Thursday, October 09, 2008

A Tale of Two Churches

This week I went to two outreach festivals put on by churches. I came away with two very different feelings and impressions.

The first one was full of entertainment. There was a teacups ride, inflatables, petting zoo, popcorn, cotton candy, and many other things for the kids. The only catch was that all of it cost money. You could pay a flat rate for a wristband or by the ticket. Attractions ranged in cost from $.50 to $3.00. And for the adults, if there wasn't enough to spend money on, there was a live auction, a silent auction, a bake sale, a food court, and a craft fair. I looked at the eyes of the women there, helping, and I saw tiredness. I knew these women had put many many hours into the function, and they were working very hard to make sure that this went off smoothly. They looked a little frantic to me.

The kids had fun. We came home hot, tired, and $60 poorer.

The second one was a small function. The church had made a recreation of a Jewish village from Bible times. There were plywood "buildings" and stalls. When you arrived your children could put on "authentic" costumes (pillowcases sewn into tunics). They got a bag of "coins" and could go around to the stalls and buy whatever they wanted to and keep it all. There was a tax collector, a potter, a carpenter, a candle maker, a baker who sold bread, a fruit stall, and various other small craft stands. There were two goats to pet. The main attractions were the two plays put on. The first was the story of how Samuel was called to be a prophet of God and the second was the story of Naaman's healing. The acting was first rate and though the main actors had wireless mikes, the props and costumes were very simple and handmade. Think old bedsheets and plywood. It was completely free. At no time was I asked to pay a dime. Everyone, even the people in charge, was very relaxed and friendly. They talked to us and kindly helped the children make their choices. They spoke of how they had used the talents God had given them to make the things they were offering.

The kids came away with very excited tales of how they had actually been able to buy their own things! Emlyn loved the tax collector.

The extreme juxtaposition made me think about what our goals as a church are. If a church is truly there to be a light in the dark, why are they trying to raise so much money and why are they trying to be so much like a regular secular carnival? I knew I was at a church for the first festival but because of so much cost I felt the same way I feel after a day at Six Flags. You know "I can't believe I just paid a dollar for a water." "Oh look. Another place to spend my money."

When I left the second church all I could think of was the simplicity. Yes. It was different from our culture. There were no bright colors and there were no loud music productions. But I felt more inclined to come back to that church than I have in a long time. It felt like home. It felt like a place that would welcome me and take whatever paltry talents I might have, and use them for God's glory. And my kids did not once ask for cotton candy, or why they couldn't have their face painted, or ask why they had to sit for twenty minutes and watch a play. They were so excited.

Do we really have to spend thousands of dollars and buy the latest technologies and play the latest songs in order to be a witness? Let me tell you, the one I will be visiting is not the fancy one. Even though it's only 10 minutes away and the second one is 40.

That's my food for thought today.

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