Category Archives: Church

Narrowing the Search, Part 4

After almost two weeks of flu and two out-of-town trips I’m finally getting back to my blog.

If you read my last post you know that I think church ought to be more than just a bunch of people getting together because they like each other. There has to be something bigger than friendship bringing people together. This is where another aspect of the New Testament concept of church comes in to play: kingdom.

Church is part of the kingdom of God. To serve the king is to put your own interests aside. It is to make the king’s agenda your agenda. To be part of the kingdom is to live the kingdom agenda.

What is the kingdom agenda?

Just look at Jesus. He lived the kingdom agenda. Family and friends took a backseat to the kingdom agenda. His personal comfort was not a priority. (Apparently he didn’t even own a pillow!). Kingdom life means death. . . death of one’s comfort, one’s personal preferences, one’s daily desires. The kingdom agenda requires that we take up our crosses each and every day of our lives and follow Jesus. Unfortunately. . . .

Pot lucks are the priority of too many churches.

Power is the desire of too many clergy.

Song selection is the concern of too many members.

How sad it is, then, that as we look for a new church home I find myself wandering, “What’s here for me? How comfortable am I here? What do I like/dislike about this church?”

I’m so weak.

Wouldn’t it be better if I asked, “Where can I best serve my king?”

Narrowing the Search, Part 3

As we continue to zero in on a church to call home it’s time for us to move beyond first impressions.

[Warning: Soapbox Ahead]

Music preferences, building styles, and preaching outlines are only a small part of what matters. How ironic, though, that those things are what often split a church. The sign at a local church reads, “We’re not fighting each other”. While I’m glad they aren’t fighting each other I can’t help but wonder why they thought that was the most important message they could communicate.  Have churches gotten such bad reputations that we need to advertise we aren’t fighting?

How sad.

So, what am I looking for in a church that moves beyond first impressions?

First, I’m looking for a church. . . . Kinda obvious, I know. . . But I’m looking for a church in the New Testament sense.

I know that seems fundamental. After all, isn’t that what I’ve been blathering about for the past couple of months?. . . Looking for a church?

Well, it depends on what you mean by “church”.

We use the word “church” so easily. It fits our vocabulary nicely. “Did you enjoy church today?” Isn’t that a nice church building?” “What kind of church do you attend?” But the New Testament rarely uses the word “church” in such a way. It has taken a word that was common and made it extraordinary.

The Dictionary of Biblical Imagery has this to say about the word “church”:

The Bible provides a rich kaleidoscope of imagery about the church composed of around one hundred metaphors and statements. The thread on which all other jewels are hung is the idea of the church as an ekklēsia (“assembly,” “gathering”). This word, taken from common usage where it applied to the “calling out” of citizens for a civic meeting or of soldiers for battle, is used extensively throughout the Old and New Testaments to refer to the people of God (e.g., Deut 4:10; 9:10; 31:30; Mt 16:18; 18:17; Acts 5:11; Rom 16:5; 1 Cor 1:2; Eph 1:22; 3:10; Heb 12:23).

The word that first century Christians adapted was originally used to talk about any gathering of people. It was a common word. It didn’t have any spiritual connotations.

I’m afraid when we talk of church what we really are talking about is a group of fellow citizens gathering for a meeting. It could be ANY meeting for ANY purpose. We could gather for a meal. We could gather for philately reasons. We could gather to be entertained. We could gather for group therapy.

It seems to me (in my very judgmental–but mostly accurate opinion) that MOST churches are little more than gatherings of people who simply like being together. We enjoy the same kind of music. We have similar political views. We want someone to entertain our teenagers. We may even have a somewhat Christian worldview. But really the main reason we get together is little more than to be together.

We get upset if someone sings a song we don’t know or like. We complain if the preacher calls for too big of sacrifice from us. We don’t like someone else sitting in our seat or parking in our spot. We don’t want too many new people around because it will change things. And we certainly don’t want people around who haven’t learned the same morals we profess; after all, they may be a bad influence on our kids.

The New Testament came to use the word church in a much deeper, more significant way. Yes, it still used the word at times to talk of a gathering of people. But the heart of what the New Testament meant by church is probably far different than what most churches look like today.

