Preparing to Win

As I “prepare” myself for a new career I’ve come to really appreciate this quote:

Most people have the will to win, few have the will to prepare to win.
Bobby Knight

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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.

A Keva Juice Favor

Would you do me a favor?

I’m exploring the possibility of using Twitter for advertising Keva Juice. The idea is that people who follow me on Twitter will receive special promotions, discounts, and free Keva stuff. But before I go public, I would like to see how easy it is for people to sign up, and how effective the ads are.

So here’s the deal. If you’ll sign up by using the instructions below, you’ll receive “exclusive” discounts over the next few weeks that you can use in the store. All I ask is that you let me know about the experience of using Twitter. How easy was it to join? How user-friendly are the ads? How can I improve the experience? Just comment on this blog post or on Twitter.

Thanks for your help.

Here’s how to sign up:

Follow us on twitter to get great keva-lucious & twitter-ific deals.
Two ways to follow:

1. Go to twitter.com/kevajuice and click ‘follow’
-or

2. From your phone, text ‘follow kevajuice’ to 40404

Church Search 2

This morning we visited Real Life Fellowship in Flour Bluff.

Wow. I was impressed.

We visited Real Life several times during the past few years while they were in Corpus Christi. Honestly, each of those visits ended with us feeling underwhelmed. The music was unimpressive, the atmosphere was uninviting, and the messages were average. Each time, we wondered why people would return to the church.

But that was before.

Something has happened to Real Life in their move to Flour Bluff. The parking lot is friendlier, the foyer is outstanding. The children’s play area is the “best I’ve ever been on” according to my exuberant 9 year old. The student and children’s sections look impressive. The book store and cafe are inviting. The greeters are friendly  without being overbearing. The music and graphics during the worship service were well done. And the sermon was powerful, emotional, biblical, and filled with life-lessons.

The crowd seemed to average in the late 20’s or early 30’s. They were engaged in the sermon but were mostly spectators during the song service. We didn’t know most of the music, so we couldn’t sing along either. I fear this will be a problem as we look for a church. We want a church that is outreach focused. This probably means the music will be more like a concert than a worship service.

Of course, Real Life isn’t perfect. And observations from a single visit are not enough for us to make a commitment to join. One negative I saw that will require more examination was something I saw in their worship folder. It was entitled, “Real Life Fellowship Lifesigns”. It read:

At Real Life we measure LifeChange by these four LifeSigns. If you want to grow make these a part of your life. If you are growing they already are.

1. Attend and invite to services.

2. Connect with others by joining a LifeGroup.

3. Volunteer in one of our many exciting Ministry areas.

4. Invest financially in the vision of Real Life Fellowship.

It’s the fourth “LifeSign” that causes me to do a double-take. I understand that an organized church needs money to function and I admire churches that teach their members to give faithfully. But I have to wonder why giving is one of the top four signs of my growth. What about other signs of spiritual maturity such as . . . oh, let’s see. . . prayer, Bible study, holiness, obedience, loving God, etc.? Why do these take a backseat to investing “financially in the vision of Real Life Fellowship”?

Now, to be fair to Real Life, they do something that I think is absolutely wonderful. Instead of passing the collection plate, they have collection boxes near the doors. People aren’t made to feel guilty by not dropping something in the plate as they pass it down the isle. This is great. I would think that this causes people to go out of their way to give rather than giving out of compulsion. Way to go Real Life.

Real Life continues to be high on our list of possibilities. It is large enough for us to sit in the pews and heal for awhile, but small enough for us to get involved when we’re ready. It seems like a place where God is working.