Playing Church

Jeremiah 1:5

What do you want to be when you grow up? That was the question asked by my first grade, second grade, third grade, and fourth grade teachers on the first day of school. I knew a lot of things I didn’t want to be, and those were usually things other boys wanted to be. I had no desire to be a policeman, fireman, astronaut, or cowboy. Even though I had complete admiration for those who were, I was indifferent to any of those in my own future.  I confess, I was sometimes reluctant to tell what I did want. I wanted to work in church. While other kids pretended to arrest outlaws, extinguish infernos, conquer space, or subdue the frontier, I played church.

My dad used to preach sermons about playing church. He would address those who participated with insincere motives. Some were there for societal reasons. Some were there out of family obligation. Some were there to make business contacts. Some were there for the sake of keeping up appearances. He called that “playing church.” I played church as practice for my future.

I have earlier told how my siblings and I would practice eating communion crackers and practice baptizing each other anytime we had water deeper than 12 inches.   I practiced church, regular old everyday church. In the garage of our house, we had some folding chairs and a speaker’s podium. I have no idea why those things were there, but they were. I set up twelve chairs, two rows of three on the left and two rows of three on the right, with a middle aisle. I put the makeshift pulpit in the center, facing the chairs. I had no congregation, but I led the singing.  I chose three songs, leading the first, second, and last verses of each. (Baptists don’t sing the third verse.) I got a little uncomfortable when it came time for the sermon, because only a real preacher, like Daddy or Uncle Glen, could rightly divide the Word of Truth. Since there was no one else, I preached. Then I gave the invitation. No one came forward, but I was undaunted; the Word of God will not return void. Once, I convinced Pennye and David to attend services, but, being the backsliders they were, they left halfway through.

In second grade, I thought maybe the problem was that I wasn’t called to preach. Perhaps I was called to music ministry.  I also decided to cast a wider net. My second grade class became my field of harvest. I convinced about six girls to be in my choir. I’m sure a qualified therapist would have input on why I only invited girls. Besides, grade-school boys don’t do choir. “Meet me at recess on the merry-go-round, and we will have choir practice.”  All six showed up!  We started rehearsal with, “On top of spaghetti, all covered with cheese…” (set to the tune of “On Top of Old Smokey”). That wasn’t a particularly spiritual number, but I thought it best to start with a song everyone knew. I stopped rehearsal a couple of times to correct poor technique or pitch. “No, no.  Like this…” I took my work seriously – they did not. The next day, they all abandoned the work, as apostates do. “Hey. Why weren’t you at choir practice?” My question was met with only a look, no answer, just…the look – you know, the one that says, “Leave me alone, or I’ll tell on you.” So I left them alone.

In high school, I started pursuing my calling in earnest. The church I was part of did not have Sunday evening services, but the youth group decided we would offer it, even if the leadership didn’t. The group unanimously appointed me for the sermon.  I preached my first sermon, at 17 years old, to a crowd of 17 congregants. I preached on Love. I used every Love scripture I could think of.  It probably lasted about five minutes, and I’m sure it was terrible, but I did it.  Several folks encouraged me afterward, and I reluctantly accepted their words. After all, it was better than preaching to an empty garage.

empty_pews_3203684a

I never remember a time when I didn’t feel called. I knew I was different. Early on, I refused to see myself as a preacher. That was reserved for the true heroes, like Daddy and Uncle Glenn. I knew I was called, though.  Like Jonah, my troubles usually arose out of the times I tried to run from the calling – the times I wanted to be “just like everyone else.” Like Jeremiah, there have been times when I have vowed not to preach. Like Jeremiah, his word was “like a fire shut up in my bones.”  My mother often reminds me that, at my birth, she dedicated me to the Lord, just as Hannah did Samuel.  I don’t remember that, but she regularly reminds me.

The past decade has been focused on my wife, my family, and a different career. Finding my place, other than behind the pulpit, has been a challenge. The church I attend has offered me opportunities to teach, and I find it refreshing. Perhaps I will again find myself behind the pulpit, and perhaps not. Whatever happens, I will not be playing church.

 

 

Published in: on August 15, 2018 at 11:20 am  Leave a Comment  

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