I’ll have more to say about that in my next post. But suffice it to say for now, most of the places I see today that call themselves churches, really aren’t.

And those are NOT the kind of places I’m looking for in a church home.

Church Search

I just found this unfinished post from a couple of months ago. I don’t know why I never finished it.

Anyway, for what it’s worth, here it is:

Last Sunday emotions were running too high for us to attend church so we decided to stay home for a family devotional.

We gathered around our kitchen table to read scripture, pray, and commune together. We took turns reading Matthew’s account of the last supper. As we read, we prayed and shared communion. It was a simple and powerful service.

I couldn’t help but think about how many thousands (millions?) of other believers around the world were doing the same thing. It’s amazing to think we actually have a choice of churches. (Whether that is a blessing or a curse is another matter).

Church Search 6: Narrowing the Search, Part 1

Now that my family and I have made visits to 4 churches it’s time for us to narrow our search. What are we looking for in a church? To what leadership will we entrust our spiritual care?

First, let me say that each of the four churches we’ve looked at are great churches. Each is unique, with it’s own strengths and weaknesses. Each has it’s own style and personality. We could become part of any of them and do just fine. But, in the end, we want to be more than “just fine.” A church needs to fit our personalities and needs if we are to excel in our spiritual growth. More than just a place to attend, we need a place where we can serve.

Honestly, though, it’s tempting to find a place to hide. My spirit is dinged up a bit right now so staking out the corner of some pew sounds pretty good to me. Sit’n and soak’n might be just what The Doctor ordered. Yet, I know that will never work in the long run. We NEED to be involved. We NEED to contribute.

With that in mind, two churches have risen to the surface: Yorktown Baptist and Oso Creek Fellowship. The other churches are great churches, but we fear that it will be too easy for us to slip into the crowd and disappear. . . permanently.

Yorktown is filled with the most unknowns for us. Based on one visit, we like their music (which is INCREDIBLY important to us). But we need more information. It appears they participate in several mission trips each year (which is great) and I like that they have a full-time youth minister (this is becoming more important to us since our oldest daughter will be more and more involved with a youth group). At this point, my wife probably puts Yorktown in first place for our future church home.

For me, however, Oso Creek, is in first place. I absolutely love the ministry philosophy John has developed within the congregation. As I wrote in an earlier post, the Sunday morning service does not focus on attracting non-Christians. Instead, the church literally goes to where non-Christians are. Members regularly serve the community. At times, they “cancel” Sunday morning services so the whole church can serve others. I’m sure some other churches would not approve of such a thing, but I can easily imagine Jesus skipping synagogue to help the needy.

While no church would say this about themselves, many behave as if the heart of being a Christian is attending Sunday worship, joining a small group, and giving money to maintain the building and programs of the institution. I’ve been dangerously close to thinking and teaching this. But I’m learning that church is so much more. I think John Bradshaw and Oso Creek Fellowship already know this.

Where will we end up? I’m not sure. We’re praying and looking deeper for now.

Church Search 5

Sunday we visited Yorktown Baptist Church. Alan Reed, Yorktown’s Associate Pastor, lives across the street from us. My kids are good friends with his kids, so, like last week, this post may be a bit biased.

Yorktown has recently undergone several changes. They have a new pastor and a new building. There is a contagious excitement among the members.

The new building is simple, but nice. The church seems to be growing.

Of all the places we visited, we liked Yorktown’s music the best. The large band and singing team blend well. While we didn’t know every song, even the new songs were easy to learn and sing. There weren’t many handraisers or clappers in the crowed but the congregation did enthusiastically sing along.  The music didn’t have that “edgy” feel we experienced in the other congregations. Instead, it had a bit of an “anthem” feel to it. I suppose many church people enjoy that style (my wife certainly did), but I prefer a bit more rock to my music.

The sermon was another one of those fill-in-the-blank kind that are popular among many preachers. They aren’t, however, my favorite. Fortunately the pastor delivered it with energy and enthusiasm. That enthusiasm is inspirational and makes me willing to give the church another visit.

