Late Wednesday afternoon, I had the joyous opportunity to stop into one of my favorite places in the world, The Heorot Pub and Draught House in Muncie, IN. There’s something beautiful about the Heorot. Every time I visit, I’m overcome with an overwhelming sense of peace, joy, rest and comfort. In all honest, there is some kind of spiritual connection for me at the Heorot, as my soul feels at ease as soon as I walk through the doors.
This afternoon, I found myself listening to Jim White vs. The Packway Handle Band’s song “Jim 3:16”. My favorite lyrics say: “Half my life I lived in fear I’d burn in hell, but now it’s clear, that a bar is just a church that serves beer.”
Currently, I’m reading a book called “The Beer Drinker’s Guide to God: The Whole and Holy Truth about Lager, Loving, and Living.”
Put these experiences together, and it’s easy to understand why the line “a bar is just a church that serves beer” keeps running through my head. As I think about the line, I found myself thinking, “I wish more churches were like bars.” Let’s be honest, some bars tend to be a little bit more fun, welcoming, hospitable, friendly, and full of life than some churches.
Wednesday at the Heorot, as soon as I sat down, the bartender acknowledged me, finished dealing with another customer, and quickly made his way over. The bartender was friendly and knowledgeable. He was able to give in-depth descriptions of various offerings and give helpful suggestions. After placing my order, he kind of gave an affirming acknowledgement of my selection and quickly had a tasty pint of People’s Notorious BIP in front of me (I think I was missing my Lafayette friends just a bit)! He also made small talk and continually checked on me to make sure I was having a pleasant experience. He made me feel welcomed, but did not overwhelm me as if he was desperate for my business. Later, we realized some of our mutual connections to the Muncie music scene of the 90’s and did some reminiscing!
After my experience with a friendly and knowledgeable bartender, I found myself wondering who are the bartenders at church? Who are the people who are friendly, knowledgeable, and making sure guests have a pleasant experience? Are our bartenders welcoming, but not pushy and overwhelming? I can think of a few churches I’ve visited where the hospitality staff have obviously read some books, developed a system, and by golly, they are going to work that system. And, it goes one of two ways…it is cold and impersonal or it is a bit too much. Of course, there is the way of being totally ignored, which I’ve also experienced at a number of churches. Okay, maybe I’m being too hard on the church. There are a few who get it right! Back to the bar…If I asked my bartender a question about any number of the ridiculous number of beers at the Heorot, he would have been able to give me a wealth of information. Not only that, with a few simple questions, he could point me in the direction of something new and different that might be of interest. Again, who are the bartenders at church?
In between conversations with the bartender, another patron quickly struck up a conversation. It was a very interesting conversation. It started with an invitation to play chess (which he had learned to play at the Heorot). We then talked about music and the beautiful city of Muncie. As we continued our conversation, he opened up about his multiple trips to prison and some time he had spent at the state hospital in Richmond. He talked about his family in Kentucky, his various jobs, prison food, and gambling in Vegas. He talked about how he’d been through some rough phases, but things seemed to be going well now.
After my experience talking with my fellow patron, I found myself wondering if the church is creating safe places where people can be open, honest, and vulnerable? This guy opened up almost immediately. Granted, the beverages being served may have helped loosen the atmosphere. But, I wonder if those of us in the church (especially those of us in leadership positions) are more focused on keeping up appearances than being real? How many times, when we ask “how are you doing” do we get the routine answers of “great”, “fine”, “pretty good”, “I’m blessed”, and so on? Do we have environments in the church where people can have a sense of safety, trust, and love that they can be fully honest? Do we have places in the church where it is okay to not be okay?
While I was talking and enjoying my beverage, an older gentleman began playing the piano. He played some boogie-woogie, honky tonk, walkin’ bass swingy goodness. Seriously, he was jamming! He even threw in a couple of familiar hymns! Nothing like hearing a nice Charles Wesley melody while sitting in your favorite pub! But, it wasn’t a performance. It was fun and carefree, yet beautiful! It helped usher in a sense of pure joy!
So, while listening to the gentleman play the piano, I found myself wondering if the church is too focused on performance and perfection? This guy wasn’t performing. He wasn’t perfect. But, it was enjoyable, moving, fun, and excellent (remember, excellent doesn’t always mean perfect)! I wonder if there are folks who would be willing to share their talents if we weren’t so focused on “the show” of church/worship?
It was also spontaneous. I wonder if there is any room for spontaneity in the church? I mean, I suppose we’re all up for the movement of the Holy Spirit, as long as it fits within our regularly scheduled services!
This evening, I find myself wondering what the church can learn from the bar. While we in the church may view the bar as part of our mission field, we just might have something to learn from the bar.