Sometimes it’s hard to be a first-time or even second or third time visitor at a church. There might be questions. There might be confusing things. You might not feel as “righteous” as you thing you need to be.
It’s okay to be unsure, confused, or even a bit scared when you first visit a church, including St. Paul’s. And we encourage you to ask questions! Don’t assume that every church in town looks and acts like that 10,000 member church in Dallas, Texas! Every church is a little different, has a culture all its own, certain expectations, and, let’s face it, is full of people.
At St. Paul’s, we want to help you as much as we can so that you are as informed and confident as you can be both before you visit and while you are here. So, we’ve put together a list of questions that you might ask and have tried our best to answer. If you have a question for us that isn’t in this list, please contact us.
Oftentimes a visitor’s first time at a church can seem intimidating. After all, isn’t the church supposed to be full of “righteous” people who never sin, sort of like the Flanders on The Simpsons?
In truth, we are all sinful people. We all fall short of God’s perfect requirements of the Law all the time. Yes, even the pastor is a sinner. Sometimes it’s tempting to “judge” a church as “full of hypocrites”, and often those in the unbelieving world do just that.
But it’s true! The church IS full of hypocrites. Jesus says in the Bible that He did not come for the “healthy” but for the “sick (Mark 2:17). If a church doesn’t have people who struggle with sin and temptation, then it’s not really a church!
So, when you come, rest assured that no one will look down on you, “judge” you or threaten to cast you out if you don’t live up to better standards. And, if someone does, be patient and kind; that person might be having a bad day.
But do keep this in mind: God calls His holy Church to proclaim the WHOLE/FULL council of God! This includes both Law and Gospel. You may very well hear something preached by the pastor that hits you the wrong way, or you might sing a hymn and the words seem very “judgmental” or “negative” or make you a bit uncomfortable.
Understand, this is part of the life of a faithful church! Church/preaching and songs/hymns, it’s not about making you feel good about yourself. It’s about drawing sinners to repentance and forgiveness. Because God loves us, He does not hide or bury the truth but fully exposes it in us. Inasmuch as our children do not like to be disciplined, we, who are sinful, do not like to be disciplined. But the Lord, by His Word, disciplines us because He loves us.
So, if you hear something that hits a nerve in you, don’t immediately blame the pastor or the church or the denomination, etc. First, look at yourself, your life and your lifestyle and allow the Law of God to expose you in the light of truth. We’re all sinners here! And eternal salvation is far more important than temporary pleasures, individual rights, or cultural trends. Take to heart what the Lord says in His Word or through His Church and pastors. Repent and trust in God’s mercy.
We try hard to welcome you, shake your hand, and strike up a conversation, but sometimes in the hustle and bustle, we may miss you. The best thing to do in that situation is to walk up to the pastor (you can’t miss him, he’s wearing a white collar and black shirt OR he’s leading the service) and say “hi”.
If you’re like some people, you may not want to be noticed. That’s okay. Rest assured that you are welcome to sit in the back and just watch the service or even if you should sneak out before the closing hymn, it’s fine. Please do, however, sign our guest book, or fill out a visitor card so the pastor or an elder can send you a letter or get in touch with you.
Ugg, we live in a strange world. And it should be totally unheard of that church leaders fall for these most egregious of sins. Children are loved by God. Jesus invites children of all ages to to font of Holy Baptism to receive His blessings of salvation and forgiveness. And, let’s face it: the church needs children!
At St. Paul’s we are committed to not only a fun and learning-centered atmosphere for our kids, but we are also very committed to a safe and friendly environment where you can bring your kids and know they’re in good hands. Our pastors are regularly trained in both the theological and ethical treatment of children (and adults), and our volunteers are expected to approach all children with the same love and compassion as the Lord.
We will teach our children the truth, even if the culture around us despises us for it, because it is the truth of Christ who died and rose again that sets us free!
This question sort of dances with the spirit of subjectivity and individuality. Sadly, this is the world we live in today. We’re a consumerist society where, at the push of a button, we can get our food just how we want it, our clothing in just the color and size we want, where we can find a date by perusing a screen or an app.
