
I took my seat with 6-8 other student pastors around a table. In walked Dr. Thompson dressed in a suit and looking the part of a polished “First Church” pastor. I was impressed to say the least. Also, I was worried. I was worried that I would never be a good pastor for people. Could I ever be able to pastor a church like this? Would I be any good? Would people respond? I was worried that I wouldn’t measure up to the likes of Dr. Tim Thompson, Dr. Karl Stegall, and certainly not to the stature of Bishop Paul Duffey. These men loomed large in my presence, almost too much for a young, know-nothing, rookie, green, wannabe pastor like myself.
The class began and Dr. Thompson started sharing about ministry in a folksy, humorous, story-telling manner that put you instantly at peace in his presence. For the life of me I couldn’t tell you one of the stories he shared or the jokes he told from that day, but I will never forget one key phrase Dr. Thompson said: “Just show up!”
That truth has been retold by every great mentor I’ve had since beginning ministry in 2002. However, Dr. Thompson made it crystal clear that day. “Just show up!” Just show up for your people. Be there with them in their highest highs and their lowest lows. Just show up. At the hospital, the nursing home, and in their homes. Just show up. Gather for worship, praise, pray, and pass the peace. Just show up. As Dr. Stegall shared on numerous occasions with me, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”
Recently, I came across an article that merely confirmed what most pastors are already experiencing every Sunday in their churches. People are not showing up. They may be church members. Some may be tithers. Some may be Sunday school teachers and small group leaders. Some may be doing fantastic work in the mission field. Some may be volunteering in service to the church.
But…many of these same people are not showing up for worship on a regular basis. I am not going to speculate what the faithful are doing, but whatever it is they are not worshipping consistently with their church family on Sunday. They are not showing up, at least not as regularly as previous generations. They are not showing up, and worship services in many of our local churches are suffering because of it.
Every week, visitors, skeptics, atheists, agnostics show up to our worship services. Every week the broken, downtrodden, depressed, and lonely show up wondering if they are missing something in their life. Many wonder, “Maybe this church will have the answer I am looking for? Maybe this church will accept me the way I am? Maybe this church can point me in the right direction?” The only problem is “the church” is not showing up! Into our worship services walks this visitor hoping to see something worthy of their time. They come not so much for the music, the message, the coffee, or the printed materials. They are coming for community, for belonging, for acceptance. And when the church fails to show up, these people leave failing to experience what many of us already have – Christian community.
If we continue down this road, it won’t be long before we find ourselves in places of spiritual darkness. I don’t know how good the message will be this Sunday from your preacher. I can’t guarantee the music will be much better. The coffee may be bitter, but all of us (the Church) can gather in Jesus’ name to worship, praise, pray, and pass the peace. We can allow God to fill us up and use us to fill others up too.
Dr. Tim Thompson was right. I am privileged to call him my friend today. Just show up! The world still needs the church. Who is the church? I am. You are. See you Sunday! Let’s show up!
“Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.” – Hebrews 10:24-25