"Before you can search for truth, you must be interested in finding it." -Miroslav Volf

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Church (s)Hopping II: A Visit to a Non-denominational Church

As mentioned in a recent post, I’m trying to make a stronger effort to find a church I can at least temporarily treat as something like a “home.” I also see this as a good opportunity to get a feel for what is happening in Olympia-area churches. Today I visited an evangelical, non-denominational church near our apartment.

My goal in these assessments is to avoid criticism as much as possible and focus instead on the strengths and positives. I admit subjectivity, knowing that my own journey influences how I reflect on my experience, what I “see” and experience in a given worship service. It would be easy to point out such things from this morning as (deleted, inconsistent with goal of post); but I’d rather celebrate than disparage.

To the bullets:

  • The service was entertaining. The Episcopal church experience (which I loved) was not entertaining; I don’t believe this was its goal, nor my expectation. This service was definitely a production. I haven’t really been to a service like this in a while, so I think I’d kind of forgotten what it was like. It may sound like an implicit critique, but I was truly entertained. And maybe there’s nothing inherently wrong with that. I go to the movies to be entertained; why can’t a gathering like this be similarly produced to captivate with sound and light, aimed to produce an emotional response from me, sitting in the pew? I enjoyed myself. If the church’s partial goal was to make Christianity seem exciting, then I imagine for many this “entertainment” factor is truly meeting a need.
  • I appreciated the outright “battle” visible among the church between worship styles. I only noticed this because I visited the website this morning. In what appears an obvious reply to the morning services, the evening service is billed as “more natural, raw, and organic” and that the music is “nothing you would hear in a typical, Top 40, Jesus-my-boyfriend church atmosphere.” That seems an obvious means of distancing itself from the morning crowd, and kind of a surprising statement to make on your own website. Still, I was more interested in the “uncool” morning service. At one point the worship leader, in his worship leader voice, said something like “we’re not a top 40, Jesus-my-boyfriend church here.” Fight! Fight!
  • The pastor took about ten minutes to interview two women involved in a non-profit that took the angle of “sustainable development,” helping people in Haiti and Liberia (among a couple other places I can’t remember) have both proper water and proper cooking equipment while also setting up local non-profits in these countries to continue the mission after they leave. It seemed like a very creative type of service/ministry, and I appreciated the way it was used in the service—seemingly to stimulate the imagination and inspire people to challenge themselves to find ways to help others. At least that’s the message I received; I don’t think one has to start a non-profit to do some good with what abilities and resources one has.
  • The highlight was probably when the worship band played “Gotta Serve Somebody” by Bob Dylan. It was meant to be a setup to the message. It was fabulous! The congregation sat and listened to the performance, complete with backup singers, very talented guitarist, and a tenor saxophone. People sort of clapped afterwards, I think a little unsure as to whether they were supposed to clap or say “amen.” I clapped.
  • Actually, I take it back. The real highlight may have been when a grandfather and granddaughter read the morning's scripture passage, which was from Matthew 24. It was hard to not laugh out loud when the gentleman, in a very warm, kind, grandfatherly voice, read “beating his servants,” followed by the girl in her sweet voice saying “cut him to pieces.” Oh Jesus, you and your confrontational, blunt language.
  • The pastor used an iPad for his Scripture and sermon notes. Steve Jobs' fingerprints can be seen not just in the wider culture but in the Church too. An iPad. I will probably get an iPad one day, but it will be when iPads are as relevant as audio cassettes and Tom Cruise are today. Which reminds me: While at the theater recently, a trailer was playing for some sort of action movie. For several moments, the plot wasn’t clear and the actors unrecognizable; then we saw a shot of Tom Cruise, saying something like “then I’ll have to catch him myself” or “looks like an…impossible mission!” The audience replied with a mix of laughter and groans, simply at the sight of Tom Cruise. I think we all forgot that Tom Cruise did movies.
  • This is more about me than the church, but...am I the only one who changes verb tenses of songs/hymns from time to time? I purposely changed an “am” to a “will be” at one point. Nobody looked at me funny; it was a large, loud congregation.
  • I appreciated the pastor's message. It may have, in brief moments, been (deleted, inconsistent with goal of post), but it had a centering effect for me, and I imagine it challenged and redirected and comforted many present. Also, the pastor had a mustache.

The church seems very good at what it does. Though, I really can’t see myself there. Other than when I want to listen to a little Sunday morning blues.


Coby said...

What if Jesus is my boyfriend for reals? Seriously, what does that mean?

Matt Boswell said...

I will contemplate your question day and night until I find clarity.

Matt Boswell said...

Actually, Coby, I remember an American girl in China I met at a Starbucks telling me during a conversation we had sparked by seeing my Bible that "Jesus is my husband." I imagine she'd been influenced by material targeted at single Christian women, encouraging them to remain pure and patient.

I wasn't quite sure how to relate. I thought about saying "Jesus is my partner; we have a civil union." But I didn't think that would fly with her.

Coby said...

Lol. Things are so much clearer now.