Last week was a really interesting experience for me. I “audited” a grad class at ACU. For those that don’t know, you can sit in on a Bible class at ACU for $35 - you don’t have to take the tests and you don’t get college credit, but you get to participate at learn at whatever level you want.
I received an M.A. in Christian Ministry from ACU in 2005 - that two year program took me 4.5 years since I was also in full-time ministry through the whole thing. A couple years ago I decided I wanted to pursue a D.Min (doctor of ministry) and that meant I needed some leveling work (my MA was a 54 hour degree and I need an MDiv, which is at least 72 hours). I think I’ve taken all the classes I need (I’ll find out for sure in a couple weeks). So I’m currently in a rare season of NOT being in school! (with the exception of a few semesters here and there, I’ve been in college and then grad school since 97!)
So...when I found out that Chris was taking a class on Christian Worship, my inner nerd began shouting. I decided that it would be good to sit in on the class with him so that we could process through the material together. This was a class that I’d wanted to take in grad school but didn’t “need” and never had a free January to squeeze it in.
Overall it was really good. Chris and I spent a lot of time discussing what went on in the class and came away with a few ideas. It was encouraging because we’re already doing most of what we talked about.
One component of the course involved the students (many of whom are full-time ministers) being placed in groups and preparing/leading a time of worship for the class. The two that were the most impacting to me were the first and last of the week. The final group led a lament service that did not in any way feel like a group project - it was one of the most profound times of worship I’ve experienced...certainly at ACU and maybe ever.
The first service impacted me in a very different way. Where the last was powerful because of the authentic and transparent nature of entering into communal and personal lament, the first was powerful because I was unable to engage in such a way.
A few of us had lunch with a professor (not the professor teaching our class) and we were late returning. I, being just a lowly auditor, dropped Chris off and went to find a parking place. By the time I got there the worship had already begun, so I stood in the hallway so as not to disturb (afterall, I didn’t know how nervous the group members were and I could hear what was going on anyway.)
Standing in the hallway during a worship gathering was interesting. I found myself, though somewhat self-conscious (since there were other people in the hallway), engaging at points in the singing and silence. I found myself listening intently to the readings. And yet I couldn’t really engage because I wasn’t fully engaged with the community. I found myself wondering what was happening when I could hear the sounds of movement but couldn’t see what people were doing. There were times when I really wanted to participate with them, but simply couldn’t because there was a barrier between me and everyone else (of course, all I had to do was open the door and go in...but I didn’t). At other times the distance and separation led my mind to wander; I found myself distracted by the things going on around me, disengaging because I wasn’t really a part of the proceedings.
And that got me thinking. How many people sit in the midst of our worship gatherings every week and experience precisely what I was going through?
There are times when they are drawn into the worship but even then they feel uncomfortable because they don’t feel like they’re really a part of the community. There are times when they can “hear the sounds of movement” but don’t really understand what's going on. In other words, because what we do is so foreign to them, they can tell that something significant is taking place but they don’t understand and so feel like they’re listening to things happening on the other side of closed door.
How often do people disengage because they never fully engaged to begin with? And what are we doing or not doing to draw them in and welcome them? I don’t blame anyone in our class for me being outside - it was a choice I made. However, the simple truth is, right though it was, I stood in the hallway because when I approached this worship the door was closed to me.
I was unsure about whether or not I was allowed to open the door and so I stood at a distance.
My prayer is that Christ Journey, and any gathering of Christ’s disciples, will always be aware of closed doors. Sometimes the door is closed for good reason and that means we need to be aware of anyone who may be on the other side of that door longing to join us. What happens behind the door is important and valuable - and so is what’s happening outside.