However, Christianity and Christian worship….it doesn’t really work this way. See, we don’t gather for worship just to worship ourselves. We gather to worship the Lord of heaven and earth, the creator of all things, the God who is over all, amen!
And when we spend our time focusing on how “we” feel or what “we’re” getting from the service, we’re not listening to the Lord; we’re not paying attention to what He has to say, and ultimately we leave with very little.
The job of the church or the worship service is not to entertain the audience. The job of the church or the worship service (what we call the “Divine Service”, and for good reason) is to deliver God’s Word and promises to you! You gather before Him in Word and Sacrament to receive, receive, receive, and then to give back to Him in praise and thanksgiving.
So, is the service going to be boring? If you want it to be boring, it will be boring. Is the sermon going to be hard to follow? If you want it to be hard to follow, then it will be. But if you are willing to trust the Lord for about an hour once every week, willing to put your individuality aside and your wants and desires and judgments aside for 1 hour among 168 you are given each week, then you will leave the Lord’s service to you filled with His Spirit, more knowledgeable, and with a desire to return for more.
St. Paul’s uses the ancient liturgies and hymns of the Church, some dating back to within 100 years of Christ Himself. We also use hymns and liturgies written within the last few years. Lutherans have a HUGE repertoire of music, and we love to use it. But we strive to use hymns and liturgies which rightly teach the faith. So, no, you won’t find your favorite praise hymn from the top-20 charts, and you won’t find a pastor wearing skinny jeans and rectangular-shaped/black-framed glasses. You won’t find a band standing in front. Instead you will find the Word of the Lord rightly taught from the pulpit, in the hymns and throughout the liturgy, and you will find the Sacraments properly administered. This is what the Lord gives and it is all you need!
In a word: NO. You can dress however you want…well…sort of.
As Christians, we are not to draw attention to ourselves, especially in the gathering of God’s people before Word and Sacrament. Our focus must be on the Lord.
So, while we do not require a certain type of clothing or attire for church (no “Sunday Best”), we do ask that you dress modestly, that you try not to make yourself the center of attention. Judge for yourself: how do you want people to dress when they come to your home for a Thanksgiving meal or a Christmas dinner? When you come to church, try to do likewise. It’s not all about you, it’s “all about Jesus!”
No, snake handling isn’t in the Bible. No, showing one’s “faith” by playing with dangerous animals isn’t good. We are not to put the Lord to the test.
But, when you come to St. Paul’s, you may notice that we don’t operate like the mainline churches that you see on TV. We continue to, for the most part, practice “historic” things. 500 years ago, when Martin Luther started the Reformation, he didn’t totally abandon or throw out everything that the Roman Catholic church did. He reformed the bad/unbiblical things (teachings and practices) and he kept the good/biblical things. For example, pastors still wear the historic clothing of the Church such as albs, stoles, chasubles, etc. The sanctuaries are still setup with the historic furnishings such as the altar and the pulpit. We still do processionals with the cross held high. We still chant parts of the liturgy.
There’s all sorts of things that we do…because they’ve always been done in the Church! And we read a LOT of Scripture!
So, if you’re more acquainted with the American, pop-Christian culture, it’ll take a few Sundays to get used to us. But rest assured that the liturgies and traditions we use are for YOUR benefit! They teach you the Christian faith at every moment; you are literally surrounded with Christ and His Word!
Confessional Lutheran churches, such as St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, are firmly committed to the Biblical preaching and teaching of Law and Gospel. You are a sinner. But the Lord love to save sinners! You are broken, but the Lord fixes the broken. You are weak; the Lord makes you strong in Christ.
So, is there hope? Always! And at St. Paul’s, you will experience the hope and salvation of the Lord in all your senses. You will see what the Lord had done for you as you look around the sanctuary. You will taste and know of the very body and blood of the Lord that He gave and shed for you. You will hear the voice of the Lord as He speaks to you His word. On occasion you will smell the prayers of the children of God ascend to the Lord who hears. And you will feel the Lord as He makes His way to you through Word and Sacrament and through the welcoming handshakes and hugs of His people.
If you desire to know more, or have more questions, please contact us. Or better yet, why not stop by? We worship every Sunday at 9:00am, and we meet for Bible Study every Wednesday evening at 7:00pm.