I walked in to the gym, into a large group of people, into a surprising welcome. I felt like the mere fact that I had returned and was going to work out again was celebrated - I felt like I had arrived at a place where I belong.
Now, granted, I'm a regular at the gym, and have been for a couple of years. I'm not new, I'm there pretty frequently, and I show up a different class times, so I get to know more people than just one subset of the gym membership.
Of course some of the people there the other day didn't welcome me back, simply because they don't know me. But the ones who I'd spent tiem with seemed genuinely glad that I had returned.
I'm thinking about three specific families who I've known in my capacity as a pastor. Each of these families had been members of the congregation for at least four years (or as long as 15). For each of these families, life circumstance had taken them away from the congregation for between 6 months and two years.
When life circumstance brought them back, I observed them slip quietly into a pew with hardly any notice from anyone in the congregation.
What's the difference between my gym and many congregation?
- Is it that I spend 2-5 days per week at the gym, while most people spend 2-4 days per month at church. I show up at they gym at least four times more often than most people show up at church?
- Is it that we suffer together at the gym, while most people show up to church acting as if they don't experience suffering at all, and therefore don't need to share suffering?
- Is it that the simple act of showing up at the gym is an implicit (or explicit) admission that we fall short and need improvement, while at church we do our best to hide our faults?
- Is it something else?
These are real questions, and I'm genuinely interested to hear what my eight readers think.