by Alison Freeman
You’re on the treadmill doing some light cardio to finish off a Tuesday morning workout next to your believing gym-buddy Melissa. Chatting about plans for the weekend, Melissa comments, “Lent starts on Monday.”
“Lent?” you repeat, bemused.
“Yes, for the Orthodox, Lent starts on a Monday,” she says. “You’re probably used to Ash Wednesday.”
Well, to be honest you’re not really used to the idea at all. Orthodox? Like the priest in the weird black hat in Fiddler on the Roof?
“I didn’t know you were Orthodox,” you say. “What church do you go to?”
She tells you the name of the church and before you know it, you’re invited to come visit sometime.
So should you go?
If you’re like me, you might be both intrigued and intimidated by this situation. Three years ago, I visited a dear friend’s Antiochian Orthodox church—a far cry from the home congregation I went to at the time. I didn’t become Orthodox, my theological hesitations didn’t evaporate, and I am so glad I went.
Despite the nerves and theological differences, the benefits of worshiping together with others in the Body of Christ are rich enough that I would encourage you to go!
I offer five reasons that you should visit your friend’s church.
1. To Celebrate Different Elements of God’s Character
God is love.
He is also embodies explosive joy and deep suffering, wisdom and extravagance, freedom and discretion, glory and humility, holy wrath and forgiveness. Paradoxes abound, and God seems to rest comfortably in them, being at once perfect mercy and total justice, or fully God and fully human as the incarnate Christ.
The church has been thriving in the tension of these paradoxes for a couple millennia now. Step bodily into this tension by worshipping at a friend’s church. You may find new reverence, new joy, or new awe in the Lord—even if you feel a little uncomfortable along the way.
2. To Experience Meaningful Engagement with Cultural Differences (And gain a window into your own cultured-ness)
The church is a marvelous place of unity in diversity. In most Christian churches, you’ll find instantly recognizable elements—musical worship, the Bible, prayer, and Communion. However, the expression of these practices can be startlingly different among cultures. If you think about it, receiving this diverse worship is God’s experience every day. Might as well join in.
Sharing worship with other cultures also gives you piercing perspective on your own culture. Sandra Maria Van Opstal, author of the book The Next Worship: Glorifying God in a Diverse World, writes, “We do not realize the way we do things is locked in a set of values and beliefs deeply influenced by cultural factors. . . . We are unaware of what it means to be us.”
Stepping into a new worship setting can help you understand the gift of worship your own culture brings to the Lord, even while you participate in the beauty of a new and different culture of worship. Win-win.
3. To Discover True Devotion to Jesus in Other Worship Traditions
Gut check. When Melissa told you she was Orthodox (or you found out your co-worker Chad was a holy-roller Pentecostal, or that your favorite Christian songwriter is Catholic) were you just a tiny bit temped to doubt the genuine nature of her faith? Even while holding legitimate theological differences, if you’ve seen the Lord growing in someone, it might be worth visiting the place where they’ve been growing.
Faithfulness and joy in your own theological tradition is a place of great strength for life and ministry. It can also be enriched by knowing how many brothers and sisters are leading lives of love in other parts of the Body of Christ.
4. To See Who Other Churches are Reaching and How
Perhaps your church has a thriving homeless ministry, but students and faculty from the university a few blocks away seem to keep to themselves. One day, you find yourself at a neighboring church on the south side of campus, and find you’re meeting professors left and right.
“If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell?” (1 Cor 12:17, ESV)
Different churches have their eyes and arms open to different people within your community and seeing that diversity of mission can be a real encouragement in ministry.
5. To Increase Your Ministry Literacy
The literacy in attitudes, values, language, and customs you gain while worshiping together with others in the body of Christ can translate into new opportunities for collaboration in mission. After building relationship together in worship, you’re better prepared to start a spiritual discussion group at the office with your church of God in Christ co-worker, or encourage your lapsed-Catholic neighbor. You’re more able speak to, write to, and love leaders and laypeople who have met Jesus anywhere throughout his beautiful church.
Reflect and Practice
When I first asked my “Melissa” if I could tag along to church with her sometime, I was a little nervous, but was beautifully welcomed by her church body. She printed out a little article on what to expect in an Orthodox service and answered all my questions. The church invited me to brunch after service at a parishioner’s home. My vision of the Body of Christ grew that day.
Stepping into any new setting is an exercise in trust and can feel vulnerable. If you’re up for checking out an unfamiliar church, try this list of three do’s:
1. Do get prepared.
Ask what to expect.
2. Do come in a spirit of “appreciative curiosity.”
This phrase was coined by Ron Rienstra of Western Theological Seminary in Holland, Michigan.
3. Do take time to reflect.
After you visit, let yourself reflect on the experience. Give the friend you visited with some feedback too!
Now all that’s left is to find out whether you’re going wait to be invited, or take the lead and go ask that friend today if you can come along with them to church!
Image Credits: Photo 1: Image 1 courtesy of Rawpixel, Image 2 courtesy of Pxhere; Photo 2: “Galakonzert des ‘Soweto Gospel Choir’ in der Helmut List Halle Graz” by Christine Kipper, shared under CC BY 2.0; Photo 3: Courtesy of MaxPixel; Photo 4: “Mandela Day at Bowery Mission Soup Kitchen” by Africa Renewal/Bo Li, shared under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.