On Sundays, I worship with other believers. It is a spiritual discipline that I practiced even when I wasn’t a pastor, and it means that even when I’m on vacation I’m still engaged in worship somewhere. For many years when we were out at my wife’s parent’s I’d just join them on Sunday mornings – but when I started pastoring I got kinda tired visiting a congregation that was pretty much like the one I pastor. So, I made up my mind to “go visiting.” Two years ago I headed out to a local Presbyterian Church and had a pretty good experience. This week, I headed to a “contemporary” Church down in Lebanon, and pretty much had a terrible experience.
You know things aren’t going to go well when you show up in front of the converted theatre that serves as the Church and the greeters fail to see that you are entering their building (I actually had to go back and walk up to them). Things didn’t get much better when I entered the building and became hopelessly lost. There was no signage anywhere for the worship area (though the children’s ministry was very well represented, so I guess I’m not their “target”). I turned around in circles a few times, wondering if anyone would have mercy on me – they didn’t. I finally saw a bunch of people heading into a narrow doorway and figured that must be the way to go, and it was. Up until this point no one from the congregation had so much as made eye contact with me, much less tried to strike up a conversation.
The sanctuary was actually kinda cool. The walls had a good amount of art work (though the paintings with children carrying swords gave me the heebie-geebies), it made me think that the congregation valued creativity as part of their worship experience. I took a seat, waited, and watched. Still no one came over to say, “Hi.” I did catch some folks staring at me a couple of times, but they turned away before I could wave hello. It was weird. The congregation did have an open wi-fi connection, however, so I was able to send some Tweets from my Touch – sadly, none of them were very happy.
My impression of the actual worship was that it was pretty much a typical low-church Protestant worship I’ve ever been to. Two worship songs, a couple of people waving flags in the corner (it actually looked like they had a few set up for people to go over whenever they felt like it, I never saw that before). This was followed by a general prayer and another song. Pretty typical from my experiences with these types of congregtions, only it was “edgy” because there were people with tatoos and piercings in the congregation.
Sadly, the gathering floundered after the opening (and it wasn’t all the great to begin with) – this is also pretty typical for “contemporary” congregations. Once the opening songs were done, the gathering went through a series of people up on the stage with various things to say. The announcements were OK, though they made no sense where they were placed in the worship. The “stewardship moment” was just nuts. It was an attempt to encourage parents as they prepare their daughters for “the dating scene.” The illustration used was a country song about a dad warning a boyfriend that he’d be up all night cleaning his gun (this led me to send “????????” as a Tweet). It was also weird because there was no mention of teaching sons how to date well. Towards the end the speaker said, “I know some of you aren’t blessed to be part of a ‘complete family,'” by which he meant “single moms.” These poor people were encouraged to get a man to step in to this role of cleaning their gun on behalf of their daughters. I’d actually never heard that idea anyway, it was just….odd. I mean talk about insulting, “Oh so sorry you’re not part of a ‘complete family.'” At least “broken home” admits there was a trauma involved in making it a single-mom (no mention of single dad homes either – I guess men are OK) home.
The conclusion of the series of talking heads was the sermon, which was the low-point of the message. Aside from the fact that the elder who was preaching admitted to not knowing Greek and then proceeded to make several points based on Greek words (all of them wrong) – he also talked for an hour and said absolutely nothing. An hour of babble! Arrgh. I mean, I can give a pass to an inexperienced preacher trying too hard and babbling for 15 minutes, but an hour? Good grief – by the end of the babbling I just started looking at the congregation, it was painful. Towards the end the elder told the congregation that we were going to end with “worship” (anytime I hear people in worship creative a division between “worship” [singing] and “everything else” my head spins).
I don’t want to be spitefully harsh, but I get a little tired of going to “not Church as usual” congregations and having them end up being….well…”Church as Usual.” It’s weird, but “typical” Central Baptist is becomming less “Church as usual” than the congregations I visit. It’s gratifying, and….strangely odd.
Update: I forgot to share this in my thoughts before. The sermon was supposedly about the sure hope of Christianity (from 1 Peter 1). After rambling on about the sure hope of Christians and the stupidity of saying, “I hope <so and so>” the elder said, “And how to we avoid having dead hope and instead have a living hope? How to we make it real?” In response to his question he held up a Chutes and Ladders board and talked about how he thinks God sees our lives like that. First, “Huh?” Second, “Getting to the end of Chutes and Ladders isn’t a sure thing at all.” Third, “Good grief, Jesus gave us the concrete expression of our sure hope in him – it’s called Communion.”
Yes, the sermon was extremely taxing.