“That’s now how we do things.”
If you’ve ever been to church, I guess you’ve probably heard someone say that. I know I have, though I suppose I’ve been to church enough that I’ve seen just about everything.
Well, no, that’s not true. Every now and then something will come along, something will happen on a Sunday morning, and I’ll find myself thinking, hey, what, wait? What just happened? That’s not normal! That’s not how we do things!
A few weeks ago I was guest preaching at a friend’s church. The hallway going to the offices and classrooms has a door that opens in the chancel, and there we were, Sunday morning, in the middle of worship, when someone comes walking through that door and starts talking to me. As I’m trying to lead worship. I’m thinking, hey, what are you doing? We’re kinda in the middle of something here!
The person who stepped into the chancel that morning to have a chat with the pastor during worship was seeking something. She needed help, and guidance, and it was important to her in the moment. Yet, when she stepped into the chancel, my first thought wasn’t “here’s someone in need,” it was, “that’s not right, interrupting worship like that.”
Except what I was really thinking was this: that’s not how we do things.
Funny thing is, “That’s not how we do things” are some of the most problematic words in ministry. Because if Jesus taught us anything it is that we need to rethink the way we do things, all the time.
In Chapter 9 of Mark’s Gospel, things are really starting to move. Jesus has started to share with his Disciples what is about to happen. They’re frightened, and they don’t want to believe it, and in their anxiety they start falling back on old habits. They argue with Jesus that he won’t have to die. They argue among themselves about who is the greatest. They keep children from coming to Jesus. Over and over, Jesus corrects them, with love, and probably with a bit of frustration as well.
Then, in verse 38, John says something peculiar. He tells Jesus that the Disciples saw someone casting out demons in Jesus’ name, so they tried to stop him. Why would he tell Jesus that? Was he trying to prove his devotion? Was he trying to impress Jesus with his courage?
Or was it simply the first century version of “that’s not how we do things.”
I think that’s probably it. The Disciples were like the rest of us: comfortable in what they believed to be the right way to follow Christ. And they saw someone who wasn’t one of them doing miracles, and so they wanted to put a stop to it.
“That’s not right. You aren’t one of us. That’s now how we do things.”
But Jesus tells them, no, don’t stop this person. Don’t even try, “for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me.” [Mark 9:39]
In other words, Jesus just told his closest followers that there are many ways to be his Disciple.
That’s still true today.
We have denominations galore, and with as many different traditions as we have churches. In some ways, we are at variance; we disagree on many issues. But in at least one crucial point, we agree: that Christ is our light and our life, and our savior, and that his grace is a powerful and miraculous thing.
I’m continually reflecting on what it means to “church” in the 21st century. Does it mean organs and choirs and stained glass? Does it mean projections and rock bands and stage lights? Does it mean internet streams and Instagram messages?
Or does it look like something entirely different.
The truth is that many of today’s expressions of worship are ones we’d have looked at even as few as twenty years ago and said, “that’s not how we do things.” I can’t help but think that we might do the same thing now about the ways we will experience Christian community in the next twenty years.
But here’s a crucial thing: We may not believe exactly alike. We may not worship the same way. The same things may not be as important to our communities as are to other communities.
But Jesus was clear: whoever does the work of the Kingdom in his name is his. And who carries Jesus’ name in their heart will by no means lose their reward.
Even if it’s not how we do things today.