Hobby Horse Time:

There are lots of reasons I don’t care for fill-in-the-blank sermons. (Yes, there are exceptions. I’ve preached many a fill-in-the blank sermon). For one thing, life isn’t fill-in-the-blank. Life is story. Life is an ever changing, ever unfolding drama. Life’s problems can’t be solved by six steps that all begin with the letter “R”. In my opinion, fill-in-the-blank sermons lend themselves more to mental development than to spiritual development. There is a false sense of accomplishment that comes from filling in blanks. “I’ve done what I need to do. I completed all the blanks on my outline. Now I can go home.”  Sermons should be about life-change, not completion of an outline. People need to live the gospel. Sermons should motivate people to change. . . to be different. . . not just to think differently.

Now back to our regularly scheduled blog. . . .

We did run into a bit of a snag at Yorktown when we checked in our daughter to her class. There was no one at the check-in center. Instead, someone from inside a classroom simply called out, “Come on in.” No registration. No tag. That may have been fine a few years ago, but in today’s environment it’s important to be serious about children’s check-in. I’m sure Yorktown has a check-in system, but we caught themon a Sunday when they were making some changes to their morning line-up so mistakes are bound to happen.

All-in-all, our experience at Yorktown was very positive. Is it the right church for us? Possibly.

Church Search 4

Last Sunday, for the second week in a row, we visited Fellowship of Oso Creek. My good friend, John Bradshaw, is the pastor.  I’ve long respected John and the work he’s doing at Oso Creek. I’ve preached at the church a couple of times, and I’ve traveled with a group of “Creekers” to Houston to help in Hurricane Ike recovery. So please know that my comments are probably a bit biased.

Before visiting Oso Creek, we attended two seeker-focused churches. The sermons are practical and life-oriented. The music has a concert feel to it. Both go out of their way to help visitors be as anonymous as possible.

If those two churches are at one end of a spectrum, Oso Creek is at the other end. Oso is geared for “churched” people. The sermons focused on believer’s relationship with God, the music had more of a “sing-a-long” feel to it, and visitors were anything but anonymous.

Please, PLEASE don’t hear that as a criticism. It’s not that one style is better than the other. It’s just that each kind of church begins with different assumptions about who is in the audience and how best to communicate life-change to that audience.

That Oso focuses on “churched” people is obvious in several areas. During both our visits the sermons challenged Christians to go deeper in their discipleship. There was lots of talk of “DG’s” or “Discipleship Groups”. (Most non-Christians wouldn’t even know what “discipleship” is). There was no invitation for salvation, instead the invitation was to go deeper in your commitment to Jesus.

During our first visit we attended the early service. It is the smaller of the church’s two services. It’s not the place for visitors to come who want to blend in. With so few members present, every visitor stands out. A friend of mine who attends Oso pulled me aside before the service and asked,”What are you doing at the 9:00 service? This service isn’t for you. The excitement is at the 11:00 service. You need to come back then.”

My friend was right, the 9:00 service is not geared for someone in my age bracket. While there are activities for my elementary aged daughter, there was nothing for my middle school daughter. Oso only offers a class for that age group during the 11:00 service. In many churches this would not be an issue. We could worship together as a family at 9:00 and attend class at 11:00. Unfortunately, Oso is a small-groups church. They don’t offer adult Sunday school classes. Perhaps my wife and I could find a ministry in which to serve during that time?

But I digress. . . getting back to ways that Oso Creek is more believer-focused than seeker-focused. . . . During our first week, John ended his sermon with an invitation that consisted of having everyone come forward as a sign of their commitment to break free of sinful bondage. Now, I understand the benefit of the simple act of having people take a step forward to show their commitment. It was a powerful call to deeper commitment. As visitors, however, we weren’t comfortable going forward, so we stayed seated. It just seemed safer to stay seated. We were new. We didn’t know what John would have us do once we went forward. Would he ask us to give our testimony? To give money? Would he try to perform some ancient blood-letting ceremony on us? We didn’t know what to expect; so, yes, it was safer to stay seated. Unfortunately, with all the members up front and the visitors left sitting (there were a couple of rows of us scattered through the auditorium) we stood out much more than I liked. It made us feel awkward. (But no one asked for any blood).

