When a Church Service Takes a Turn for the Worse
Have you ever read “The Coffee Shop That Changed a Church?” It is a book that I wrote that was published in 2014. It is the story of a young pastor in his first church and the struggles he has moving his church forward. I wanted to share one of my favorite chapters this week. The book is available in all formats and I hope that you will check it out if you have never read. You will be encouraged. For today, enjoy this excerpt from the chapter entitled: Ode to Tammy.
Ode to Tammy
Sunday, March 2nd
Mitch felt like a celebrity walking in public as he made his way from his office to the worship center for the forthcoming service. However, it was not his autograph that people were seeking. He was excited about his message, as he planned to begin a series today to equip the congregation to share their faith and had settled on the theme of “I Witness” for the five Sunday mornings in March. That is, if he ever made it to the worship center. Seven or eight people surrounded him, seeking answers to questions or simply wanting his attention. The clamoring seemed unusually high compared to most Sundays. Just a coincidence, I suppose, or maybe it’s this new cologne that the commercials suggest make a man irresistible.
“Pastor, can you play a song for my husband again this year?” It was Mrs. Hudson. She had wedged her way between a little girl and two other ladies that all seemed to be trying to talk to Mitch at the same time.
“I don’t know if we can play a cassette, Mrs. Hudson,” Mitch said as he reached out and took it from her hand. Mrs. Hudson lost her husband the year before Mitch was called as pastor, and she always requested a tribute song in his memory on the week of the anniversary of his passing. Deference was given to her request because Mr. Hudson had served as the music director for many years. Mitch was sympathetic but felt pressed for time. Fortunately, he saw Darlene Flynn, who now led the music each week, exiting the choir room. “Darlene,” Mitch said over the buzz of the small crowd in the hallway. “Can we still play cassettes on our system?”
“Sure, we can do that. What do you need?”
“Mrs. Hudson requested we play a memorial song again this year in honor of her husband.”
“Actually, Joy West was supposed to sing the special music today, but she’s sick. How about if we play it while the offering is being received?”
“That’s fine. You take care of it.” Mitch looked at the cassette to catch the name of the song. It was not marked, so he assumed it would be Beulah Land, just like last year. He hoped it was not Precious Memories as she had requested the first year. That was much too somber and had made the time of worship feel like a funeral service.
“My grandson made sure it was already cued up,” Mrs. Hudson said to Darlene as she took the cassette and headed to the worship center to make the adjustments to the order of service.
Mitch made it into the worship service just in time to go to the platform to make the church announcements before the service began. At least there had been no crisis situations or distractions to take his attention away from his message; it was just one of those days where several people happened to converge on him at once.
He was very excited about his message and the potential impact of getting more members committed to personally sharing their faith. The congregation seemed to be singing with a bit more enthusiasm today, and the service was made to order as it set the stage for his message.
He called the ushers forward to receive the morning offering. “This morning before we pray for our tithes and offerings, I want us to remember Mrs. Hudson on the anniversary of the death of Mr. Hudson three years ago. I did not know him personally, but I know that he was well-beloved by this congregation and faithfully served as music director in addition to many other leadership roles for many years. We thank God for his faithfulness, his testimony, and the knowledge that he is in a better place, serving in the presence of the Father. As the offering is received, we will prayerfully reflect as we listen to one of his favorite songs. Tim, would you lead our offertory prayer?”
Mitch quietly stepped down from the platform and sat next to Melinda on the front row as Tim prayed. He bowed his head and began to pray his own prayer, seeking God’s blessing on all he was about to share. God, let your words shine forth through me with clarity and conviction that your people might faithfully carry forth your gospel into this community.
“Amen,” Tim said as he concluded the offertory prayer and the ushers turned with offering plates in hand to pass throughout the congregation. The service was packed, in stark contrast to the snowy day only three weeks before. Thankfully no snow this week, Mitch was thinking. Thank goodness it’s not “Precious Memories” again was his next thought. At least Beulah Land has a little pep to it. It was not Mitch’s preferred song, but it was at least tolerable. Wait, it’s not “Beulah Land” either…. It was evidently going to be a Southern Gospel favorite or something with a country flavor, Mitch could tell, as the guitars twanged the opening bars of the song. He kept his head bowed to affirm the dignity of such a moment as this. These types of spontaneous moments were what made small congregations special, and he was glad that he could oblige Mrs. Hudson. He also knew it would give him credibility with many of the older members.
A very pretty country voice kicked in the opening lyrics. “Sometimes it’s hard to be a wu-maaan,” the song began. Huh? “Givin’ all your luv to just one ma-an.” Is that Tammy Wynette? “You’ll have ba-ad times, and he’ll have good times.” Mitch’s eyes opened as he recognized the number one country song of all time that was being played just before his sermon. “Doing thangs that you don’t under-sta-and.” Oh no! Mitch looked over at Melinda. Their eyes met in looks of disbelief as the recorded voice belted out one of the most famous lines in country music history. “Stand by your man. Give him two arms to cli-iing too, and sumthin’ warm to come to, when nights are cold and lonely. Stand by your man…”
This cannot be happening. Some smart alec near the back shouted, “Amen.” Melinda looked at Mitch and grinned.
“Stand by your ma-an, and show tha world you lu-uv him…” Melinda’s grin turned to a quiet giggle. Mitch was trying not to laugh. Within seconds, Melinda was giggling uncontrollably. From the back, they may have assumed she was sobbing, but she was on the edge of losing it and suddenly bolted for the door so that she would not laugh out loud. Thankfully she was not still on crutches, or she would not have made it out. As she dashed out the door next to the piano, the song came to its crescendo. “Keep givin’ all the luv you caaaaaaaan. Stand by yower maaaaaaan!” More amens were heard. Smart alecs!
Mitch stood and made his way to the platform, going as slowly as he could, trying to figure out how he could possibly segue from the song to his message. He turned and saw Mrs. Hudson wiping tears from her eyes. “Mrs. Hudson, that was a beautiful song,” he began. I might as well just go with it, he thought. “And you were faithful and did stand by him through all of your years together. We wish he was still with us, but we are thankful that we know he’s with the Lord. Let me ask all of you. Isn’t that what we want to be able to say about any of those we love who precede us into eternity? How do we stand by those we hold most dear?” Somehow he managed to transition from that point to his opening illustration. By God’s grace he rescued the message–and had a story that he would repeat dozens of times to other pastors in the years to come. Melinda did make it quietly back into the service. She knew how important it was to stand by her man, whether or not she was reminded to do so by Tammy Wynette.