Let’s face it church can be a tough place. We look around and we ourselves that everyone is doing better than we are, that no one there understands our problems. Because of these lies we often will not respond to what God is telling us. Because of these lies we often refuse to walk the aisle and talk to the pastor. Because of these lies we refuse to go the front and kneel in prayer. Because of these lies we refuse to do all of these things and more, even though our spirit screams at us to do them.
We refuse for fear of what the perfect people around us might think. Will they think that there is something wrong with me? Will they no longer want to be my friend? Will they treat me differently? All these questions and more arise and, ultimately, keep us paralyzed in our spot. I’m sure I’m not alone when I share that many times I have felt the need to go up from and pray and have let fear stop me. Many times I have felt the need to kneel right were I stood and pray and have not. Many times I have felt the Holy Spirit urging me in a certain direction and have ignored it for fear of what others might think.
What if there was no judgment? Something that I have often done in children’s church and at camps is to start by telling the kids that this is a judgment free zone. In that place we will not wonder why someone is going up front to pray. We will not laugh at someone who goes up front, asks a question, or shares something. We will not talk with people afterwards about why they went up front, unless we truly care about them and want to help. We will not make fun of someone who sings with passion, but without talent. This is what I tell the kids. The goal is to get them all more comfortable with the idea of responding to the voice of God, to the moving of the Holy Spirit.
The system isn’t perfect. I have seen the “Judgment Free Zone” help. I have seen kids more open to God. However, it is not perfect. Just like anything else in life we have to be reminded. Sometimes I will actually post signs around the room that say “Judgment Free Zone”. It is not perfect, but I have seen some kids step up in ways that they may not have otherwise.
Shouldn’t it all be judgment free? While I have tried to build a judgment free environment in children’s church, does one exist in the rest of the church? Are our Sunday school classes or small groups places where people can be completely transparent and honest? Some of these groups are very good at this, but others are not so good. Certainly most worship centers are not judgment free zones. Pastors may say that in their church everyone is welcome to come up front and pray or to respond to God however they feel led. However, is this really true? What has the pastor done to ensure people that they can respond to God’s calling? What has he done to urge the congregation not to judge? Chances are nothing has been done.
I don’t intend this to be an attack on pastors. I think in most churches there exists an assumption that their environments are judgment free. There is an assumption that people will feel comfortable coming down front to pray, or to kneel and pray where they are, or to otherwise respond to God’s speaking how they feel they need to. However, I can speak from my own experience that I have felt uncomfortable doing these things. I have had moments where I just feel the need to kneel and pray during a worship service, but worried what people would think. After all, I was on staff. What sort of problems could I have that could have me so emotional, or kneeling in the front of the church praying?
So what? What can we really do about this? Well, for starters we can start by talking about it. Maybe this is in a sermon series on the subject. Maybe it is something you encourage your Sunday school classes to discuss. Maybe it is something that you cover on a regular basis during your announcements, at least for a time. Maybe it is something pastor says while moving into the response time. The exact method is not important. What is important is making sure that the people that enter a worship service at your church know that if they hear from God during that service that they can feel comfortable responding to that.Matt Norman
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