Again, please don’t hear that as a criticism. I don’t mean it that way at all. It’s just a few observations; not criticisms. In fact, being part of a church that focuses on building me up as a believer sounds pretty good right about now. My spiritual and emotional life could use a little TLC. So, we decided we definitely wanted to try Oso Creek again.

That brings us to this past Sunday; our second visit. We took my friend’s advice and attended the 11:00 service. . . . Wow! What a difference in atmosphere. The room was full, the crowd was excited, and we felt more at ease. My kids even loved their classes.

Yes, once again the sermon focused on the spiritual needs of believers. Instead of calling people to begin a walk with Christ, the invitation called people to walk more faithfully, to train harder for their walk with Jesus. The music was good. Unlike in the previous churches we attended, we knew the words to most of the songs. People sang along, clapped enthusiastically, even danced a bit. It was fun. It was worship.

As of now, Oso Creek is our top choice for a new church home.

Church Search 3

Sunday marked another adventure in our church search. Mimi and I both made it through the church service with only a few tears; which is better than last week when we both cried most of the way through the service.

We met up with some friends at Bay Area Fellowship. BAF is “the” church in Corpus Christi. It’s branded as one of the fastest growing churches in America. Each week thousands upon thousands of people attend to watch a mini rock show and listen to Bil preach. The church has been hugely successful at reaching the lost.

As with Real Life last week, we previously visited this church numerous times. During those times, however, I viewed the church from the eyes of a pastor. “Wow! Wouldn’t it be great to have these facilities? . . . this much money? . . . this much technology?” Now, however, I was looking at the church through the eyes of a Christian needing a church home.

I absolutely love BAF’s commitment to reaching the lost. I wish other churches shared even half of the commitment to saving people from hell. Their willingness to do whatever it takes (short of unbiblical things, of course) is admirable. I love their bravery in saying the hard things and their creativity in saying them in a way that makes them easy to hear.

Bil Cornelius’ preaching is excellent. I’ve heard him preach several times over the past 8 years and each time I’ve been impressed. It is a stupid myth that says mega-churhes are “Christianity light” or “soft on sin”. People who say such things about Bil Cornelius and Bay Area are simply wrong. Time and again I’ve heard him preach hard-hitting sermons that boldly declare the gospel.

His style, like that of many mega-church pastors, is similar to that of Rick Warren: fill-in-the-blank sermons that focus on life-application. Perhaps it’s the life-application emphasis that causes other Christians to think mega-churches aren’t deep enough. It’s true that such sermons don’t delve deeply into the historical, theological, and textual aspects  of a given passage. They do, however, delve deep into helping people live what the passage teaches. Many Christians, I fear, hide behind their “knowledge of the Bible” so they don’t have to honestly deal with the sin in their lives (in my humble – but accurate – opinion).

Granted, I’m not a fill-in-the-blank kind of preacher. I much prefer narrative preaching that focuses more on inspiration than information. But I can’t argue with the effectiveness of Bil’s preaching. Lives are being changed — and that’s got to be pleasing to God.

The music, light show, and stage set-up are all top-notch at BAF. It’s loud and flashy. A friend told me after visiting BAF for the first time that her husband – who didn’t feel comfortable at his previous church and therefore didn’t attend too often — said, “Wow! I love this place. It’s like going to a rock concert.” That style is obviously attractive to non-church goers. I can’t argue with the success of Bay Area. But now that I’m a church-shopper I have to admit that it’s not the style that attracts me. Very few people sang along with the band. Even my kids complained that the music in the children’s classes was too loud. So, if we end up at Bay Area it will be in-spite of the music rather than because of it.

We want lively music. But we want it to be more “worshipful”. I’m not exactly sure what that word means. Was God praised through the music Sunday? Absolutely. Did the music enable us personally to praise him? Not really.

Bay Area might be a good church for us to get lost in. That’s something that has some appeal to us right now. Maybe we can just hide out there for awhile and heal. Of course, we don’t want to stay hidden. So, if we decide to regularly attend BAF we’ll want to volunteer for a ministry and dive into a small group. Fortunately, the church seems to have lots of options for getting involved.

All in all, our visit was a positive experience. It’s one church we’ll definitely want to consider further.

Still, it didn’t feel like home. But I guess it will be a long time until another church feels like home for us.