I went to speak at another church yesterday. I love that church because it is one I used to go to when I was a very young lad about my son’s age. I equally love it now because it has been through a revitalisation and is full of people I either knew way back when or who I happened to know at university. So, it was really nice to go even though it was my first time back there in about 25 years.
Fun as that trip down memory lane was for me, I was set to thinking about what is good about visiting a different church. Here are a few things that are good about preaching out.
You get to see how another church functions
It is helpful to get out of your own context sometimes and just see another place with different people. It is interesting to see the stuff we do that is the same (presumably because its stuff we think the Bible demands of all churches everywhere) and the things that we do differently.
Interestingly, both my church and the one I was speaking at are theologically Reformed Independent churches. But my church got there via Pentecostalism whereas the one I was at came by way of The Brethren. It was interesting to see how that history is still present in the church and to reflect afresh on how the history of my own church is reflected there too.
But it is also helpful to see the stuff that another church does that you might be able to assimilate into the way we do stuff in our home church. It is always helpful to see another way of doing things which forces you to ask of your own practice, ‘is this the best or most appropriate way to do this?’
The membership sees the pastor is not the be all and end all for the church
Far too many churches are set up as though the whole place will fall apart if the pastor isn’t there. All ministries revolve around the pastor and, if it isn’t set up on purpose by the man himself, is usually a reflection of the view that stuff only ‘counts’ if the pastor does it. This is one of the reasons I like to have other elders, and visiting speakers, involved in the ministry. It reinforces the message that the pastor is not the only one able to teach and the ministers of the church are all its members.
But going out to preach elsewhere reinforces that message further still. Not only are others able to preach while I’m not there, the membership can see that the church functions just as well when the pastor is not there. The Lord Jesus got on perfectly well before I became the pastor of my church and he’ll get on just as well (if not better) when I’m not there. But it helps for my church to know that too because the ministry does not rest on the shoulders of your minister but on Jesus. And the pastor is not there as the one to take on the burden of all ministry but is one minister among a church of ministers set aside to help equip the members in their work of ministry. Sometimes not being there helps make that clear by giving them the room to do ministry (including preaching).
You get to be encouraged by non-routine stuff
It is so easy to acclimatise to your own surroundings. The stuff that goes on in my church week by week feels routine to me. It is all very ordinary because it is what we do. It is what we have been doing for the last five years I have been here. The stuff that makes other people go ‘wow! That sounds amazing’ is – to our shame – stuff we just think of as usual.
Going to a new church helps to shake that routine. You see how the Lord is working in other contexts where things don’t seem quite so routine. It give you the opportunity to go, ‘wow! That sounds amazing.’ In a new place, with different people, it is encouraging to see how the Lord is at work among his people and how a church in a different context is reaching out to its neighbours.