By Kelly Capriotti Burton
There are many things I love in life that are not old-fashioned and most of them start with a capital letter: Facebook, Twitter, Tivo, Skype, texting, blogging, IMing…and so on.
But in spite of my adoration for new technology, there are also many things about American life as we know it now that aren’t so cool with me (that’s another column itself)… so in late July, when the pastor of a church where Rod was singing on a Sunday night said – apologetically – “We’re a little old-fashioned here,” I was able to tell him, “I LIKE old-fashioned.”
Remember old-fashioned Sunday night church? I remember a few different versions of it. When I was a little kid, my parents would let me sit with my friend Mr. Moore, who was the neighbor kids’ grandpa. Sunday nights used to involve a “song service” during which the song leader would take requests for what everyone would sing. The songs I remember best: “I’ll Fly Away,” “Do Lord,” and of course, “Old Time Religion.” During the sermon, I used to fall asleep on Mr. Morre’s shoulder (for which I’d get in trouble later). My own grandpa never went to our church, so this memory is particularly special now.
When we moved on from that church to a Pentecostal one, I was still a young child, but I remember that Sunday nights were a thing of excitement. It seemed that the formalities of a Sunday morning service were put away at 6pm…people dressed a little more casually, the atmosphere was a little less stiff, and everyone was ready to get their praise on. Our worship leader strapped on an acoustic guitar, people sometimes worshipped around the altar instead of in their seats, and even the song choices seemed to be a little more power packed. There was less program on Sunday nights and more nitty-gritty. I loved it. I miss it.
It’s not that I don’t find the development of our churches exciting. I appreciate that churches have extensive kids’ programs and animated videos to go along with the songs we sing. But when someone tells me, “You’d really like our church. We have a weekly food pantry, our worship leader made it to round 118 of American Idol, AND there’s a Starbucks!” I have to wonder if we aren’t sometimes passionate about the wrong things. I mean, the food pantry is a great community outreach, but if we really feel like we need glamour and popularity and Really Good Coffee to keep people in church, aren’t we somehow degrading the worthiness of our Savior?
The little church we visited on that Sunday night in July was not a quaint or poor one. It had a piano, a paved parking lot, a sound booth, extra rooms for classes, and if I recall, a small gym. But the sanctuary was indeed something more from my childhood memories than what I see often today. It was decked out in purple, from the pews to the carpet to the abundance of silk flowers. I couldn’t help but thinking what some trendy Christian bloggers would say about that. Meanwhile, every pew held several songbooks – books! I had a great time flipping through those books to rediscover songs I’d not heard or sung since those Sunday nights so long ago.
Please don’t get me wrong. I don’t think it really matters if a church uses hymns or Hillsongs for their worship. I thoroughly enjoy Starbucks coffee and like putting my kids in their own classes, most of the time. I know that the world has changed much from the days of the Church of Acts, when multitudes were added daily. But the call of Christians and the Christ we have followed has NOT. And while I am no great minister, I have been a part of this church thing for a long time, and I think in some ways, we are just missing it lately.
As a wife and mom and woman and church goer, may I kindly suggest?
– Worship freely, in a way that invites EVERYone. It’s great if your band knows all the latest songs, but the older people in the congregation and the visitors might find them really hard to follow. Throwing in the occasional “Victory in Jesus” or “Standing on the Promises” or “This is Holy Ground” is not going to hurt anything.
– Make church a family-friendly place… to me, that means a place where FAMILIES can worship and hear the Word TOGETHER. Naturally, small children should not be allowed to be disruptive, but please don’t give the stink-eye to people who choose not to utilize your state-of-the-art kids’ program or who allow their children to sing loudly during the worship. There likely was not a staffed nursery when Jesus preached the Sermon on the Mount, and yet, His message still resonates.
– Don’t worry about being so trendy and shiny that you forget to promote the basics of the church. Recently, I visited a church website, read about its upcoming events, saw photos of its past events, and learned about the staff members’ families. But nowhere on the website could I find the church’s address. Sometimes, we get so distracted by the peripherals of ministry that we overlook the nuts and bolts.
– Speaking of ministry, the first step is showing the love of Jesus… so when visitors do come, make them feel welcome. This doesn’t mean they need a gift or hospitality room or refreshments. How about a warm “Hello” ? How about not letting parishioners get by with dirty looks for the people who ‘steal their pews?” How about not spending more time on the announcements and offering than you do on praying and giving testimony?
The world – with all its shiny new technology and new age ideas – is still looking at the church very carefully. The world, dear readers, is searching for a truth that will give them peace. It is searching for answers to hard questions and healing for unspeakable injustices. The world does not need us to impress them. It needs us to be the hand, the voice, the love of Christ.
Hailing from Al Capone’s old stomping ground, Chicago Heights, IL, Kelly Capriotti Burton was a stranger to Southern Gospel music until marrying into it! Always a music fan, she discovered a fondness for gospel harmonies, southern hospitality, and road life while traveling with her husband Rod Burton.
Kelly has previously worked as a corporate project manager and a high school English teacher. She has written and taught in a variety of outlets and now spends her time caring for three daughters (two toddlers, one teen), assisting with Rod’s ministry, serving as Editor-in-Chief of SGN Scoops Digital Magazine, and to break up the boredom, working as a partner in YMR Music Productions, which presents the Branson Gospel Music Convention.
She considers life to be one unexpected adventure after another; her biggest so far was having two babies in 15 months after being diagnosed with infertility. She considers laughter (with a side of sarcasm) to be the best strategy, God’s grace to be the greatest gift, and miracles to always be possible.