If we are worried that having our house lights up will introduce too many distractions into our congregations, then we have to naturally ask ourselves two questions regarding our concern: what are we worried they will be distracted from? And what are we worried will distract them?
As we saw yesterday, the things that often "distract" our congregations may actually be good and holy and beautiful things. They may be "distracted" by the fellowship itself, such that they are now in a place to see one another, to whisper to one another, to bless and to curse one another, to build each other up and to recognize that this whole "church" thing is not about a "me," but a "we."
Quite honestly, if our people are "distracted" by realizing they are actually a fellowship, this cannot truly be considered much of a problem at all. If our people, with the house lights up, come to recognize themselves as a people, well, that's a good and beautiful and holy and wonderful thing.
Let's be honest. Our real concern when we talk about distractions in the church is not that our people might have a lot of things to look at, but rather that our people might not be looking at us, the ones who spend our entire week putting together the Sunday service for them. The ones who rehearse, who write, who rewrite, who practice, who pour, who serve in the service. Our real concern is that one hour a week, we're putting on a show, and if we don't focus our congregations' attention on what we're doing, they're going to miss it.
Sometimes, this is selfish - we want our work to be recognized. But most of the time, it's not. We honestly believe, and we hope that we are right, that what we've done in preparation for the Sunday service is enough that on Sunday morning, we are leading our congregations to God Himself. We believe we've cut through the path, laid down the stones, and that we are now inviting our congregations down the narrow road with us that leads to Him. We believe that they will have a powerful encounter with the living Lord if they'll just follow our program. So we turn the house lights down in hopes of Him shining brighter.
It's noble, yes, but dangerously misguided.
It's misguided because it still presumes that the road to God leads through us, His servants. It presumes that the map that we've drawn is the only way. It presumes that God is just as programmable into our Sunday services as any other element, as though we could show Him the order of worship and circle in bold red ink the part where He comes in (you know, for maximum effect).
We're building something here, and it leads to God.
And man, it's frustrating when the people don't play along. It's frustrating when things don't go according to plan. It's like having the birthday girl sneak in through a back door and ask, "Why are you all crouched behind the couch? And is that cake in the kitchen for me?" No, no, no, this is not how it was supposed to go! This is not what we planned for!
The truth is that if our primary concern is that God show up in our services, if our absolute aim is that our people come to experience and encounter Him in our churches, if we want the Lord living among us in vibrant fellowship and beautiful community, then we ought to be doing everything we can to facilitate His movement among us. We ought to be making room for God to do whatever God wants to do and let the presence of the Lord become organic among us, a natural outflow of our being together and looking toward Him.
Not of our coming together and looking at us.
We ought to turn our house lights up and let God out of our planograms. We ought to boldly proclaim, The Lord lives and moves among us when we are gathered as His people! We ought to make space for the testimony of the Holy Spirit and let our people tell us where God showed up for them on Sunday morning, whether that's in our well-rehearsed worship, our painstakingly-crafted sermon, or the witness of the guy three pews over or the mom two rows back or the grandparent two sections away or even the little kid who yells, "Daddy!" during the prayer (it's happened; it was hilariously adorable). We ought to not only make space for it, but we ought to expect it.
...and we ought not let ourselves be threatened by it.
For, I don't know about you, but I would rather our people walk out of our churches and say, "The Lord is truly among us," than to walk out and say, "That was a good service."
After all, shouldn't our real "service" be to the glory of the Lord?