(This blog series is not intended to be a critique of the churches
we visit, but rather an expression of our observances and how they
relate to our quest. We recognize the fact that each and every church
we visit belong to Christ and His glory is on display to some measure
in each one. We also realize there are no perfect churches and we all
rely on Jesus to clothe us with His righteousness.)
Our fourth stop on the tour was a large church that we had heard about for years from friends who attend there. This church has grown by leaps and bounds and has a reputation for connecting with the community. The pastor has a reputation for being bible-driven and bold in his presentation. So even though we did not plan to attend this church originally, we changed our minds and decided to give it a try.
The facility is rather impressive cosmetically and as soon as we walked into the foyer, we were welcomed by their greeting team, and I mean team! They have a very organized plan for welcoming new guests. Since the church is so large, no one assumes that you a regular attender so they come right up to you and ask if you are visiting the first time. (I'm sure the looks on our faces are an indication as well). Then they lead you to a table where you fill out their visitor card on a clipboard and offer you a cup of coffee and a gift bag. Tina remarked that it reminded her of the survey people in the mall. This approach is definitely effective in building your database of guests, but I'm not big on being solicited. Having said this, I'm sure a great deal of people love the personal attention.
After being welcomed, we walked into a large sanctuary and grabbed a seat in the back which might not have been a great idea. There was an upbeat jazzy song being played by their band which consisted of drums, guitars, piano, bass set combined with a brass section. I love jazz bands so I had high hopes for their music on this occasion. After the opening number which was your typical "get-them-in" song, we stood for a more participatory song "How great is our God". I'm not sure if was due to the rather cavernous atmosphere of the room or the fact we sat in the back, but I felt really disconnected during the worship music time. Even though we were singing, we couldn't shake the whole performance feel of the service. I am not against musical performances in a worship service, but I believe participation is much more vital. The first song was really slow and I guess I'm just accustomed to beginning a service with much more energy. The jazz band at the beginning was only a tease as they left the stage after the first song. After the song we took communion. Then after communion, there was another performance song which was a "Casting Crowns" cover aimed to be an obvious lead in to the sermon the preacher would deliver shortly thereafter. So, there was basically ONE song of participation. That's it! Now, I know I'm a worship leader by trade and therefore a little biased, but one song?? Really?
Then after the last performance song, the Pastor delivered his message. It was on marriage and although I'm not against marriage and parenting sermons because obviously the Bible is not silent on these issues, I'm not a fan of topical messages that use the Bible for mere proof-texting. It is dangerous ground when we use the Bible to support our preconceived ideas no matter how practical and sound they are. I feel the sermon should not be just bible-based, but bible-saturated. This particular message amounted to nothing more than marital advice as the 6 or 7 points he delivered were similar to what Dr. Phil could have given me. By contrast, when John Piper preached on marriage it was focused more on the display of Christ and His glory and how marriage between a man and woman is a temporal image of a greater marriage, namely Christ and His church. I feel so strongly that in order to have a God honoring marriage, we need to have the glory of Christ preached to us so that we will understand the true context of earthly marriage. How do we know this? Because the scriptures tell us this much. Why would we want tor trade the thoughts of God for the thoughts of Dr. Phil, Oprah, James Dobson, or any other? The Bible isn't a handbook for right living, it is a revelation of Christ. This is what gospel-driven, Christ-centered preaching is about. If this particular church were to offer marital classes at other times, I would find no problem with it. But when you replace the most central means of worship in a gathering, namely the proclamation of the Word, then you really don't have a worship service. Add in the fact that another key aspect of the worship service was limited to one song, then you walk out feeling empty. I realize that a healthy church consists of more than a Sunday worship service and that it is a living organism that thrives throughout the week, but it has no chance to be any more than a social activity if the gospel isn't proclaimed. I could be just fine with a church that does very little music if they are committed to preaching the Word, in fact, after the one song, I just assumed that this church was all about the sermon. But alas, I was wrong.
Now to be fair, this church has been instrumental to many changed lives, and no doubt many have been led to Christ through their various ministries. I only attended one service, so it would be unfair to characterize this church in generalities. Again, this is our Mystery Church tour and it is based on our observances of one service. Maybe the other 51 Sundays weren't like this, so I want to give this church a little grace.