Our family goes to a lot of churches. At most of the churches we go to we are first time guests, so we get to experience what visitors do the first time they pull into a parking lot, check a child into the nursery, or hear a worship band start off the service. There are always variations to the way different churches do things, but for the most part, we know what to expect. A few months ago, I went to a biker church. A church…for bikers.
When I walked in, I immediately felt out of place. I didn’t know anybody, and the vibe was more like a bar with a nursery than a church. It was dimly lit and furnished darkly with Harley posters, advertisements, and a lot of chrome. A wall or vinyl records was the stage backdrop. There was a snack bar where folks of all ages bought Mountain Dew and cheese puffs before service started.
The vibe was more like a bar with a nursery than a church.
After I got over my initial self-consciousness, I began to take in what was happening around me. What follows are a few of my paradigms that were shifted by being a part of a biker church for a night.
Worship doesn’t have to mean corporate singing. When I was a young teenager, a band I was in rewrote the words to Sweet Home Alabama, calling the song Sweet Home Up in Heaven. It was a fun parody that I enjoyed playing, but that’s all it was: A parody. At the biker church, service started with the band playing “Some Kind of Wonderful,” talking about Jesus. Some people sat and listened, while others clapped along or stood and grooved to the music. A few others took pictures and video. Yet, it wasn’t a performance. It was a group of people corporately enjoying and appreciating good music while reflecting on the words.
There were a few other songs that I had never heard before, and as the music continued I learned to take the pressure off of myself that I should be singing along and tried to take in the lyrics. Toward the close of the music portion, the lead singer broke off into some prophetic singing that cut right to the heart, putting into words the feelings shared by many people gathered in the room. Sensing the heart repair that was happening, I began to cry when his gravely baritone repeated soulfully, “You’re not a failure…you’re not a failure…”
Eating together is vital. After the service was finished, they served dinner. I had an almost two hour drive home, so I decided to head home rather than eat. As I tried to back out of my parking spot, my little car got stuck in the snow. There was no getting out without help. After I struggled for a few minutes, four guys came to my rescue (there’s no better place to get stuck in the snow than a biker church!). One guy asked, “You aren’t staying for the rest of service?” It was then I realized that service hadn’t ended at the “closing” prayer. The meal was still the service. The early church came together often for common meals (Acts 2:46), as an act of the body, not as an ancillary event.
Eating together, not sitting in rows listening to a sermon, is where we become the church. It’s where relationships are started or solidified, and where we bond together to branch out and take care of widows, feed orphans, and make disciples.
There are marginalized people everywhere. During his sermon, the pastor explained why the church was called “Broken Chains Biker Church,” explaining how Jesus breaks the chains of bondage and frees us. As he explained the imagery, he showed an image of an inmate in an orange jumpsuit with shackles on his hands and feet. He said, “Many of us have been bound by literal chains before,” getting a chuckle from the people in the room who, indeed, had been incarcerated.
He also explained how the church was started to reach the marginalized–the outcasts whom society had thrown to the curb. I was sitting in a room full of people who may, indeed, have been in prison before, who had made mistakes and had been perhaps excluded from even their own families. These people might even be excluded from traditional church environments because of their look, their tattoos, or just because their life experiences led them away from a traditional path. Marginalized people need the love of Jesus, who breaks every chain and changes our lives, even though we can’t change our pasts.
Marginalized people need the love of Jesus, who breaks every chain and changes our lives.
When I think about how to define church, I default to thinking about the environment that I grew up in; suburban, contemporary with a good measure of traditional, families doing the journey together. But maybe what you think is different, or maybe you don’t feel like you fit into what others see as quintessential church. From my time at this biker church, I learned that church is a group of people striving together to follow Jesus, no matter where we are in the journey.
When we go to Spain, not only will we have to redefine what church is to us, we will be working with people who don’t have a default setting. Most people don’t have any experience with Christianity at all. Today, I pray that God would speak to us, that we could see the people that don’t fit our mold and realize that Jesus wants everyone to have a seat at the table.