When you think about going to church, what do you picture? Take a moment—get that image in your mind. Do you see it? Can you identify the type of emotions you experience?
Some of us have beautiful images, thoughts, and experiences associated with going to church. Others of us, not so much. Perhaps it’s a little bit of both. More one than the other, but still both. Then, there are some of you reading this who have nothing to go by except what you have heard or read. All of that is okay! Your experience is your experience. It is real and you should be believed when you share your own experience with others.
I am not trying to suggest that all experiences should be either good or bad. I only want you to have a picture in your mind so that you have something to reimagine with me.
For those of us who have a church experience, there are probably a few things most of our experiences have in common. There is a building. There is a pastor. There is someone in charge of music; another person for children; another for teenagers. There is a list of do’s and a longer list of don’ts. Many of both the do’s and the don’ts are rooted more in someone’s preference than something found in the Bible. There are things we like, things we don’t like, and some things that leave lingering questions in our minds. Again, I’m not saying any one experience is good, bad, or anything else. These are simply our experiences.
From the early stages of childhood, our brains begin to record our experiences as data. Some of that data is immediately processed, resulting in a behavior or other action. Other pieces of data are stored away as fragments. New experiences leave behind additional fragments, and this repeats over and over again until our brains possess enough related data to form an opinion about something or someone. A lot of data is stored so deep that we are not able to recall it on demand; yet, if something happens that is reminiscent of that experience, the memory races to the forefront of our minds and—you guessed it—triggers an emotional response from us.
We are usually unaware of our triggers, unless we’ve done some work to discover and even recover from them. Until we are aware of them—and have subsequently done work to move beyond our initial visceral response, we are subject to them. We sometimes even allow our triggers to become our guide for living. If we experience an emotional response to a certain thing all of the time, we may come to believe our response is telling us the truth about that thing, or place, or person. This may be true regardless if the response is negative or if it is a positive one. Generally, when we are of sound mind and operating with clear judgement, our inner response is telling us the truth—and we should listen. However, if we are not aware of data stored deep in our minds that is at work, we could be mistaking that recalled data as truth and acting upon it.
I like sugar. Sweets make me happy. When I think about moist fudge brownies, I get distracted. When I think of soft chocolate chip, peanut butter, or oatmeal raisin cookies, distraction may turn into dedication—dedication to get some cookies! If there is cake available, with real icing (not that waste of cake whipped cream stuff), there’s a good chance I will have two pieces. The first piece is to see if its good. Once I’ve confirmed it is good, I then go for a second piece to really enjoy. If the cake is good enough, and I am feeling loose, I may have a third piece. Cake is good.
The problem is, I am also a stress eater. My strongest cravings for sugar come at times when I am tired, anxious, or feeling generally overwhelmed—or even depressed. My visceral response to sugar is often being instructed by data deep in my brain… the part of my brain that seeks to self-medicate. Sugar is my medication for stress. If you ever see me eating sugary foods on a weekday and it is not at a special event, chances are that I am stressed or I have already given up on the week!
At this point, you’re probably wondering what any of this has to do with church. That is, unless your church experience is in the African-American church. Then you clearly understand the correlation between church and cake.
I need to reimagine sugar. My relationship with sugar is not a healthy one. There was a time I would put fresh blueberries and cinnamon in my oatmeal. Recently, I’ve reverted back to brown sugar and butter (it’s goodt!). I imagine being able to taste the sugar in blueberries again. I imagine enjoying apples like I used to. I imagine enjoying a diet largely free of processed sugar. I imagine sugar just being an occasional weekend treat and enjoying the taste of naturally occurring food—the way my tongue and sense of smell were designed to. I reimagine church the same way.
When I reimagine what it means to go to church, I imagine being part of a small community of believers who are collectively devoted to biblical teaching; to studying, learning, and growing in knowledge of God’s Word. Where we all have a growth experience of our own as individuals, but also together—where our general understanding progresses as a whole. None of us are trying to outdo one another; rather, we are encouraging each other, spurring one another on to do good deeds.
‘Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.’ https://my.bible.com/bible/111/HEB.10.23-25Hebrews 10:23-25
When I reimagine what it means to go to church, I imagine being a part of people’s lives. I imagine spending time together, seeing God do miraculous things for us and each other. A community of people who look out for one another. Where people don’t feel ashamed to admit when they need a few dollars to make it to next payday and others in the community are willing to make sacrifices with their own resources to help the one in need make it.
‘They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.’ https://my.bible.com/bible/111/ACT.2.42-47Acts 2:42-47
Do you see it? Can you imagine the types of emotions that might cause you to experience?
I can see it. I see being engaged with people who are happy and authentic when we are together. I can see being part of a church like this. God gave me a vision for a church like this. God gave a vision for a church where He is made known; where His name is made great, because disciples are being made. He gave me a vision for a Christian community in which people grow as they go through life together. A church where the people love one another, in Christ, and spread that love everywhere they are and every place they go.
God gave me a vision and now I am reimagining what it means to go to church.
Keith Goosby II is the founding minister of NET Church. He has served in ministry for over 20 years, in various capacities–including music, social media management, teaching, preaching, consulting, and leadership. Keith’s first church experience as a child was a home church. Since then, he has attended and served at churches sizing from just a few to over 10,000–of various denominations and affiliations. As NET Church is being planted, Keith continues to serve at his Dallas home church, Golden Gate MBC, in Dallas, TX, under the leadership of Minister Vincent T. Parker. Keith is married and currently lives in the Dallas area with his wife and three sons.
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