The Results of My Church Visit
Image from marshill.org
This past week, I received a postcard in the mail inviting me to visit a non-denominational church (located about 15-20 minutes away that will remain unnamed). It was a cold invitation (along the lines of “cold call”) addressed to Current Resident of the address where I reside. I hopped onto the website and was thrilled to see the church had a 9 am service since I had an obligation 2 hours later that wouldn’t allow me to attend my regular church. I decided during the week that I’d visit the church to see if I liked it. By the looks of the website, I figured I wouldn’t. It seemed to be a hip, cutting-edge, contemporary, [blah blah blah], post-modern church and my recent experiences with those kind of churches have been a big letdown. I initially intended to attend by myself but when my husband woke up early this morning with nothing better to do, he decided to accompany me, if not for anything, possible MST3K commentary if I hated it. He probably knew from the get-go he’d hate it but probably attended in the hopes of being pleasantly surprised.
If you’ve been a longtime reader of this blog or know me personally, you know that I have a very conservative, orthodox Christian background. As such, our walking into a church that markets itself as cutting-edge is dangerous.
We arrived a bit late and entered the spacious lobby. From about 20-30 feet from the entrance, we could hear the rock music of the praise band blaring and the lead vocalist impressing us with her amazing voice. We were immediately greeted by several people, some of whom were elderly which surprised my husband and I given the way the music was being played. They handed us welcome bags with goodies inside and ushered us into the auditorium where we found plenty of seats in the back row. (We’ll always be Back Row Baptists, I guess!)
The Praise & Worship
My ears wanted to run away from my head as I walked into the auditorium. The volume on the speakers was louder than I liked, especially given that the 9 am crowd was rather sparse. (I gathered from later announcements that of the four services offered, the 10:30 service is the most popular and well attended.)
The singer, who as my husband put it was “Maya Rudolph black” (because I couldn’t tell from where I sat), had an outstanding voice. She showed off her impressive vocal range on the two songs we were present for: Chris Tomlin’s “Holy Is the Lord” and Casting Crowns’s “Your Love Is Extravagant.” I mumbled along with “Holy Is the Lord” since there was no way I could out-sing a woman who could blow competition away on American Idol and flipped through the bulletin as I listened to the Casting Crowns song. I have no complaints about the talents of the people in the praise band. As far as church praise bands go, they’re probably the best I’ve ever heard. But if you’re like me and just barely able to sing on key, you don’t want to try to sing backup for Christina Aguilera.
After the P&W ended, the pastor introduced a man who had the privilege of accepting Jesus Christ as his Savior and had agreed to be baptized. The man gave a brief testimony, explaining that Jesus had turned his life around and given him hope. The man reaffirmed his belief in the orthodox Christian faith through a series of questions and the congregation affirmed their commitment to assist him in his journey as a believer. Then he was taken over to a tub and baptized through immersion, sealing his public confession of following Jesus before God and man and also allowing him to join the church as a new member.
I have to say, this was my favorite part of the service. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen an adult get baptized and join the church and it’s always exciting for me to see brand new believers express their love for the Lord. It’s a reminder to me that God is working in people’s hearts and lives and still bringing “whosoever will” to Himself. And I know I’m in a Presbyterian church and all, but for me, there’s just nothin’ like seein’ a good ol’ fashioned dunkin’.
We have a lot of people who have joined my (regular) church since I’ve been a member, but I would say about 98% of them were already Christians looking for a solid, Bible-based church. I’ve seen more infant baptisms in the past 5 years than I’ve seen adult baptisms (which I can count on one hand), which quite frankly saddens me. The baptism of new believers reminds me of God’s promises to His people and to those who do not know Him yet.
The Meet, Greet, and Announcements
After the baptism, there was a minute-long time of greeting (the shortest greeting time I’ve ever experienced!) before a young man gave some brief announcements followed by a PowerPoint slideshow on two screens with voiceover announcements. The PowerPoints were well designed and except for a the voiceover guy saying “Sunday” when the slide clearly said “Saturday,” it was all cutting-edge and nifty. My husband informed me that one of the slides for an upcoming men’s conference was trying to be along the lines of an NFL promo but I didn’t really get it.
The pastor started off his sermon asking people how many people liked or watched Joel Osteen. To my surprise, a good number of hands were raised. The pastor didn’t really affirm Joel Osteen’s ministry but admitted something along the lines of, “It’s hard not to watch him. He offers a lot of encouragement, which is what people are looking for today.” This reference to Osteen made me a little leery but since I saw the pastor’s message dealt with sin, I was curious to see where he would go.
He continued on to his sermon, which he began by talking about the glory of God and how Christians are called to exhibit God’s glory on earth. After about 10 minutes, he finally got to the heart of his message in which he said that sin in a believer’s life inhibits God’s glory. He referenced several verses (very different from the expository preaching that I’m now used to in the PCA) before settling on a text in Genesis 25 in which Esau sells his birthright to Jacob simply because he’s famished from a day of hunting and Jacob’s got food ready. The pastor went on to explain how sin is a little like that: although sinning doesn’t seem like that big of a deal in some respects, it’s basically settling for something small instead of getting something great. The example the pastor used was of an older kid trying to con a younger kid who didn’t quite understand the value of coins. The older kid tried to entice the younger kid into exchanging his dime for a nickel by saying, “Look at this nickel! It’s really big and that dime is so tiny. You don’t want that dime. Here, let me give you my nickel.”
The pastor went on to say that’s the way the devil tempts us to sin. By trying to make something cheap look really enticing, when in fact, we’re giving up more than we realize. Just like Esau gave up his birthright to Jacob for a bowl of stew.
After the Service
After the service ended, I picked my husband’s brain for his opinion. He said it was just as he expected it to be. He felt like he was being marketed to and he hated feeling like Christianity was a brand in marketing. The pastor made a reference during his preaching to speaking in tongues (though we never heard anything like that occur during the service), which alarmed my husband who believes that tongues have ceased since the first-century church (as many conservative, orthodox Christians believe).
For me, I really enjoyed the service at the church. Do I think the attempts at being cutting-edge and hip are cheesy? Totally. And I’m so far removed from fundamentalism that the pastor’s use of the NIV barely bothered me. But I am a sucker for ethnic diversity that I saw even in the sparse 9 am crowd. Ethnic diversity reminds me of how Jesus charged the apostles to make disciples of “all nations.”
However, I’m amazed at all the activities and ways to serve that are available through the church. The church is slated to host three community events, is set to either hold or participate in a men’s conference, a women’s conference, and a youth conference in the next 6 months, and they’re even hosting a Passover Seder in a few weeks! In addition, they have encourage congregants to be a member of a number of outreach opportunities within a 25-mile radius. The church’s perspective on impacting the Philadelphia area simply beyond the small town they’re located in is inspiring to me. Sometimes I feel like my church is limited in what it can do since we don’t own a building, but I also wonder if we simply limit ourselves. I digress…
I know my husband probably won’t set foot in that church again, but I wouldn’t hesitate to go back if I couldn’t attend my regular church. (Although if I stumble into a service in which tongues are being spoken in an unbiblical way, I may rethink that.) The people are friendly, the church has a number of programs open to believers and non-believers, convenient service times, and good Biblical preaching (though not expository). It’s exciting to see a pastor with an outreach vision that extends beyond the church’s town, and I wish the church all the best success.