In church this past Sunday, Doug preached from the first chapter of Philippians. His sermon contained five(!) points, and one of those had to do with joy in partnership. He illustrated this point with an analogy essentially comparing being a part of the church to dancing at a wedding reception. When faced with either scenario, you have the option to sit safely on the side and watch, ensuring that you don’t make a fool of yourself and avoiding the inevitable awkwardness that both getting involved in church and dancing at a wedding reception entail. But in steering clear of those risks, you also miss out on the benefits that come when you’re willing to put yourself out there, lame dance moves and all. The analogy resonated with me because in the past year I have experienced both of these situations, officially joining City Pres a couple months ago and cutting a serious rug at my brother’s wedding reception back in November, but it wasn’t until after Doug’s sermon that it occurred to me to make any kind of meaningful connection between them.
My brother’s entire wedding weekend will always be a cherished memory—spending precious time with family, seeing my big brother so happy, gaining the sister I’ve always wanted—but the reception, and particularly dancing at the reception, is definitely a contender for the highlight of the whole celebration. When Jason and I first hit the dance floor, it was predictably uncomfortable. Not that many people were dancing yet, and social dancing is definitely not an activity I participate in with enough frequency to not feel initially self conscious about my moves. But we stuck with it, and were rewarded for our efforts, enthusiastically imperfect as they might have been. The night wore on, inhibitions wore off, and it was truly a joyful experience to be out there awkwardly and happily boogeying down with my people—husband, parents, brother, sister-in-law, aunts, uncles, cousins, etc. It didn’t matter how we looked, and that wasn’t the point. The point was to celebrate Cody and Rachel, and celebrate we did. It was so much better than sitting at a table next to the dance floor, secretly wishing I were out there, but being too embarrassed to actually do it.
So now I have to say something profound about how dancing at my brother’s wedding reception resembles my experience of joining City Pres. Well, like my dancing, it definitely started out awkward. Is there any way for visiting a new church not to be? And we didn’t have a handy built in reason to be checking out a new church, like being new in town or recently married and looking for a church home. We had a new baby, which seemed like it just made things more complicated. We came to church on Sundays when we were in town and it was convenient. I guess you could say we were on the very edge of the dance floor there for a while, moving almost imperceptibly, throwing up the occasional white man’s overbite, but not fully a part of the action.
It felt weird and uncomfortable, but we kept coming. We met people. We joined a City Group, which was also weird and uncomfortable at first, not to mention inconvenient, but we stuck with it. We started hanging out with people outside of Sunday service and City Group. We watched the videos, went to the membership class, met with Doug a couple of times, and slowly but surely, I felt myself loosening up, less inhibited and more willing to dance full out, if you will. I started writing for the blog, Jason and I collaborated on the Lenten Devotional, I went to the women’s retreat and started going to the Thursday morning Bible study. As I began to take advantage of more opportunities to get involved, I felt myself moving closer to the center of the dance floor, and it has been a place of fuller joy. It’s not as though I’ve finally found the perfect church. 1) It wouldn’t take me as a member, and 2) It doesn’t exist. But in committing to show up week after week, in getting to know people and allowing people to get to know me, and in serving, I have experienced the kind of joy in partnership that Doug was talking about on Sunday that comes from being connected to a community of faith.
I want to offer encouragement to those of you who find yourselves on the edge of the dance floor, whether it’s at City Pres or at the general idea of becoming a part of the life of a church. Living in community as we are called to in the church is not natural. Our sinful nature makes us want to keep our walls up, as it wants to avoid vulnerability at all costs. Even at the cost of missing out on what God has called his children to: partnering as the body with Christ the head to be the church, the instrument of his saving and redeeming work on earth. Not because we’re awesome dancers who have mastered all the latest moves, but because he loves us and wants us to be a part of his purposes, white man’s overbite and all. So don’t just stand there, bust a move.