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Taking church home with you

By Mike Ruffin In the early 1980s, while I was studying at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, I was also the weekend pastor of the Beech Grove Baptist Church in Owen County, Kentucky, which was about seventy miles north of Louisville. Southern Baptist churches participate in regional groupings known as ‘associations,’ and those associations usually have at least one meeting a year. If they only have one, it’s usually in the fall. If they have two, one is in the spring and the other during autumn. Most of the churches in the Owen County Association were small. Many of them used seminary students as pastors, so the association held its annual meeting during the summer to avoid giving its pastors something else to deal with on top of their heavy academic responsibilities. One hot summer night, the representatives from the various churches gathered at one of the member churches for the annual associational meeting. My Good Wife and I were there. The church had done a really nice job of sprucing up the building for their guests. They had even put a fresh coat of paint on the pews. The building didn’t have central air conditioning. It did have a couple of window units that probably kept things reasonably comfortable on Sundays when the small congregation gathered. But they couldn’t compete with both the hot weather and the body heat generated by the packed-in crowd. As such meetings usually do, this one dragged on and on. And the room got hotter and hotter. It was like a sauna. The end came not a moment too soon and probably many moments too late. When the song leader announced the closing hymn and the pianist began to play, everybody gladly stood. A crunching sound arose with us as the paint left the pews to accompany our sweaty backs and bottoms. We all took some of the church home with us that night in a literal, obvious, and irritating way. We always take church home with us, albeit in ways we may not be fully aware of. We should learn to pay attention to what we carry home from church because we probably carry it around with us all the time. For example, we may take nationalistic religion home with us. It is possible for a church to so closely align itself with the nation that it’s hard to tell the difference. Now, it is entirely appropriate for a church to pray for the nation of which its members are citizens. But it is even more appropriate for Christians to remember that our ultimate citizenship is in God’s kingdom. The church has a prophetic role to play in the nation; we need to be able to recognize that Christian principles are often, and perhaps usually, not going to align with national ambitions and policies. And we need our preachers to say so. The church and the nation are better served if the church sends us home with a commitment to help our nation be all it can be and to be true to Christ’s way when it stands over against the nation’s way. Or we may take self-centered religion home with us. We may go away from church thinking that it’s all about us. You may go home thinking that it’s all about you. God cares about each one of us. But God also cares about all of us. Our churches should encourage us to become more Christlike, which means that they should teach us to love God and neighbor in sacrificial ways. Jesus said he came to serve rather than to be served and he calls his followers to live the same way. We find our lives by losing them, he also said. We shouldn’t take a self-centered attitude home from church. We should take a desire and commitment to be as selfless as we can be. Those are just two examples of ways we need to be alert to what we take home from church. There are many others. Sometimes churches foster and promote ideas and practices that have little to do with the good news of Jesus Christ. We should leave such things there. But often churches foster and promote ideas and practices that have everything to do with the good news of Jesus Christ. By all means, let’s let those stick to us. Let’s take them home. Let’s take them with us everywhere we go. Mike Ruffin is a writer, editor, teacher, and preacher. He grew up in Barnesville, lives in Yatesville, and works in Macon.

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