There are few things in this life that are a true guarantee...death, taxes, slow service at McDonald's, and whiny, complaining Christians. If I were a betting man, I'd also be a wealthy man by betting that every time we ever receive a whiny, criticizing, complaining comment about our church, it's coming from a Christian. Sometimes it's from our own folks, more often it's from a first (and usually only) time guest.
We Christians love to come to church with expectations...whether our own church, or a church we're visiting for the first time, we feel like we should be able to read the name of a church and automatically know what to expect from our experience on Sunday morning. We expect a certain style of music. We expect that the preacher will and won't say certain things. We expect that we'll be allowed to do certain things with our kids and not allowed to do other things with the way we dress. I'll be the first to admit that I've done my fair share of Christian complaining and whining.
But, at Nags Head Church, although it's not our top priority to simply be different, it seems that our desire to "reach people to discover life in Christ" leads us to throw a lot of the normal Christian expectations out the window. Our music and preaching style is not very "baptist"-like, although we are a baptist church. Our building and facilities are modern and brand new, although our church is actually over 50 years old. Our ministry philosophy and systems are forward thinking, even though we hold to centuries-old, traditional church and family values. We do try to communicate who we are to people before we come, but most people like to trust their own experience about church more than what we try to communicate.
And, although we have a very good reason (I would argue, the most important reason in all the world) to do things differently, many people can't see past their own Christian church expectations to realize that we're not randomly doing things just to make their church experience unfamiliar and uncomfortable.
Take the young family of tourists who arrives 15 minutes late to our 11am worship gathering and gets upset with us because we won't allow their kids to go to Kids Church and our Nursery...they even say to us, "I would expect your church to value families enough to keep your kids stuff open for us tourists who come late..."
Yeah, well...actually, we value families so much, that we won't allow a single kid to walk in more than a few minutes late and interrupt the flow of 20 other kids who are totally engulfed in Kids Church, or allow a single baby to go to the nursery more than a few minutes late and cause 10 other babies to start crying because they think it's mommy coming to get them. We value families so much that we give "perks" to those people who actually show up on time (you can even get some coffee and donuts if you come a little early). It's cool with us that you think we're selfish jerks who don't care enough about families, and we sincerely hope you find a better place to care for your kids. Unfortunately, we don't have time to explain that to everyone...
Take the older couple who arrives early, takes the time to check out our building, grabs a seat before the gathering begins, observes our modern auditorium, stage lighting, rock band set-up, heavy-duty sound system and then gets up and leaves half-way through the third song, only to call and leave a message on our answering machine later that morning to ask, "Do you have a rock concert every Sunday?"
Yeah, well...actually, we have a room full of about 200-300 people (times two) every Sunday who are offered an engaging and relevant worship environment and invited to freely express their worship to God, most of whom take us up on that invitation on some level. We believe that God enjoys music and singing that come from a heart of worship and that He wants the church to be a place of life and joy and creativity, and we make certain that our website, our building, our parking lot, our lobby, and everything else about us screams who we are loud and clear so that those who think church is best done as a black and white funeral service can decide quickly and quietly to attend elsewhere. It's cool with us if you don't like our style, and we sincerely hope you can find a better place to worship. Unfortunately, we don't have time to explain that to everyone...
We don't have time to explain to everyone who doesn't like us why they should. We can't afford to use time and energy convincing people who already know God when we've been called to reach those who are far from God. It's hard to get past the whining and criticisms...it's hard not to take it personally.
Whining and nitpicking and complaining, especially coming from those who should know better, is such a downer. We've been walking through the story of Moses on Sunday mornings, and we're currently in the middle of the desert with the nation of Israel...oh, how they love to complain and whine about everything. How completely they forget their miraculous exodus from slavery and poverty in Egypt. How quickly their hearts turn time and again from the God who has kept the safe and fed in the middle of a desert. We should have much to learn from the story of Moses and the exodus...
I'll be honest, if left to my own personal preferences, even some things in my own church would look and feel and sound different. But, life is too short and our mission too great for us to spend so much time complaining about how unfamiliar and uncomfortable a one hour church service is. It's not about me...it's about loving God and loving people. The people who come to church on Sunday mornings to give (worship to God and encouragement to others) are always the ones who walk away having received the most.
There are some obvious reasons why we love unchurched guests and children so much at NHC. There is also a secret reason...they never complain...