A few years ago another pastor and I traveled to Orlando to attend a church conference.
One afternoon we had a break, so we decided to take a “field trip” to Disney World and experience the park from a leadership perspective, asking ourselves what makes the park “the happiest place on earth” as Disney parks are known.
We interviewed anyone who would talk to us and learned unforgettable lessons. The signage was amazing. The attention to detail was spectacular. Everything was done to create “just the perfect moment” for people from all over the world.
But the thing that stuck with me the most was what happened in the parking lot as we arrived. Boarding the tram, I noticed a car in the distance with all four doors open wide and security guards rummaging through it.
I leaned over to the tram driver and said, “Terrorists?”
“No, tourists,” he replied. “They left their car running, doors wide open, and ran for the entrance.”
I said, “That has to be the most hysterical thing I’ve ever heard. Has it ever happened before?”
He looked at me over his shoulder and said, “About five or six times a day!”
Over the years I’ve been to Disney World a few times, and I’ve been in a few small groups committed to living out Jesus’ message. I have to say that my initial excitement for Disney blew away my initial interest in being a part of my groups. When we first met in homes or at the church, it was more than a little awkward.
It took time to get to know one another and to trust each other. We had to navigate through the initial stages of personality conflicts and power struggles. We had to say good-bye to a few people who found out they really weren’t interested in doing life Jesus’ way. Yet over time, as we stuck with it, a simple mystery began to unfold: Jesus showed up.
On occasion we’d sense his presence, and then it would be gone. Over time, the deeper we shared, the harder we prayed, and the more we encouraged each other to obey, the more he seemed to leave his footprints in the carpet of the room.
Those times together created a thirst unlike anything I had ever experienced. On those days I had to make sure I turned my car off and shut my car doors; I was that excited about being together with my friends.
The only difference between those times and the few times I walked onto Main Street, U.S.A.® in Orlando was that my experience with my Christian friends was real.
Yours will be too, if you take a risk and start small.
I bring this up because I’m convinced this is what Christians are really looking for: an authentic experience of the risen Jesus experiencd in community with others.
The problem is this doesn’t happen by accident, and it isn’t an experience that can be packaged and “offered” to people. You’re not going to find it by visiting another church.
Only those who are willing to put down roots and invest in real community experience it.
Everyone else just gets to talk about it.