A Note: We all love music, don’t we? I haven’t met anyone who doesn’t. It is a wonderful way for humans to communicate some of their deepest feelings. I have occasionally referenced songs in my sermons and have written whole articles inspired by lyrics on this blog. There is so much good theology out there in today’s music, even when it’s not from a “Christian” artist (though I’m tempted to change “even” to “especially”). This post is in line with the other reviews I’ve done of songs that attempt to extract a theological truth whether the artist intended it or not.
Since moving to Houston Megan and I have been on the hunt for a new home. There are a number of things we are considering when looking at a house. The number of bedrooms and bathrooms, the size of the kitchen, and where all my Red Sox memorabilia will go.
But honestly, one thing that I would love in a new house is a front porch. My childhood home didn’t have one, and neither did our last house in Nashville. And yet, having a front porch just seems like a rite of passage for any homeowner. It is Americana through and through. So many movies feature homes with a big front porch and a swing on it where the happy family enjoys the summer nights chatting among friends. Clearly, my imagination has run wild with this idea.
But lo, Houston houses are not known for their front porches, and so my dream will have to wait until a later date.
It is not surprising that with porches on my mind a song from Joy Williams stuck out to me when I heard it on the radio. You’ll never guess the title… it’s called “Front Porch.”
The song is an invitation or call to come back home—to return to the familiar front porch where so many memories were made. It’s clear she’s singing to someone she loves and deeply misses. The chorus goes like this:
“If never you find what you’re looking for
Come on back to the front porch
Say my name through the screen door
Come on back to the front porch
Whatever you’ve done, it doesn’t matter
'Cause darling we're all a little splintered and battered
But the light is on, what you waiting for?
Come on back, come on back to the front porch.”
Distance truly does make the heart grow fonder. I think all of us can relate to that achy feeling we get in our hearts when we miss someone, or when we long to go back to a memorable time in our life.
And the more I listened to this song the more I thought about our present moment in the church. Both small and big churches are begging their members to come back home. We miss how things used to be. We’ve had over a year to create new Sunday morning habits, and people are not shy admitting that they have gotten out of the rhythm of church life.
Former weekly attendees now come once a month, and those who attended monthly now show up once every six weeks. But sadly, many others haven’t come back at all.
When people see me in a priest collar, I know a lot of things run through their minds—both positive and negative—but I never knew the collar represented the “attendance police.” The moment I bump into an infrequent church member at the grocery store the first thing they do is apologize for not being at church—and then they tell me all the reasons that they haven’t come.
But pastors know they are competing with a lot on Sundays. People have more options now than ever before. Not only is Sunday morning a time when businesses are now open, but kids have games and practices at the same time as worship services. And Lord knows we can’t compete with Netflix or Starbucks. There are plenty of sobering statistics and articles about declining church attendance, especially in my denomination, but our concern is far greater than meeting budgets and filling the pews.
Ultimately, we have an image problem with those inside and outside the church. It seems pretty simple to me: guilt before grace.
The truth is I’m not mad with the folks who’ve stopped attending, and neither are the other pastors I talk to. We simply miss our people. We got into ministry to be in a relationship with people and help them draw close to God. Church is only church when people are gathered together. The Greek word we translate as “church” (ecclesia) literally means assembly. To have a congregation you must have people who are willing to congregate.
Like the song, pastors are saying that it really doesn’t matter where you’ve been or what has kept you from the ecclesia/ assembly. All that matters now is coming back home. It’s time for the people of God to come back home. “We’re all a little splintered and battered. But the light is on, what you waiting for?”
The main thing I’ve learned over the first two weeks at my new church is the power of giving and receiving grace. We all have high expectations for ourselves and others, and when we get down on ourselves, it’s good to give a little grace.
Clearly, we have a lot of work to do in the church. Instead of church members automatically feeling guilty when they see their pastor in a public setting, my prayer is that they will see a church leader who eagerly gives them grace; someone who loves them and cares for them as God’s beloved child. The guilt trip hasn’t worked for us, so we need to get back to a strategy that Jesus proved can work.
Love transforms people. Grace, freely given, transforms people. As Christians, we know that this love and grace flows from the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit directly into the people of God. It’s a transformation that I have yet to experience while watching Netflix or scrolling through my social media at Starbucks.
But it has happened time and again when I surround myself in the ecclesia. In that context, among those people, is where I receive God’s abundant grace, not guilt. It is among that certain kind of assembly that I am not only loved but also challenged to be the person God has called me to be. It is a place of restoration and renewal, healing and hope—which is something I think we are all in desperate need of today.
“If never you find what you’re looking for come on back to the front porch.”
The church may not say this exact line word for word, but it gets to the heart of what we’re trying to do in 2021. We love you. We miss you. Now come back home.