Having recently arrived back in the country of my birth, I wondered what the church scene would be like these days . Here are some notes….
Church 1 10-21-07
This was a church I had seen on the internet and thought I’d go early enough to get in on the Sunday School. I was a couple minutes late, and even later when I had to run out to the car to get my reading glasses! (That was actually a good start – when was the last time you needed to read anything in church???!)
The Sunday school class was full, probably 50-60 people. They were going thru 2 Cor and were on chapter 5:10. This was not a discussion group on what people thought that verse meant to them. It was the pastor going through it, having people look up cross references or other verses related. And a few other people did volunteer verses or make comments. But the whole focus was to discover what the passage meant to the original audience in its context. The topic also seemed to be “will Christians be judged according to their deeds?” (The answer is yes.)
Sunday school was about an hour, then they had a half hour to “fellowship” with coffee, tea, juice for the kids and donuts. A bunch of kids appeared from somewhere and of course made bee-lines to the donut table. People stood around in small clumps and seemed to be in intense discussions and seemed to be enjoying themselves. A couple people did notice that I had no name tag and thus must be a visitor and talked to me a little. About 10:25 somebody started flicking the lights off and on as a signal that it was time to go upstairs. To get upstairs you go up ramps, no stairs at all, a nice touch which may in part explain the number of elderly. The sanctuary was pretty full, I’d guess about 300 people. Many were 50+ but many also younger and there were also some families with kids. They had the mandatory “worship team” and overhead. But their “worship team” was a mixed group, a couple of senior citizen and a couple of younger ones – imagine! – one acoustic guitar and no drums. The music was great, right up my alley, and I actually knew most of the songs! Several people raised their hands during some of the singing but it was not a requirement. There was a guy who seemed to be a one-man band – he sometimes played flute, sometimes trumpet, and I think he had a sax also. They had an offering and announcements but the centerpiece was the preaching. I understand that there are 3 guys who take turns preaching and each one is preaching thru a different book of the Bible. Today was the senior pastor, the one who did Sunday school and his passage was Luke 9:1-17. Again, like Sunday school, he just went verse by verse thru the passage making reference to other passages that related to it. He also made some comments on thematic stuff in Luke, ie that a series of authoritative people made statments about Jesus that showed His nature. At the end he spend about 10-15 minutes talking about implications and applications. 1) God is committed to take care for His own people 2) God has promised a lavish messianic banquet for all His people 3)Those who are not prepared will be excluded. Then he followed with a brief presentation of the gospel.
Church 2 10-28-07
This week I was over jet lag so decided I could drive further and managed to get to this church of which I am technically still a member. Where do I start? Maybe I should list the positives: the church is on the university campus and about 60-80% of the congregation are international students. There were at least 100 present, up significantly from 2 years ago. The pastor has stuck around now for 6 years or so. Most attendees were Asian but some European and African too. It was communion Sunday and the pastor made a point about the wine and bread being symbols and also said up front that those who were not Christians need not take it. They had a breakfast of boiled eggs and bread before Sunday school and often have a soup lunch after the service. Today they had birthday cake instead. They did a very good job of welcoming new people and inviting them to other activities or hooking them up with others. The sermon was part of a series on the beatitudes.
The nursery is very well stocked with toys, cribs, etc.
I didn’t know any of the songs, but oh well. They had the apparently now mandatory “worship band” and overhead.
As for the not so positives, oh my. The Sunday school classes to choose from included a study of Mark in special English for new foreign students and those who are inquirers. One was a Purpose Driven discussion group which I ended up in, oh my! Another was studying a book by Dallas Willard called “Renovation of the Heart”, oh my. Looking at the bulletin was a mix too. In amongst a prayer meeting and various Bible study groups, was an afternoon “inner healing prayer teaching” video, Tuesday and Wednesday a Lectio Divina, – “Ancient form of listening to God”. The sermon had some good parts but was pushing “spiritual disciplines” and he associated each beatitude with a “spiritual discipline”. Today’s beatitude was “peacemakers’ and the spiritual discipline was “evangelism”. I never did figure out how they were related. As too often is the case with main line church services, they tend to allude and hint and rarely come right out and say anything plainly – leaving a lot up to the listener’s own imagination.
I feel rather like I’ve been in a center for people with ADD, there was plenty of activity and you were rushed along from one thing to the next. (But maybe I’m still in jetlag??) Good stuff mixed right in with the mind woggling. The guy leading the Purpose Driven class was trying to convince us that we should want to be be robots for God. Sorry. If God wanted robots He would have created them.
It was a rather exhausting day.