Church Experience #42 – November 6, 2011
Christian Family Church – Rossville, GA
I first met some of the fine folks of Christian Family Church at Jfest 2011, an annual Christian music festival put on by the local Christian radio station J103. If you are in or around Chattanooga and have had a tough time committing to a local church (and my blog hasn’t helped you out? Gosh!) then I would highly recommend spending the day at Jfest 2012. I volunteered at a booth at Jfest for a local non-profit ministry, Men’s Ministry Network, and throughout the day I had the opportunity to meander through the rest of the booths, many of which were occupied by various local churches (side note…this was also how I met the people of Harvest Bible Chapel). Along with Faith and Family Night at Riverbend, these are the best two opportunities (that I know about) to meet and interact with people from multiple local churches all in one place (wouldn’t it be great if we all gathered together more often?). I have also become acquainted with Clark Thompson this year, who works as the Ministry Relations Director for J103 and also serves with me through Men’s Ministry Network. Clark is a member at Christian Family Church and spoke so sincerely about serving at that church that I decided to drop in on them to fellowship and worship the Lord together. Here is how it went…
A Double Dose of South Africa
Tucked away in a small commercial center just off of Mack Smith Road heading South from East Ridge is Christian Family Church. Laura and I pulled up to the storefront that could have easily been missed had it not been for the various banners and signs directing us. As we walked up we were immediately greeted and engaged in conversation only a few steps inside the front door. I always like churches where people take the initiative to engage you rather than just offering quick greetings in passing. Some churches seem like everyone is in a hurry to get somewhere and they do not have time to stop and talk (don’t act like you don’t know what I’m talking about), so it is nice when people show an interest in actually finding out a little bit about who you are. While conversing with the first group of people we met in the lobby, Clark spotted me and headed over to welcome us and join the conversation. He also introduced us to the Senior Pastor, Mark Aitkenhead, who invited us to enjoy some coffee and snacks before the service. Pastor Mark spoke with a watered down but still distinct South African accent and my first impression of him was that he seemed very humble and kind. We filled up a cup of coffee and then headed in to the worship area, which was in the adjacent room through a set of double doors. The worship area was a large open room with white walls and a black exposed ceiling. Blue industrial carpet lined the floor up to a cleverly built, multi-tiered stage that held a drum kit in the center, a keyboard off to the right, and an electric guitar and bass on either side. The morning worship kicked off with some well known contemporary praise songs and a few songs that were new to me sprinkled in as well. The worship was sincere and most of the congregation of around fifty or sixty people seemed engaged in active worship with lifted hands, plenty of swaying and moving to the music, and singing out without reservation. When worship ended, a man wearing a decorative African-print shirt who also spoke with a (I’m assuming) South African accent presented a short “sermonette” before the offering with references from 2 Chronicles 16:1-9 (which he read in reverse order) and Malachi 3:8,10 with his main emphasis being a rhetorical question, “…are you doing with your money what God expects of you?” Food for thought.
Hammer or Nail
After the offering had been collected a barrage of jungle sounds and drums accompanied flashing green lights as the children were invited to “Jungle Town”, which is the theme for their children’s church led by the Senior Pastor’s wife, Colleen Aitkenhead. The kids all headed into the lobby, and could still be faintly heard laughing, talking, and singing in the background as Pastor Mark began his sermon in the main worship area. Pastor Mark was dressed in an all-black suit with an American flag pin on his lapel, which he referenced more than once, affirming that he was proud to be an American citizen. He used the term “family” often to address the congregation and I could tell he enjoyed finding creative “real world” illustrations for his sermons as he began preaching about “The Hammer or the Nail” (and he also gave us a CD of a previous sermon entitled “A.N.T.S. in the Brain”). He began teaching from Mark 10:17-27 and 2 Corinthians 4:8-9 as he formulated his various arguments about how we can either be the hammer or the nail as it relates to God, the world, and the devil. One particularly convicting and introspective inference offered up by Pastor Mark was about the arrogance of Christians, and more specifically those in the American culture who, compared to so much of the world, can be seen as lacking any sense of humility. He reasoned that within this American-Christian culture, many of us seek to be the “hammer” to God in order to “construct” the kind of life we desire. This would be in direct opposition to the Biblical relationship we are called to have with God in which we would offer ourselves as a holy “nail”, or item of use set aside for God to employ for His service. Pastor Mark blazed through several more important teaching points including backsliding versus eternal security, physical deformity, spiritual gifts, and the armor of God from Ephesians 6:13-20 (at which point Colleen came in with all of the children marching behind her wearing self-decorated paper bag armor and singing “We are the army of the Lord”). He ended his sermon by presenting this video, which provided a very “get real” moment that visibly touched the people in the congregation.
After the service we were engaged just as warmly as we had been on our way in, which confirmed to me that these people were sincerely interested in getting to know us. It never seemed as if they were “putting on a show” in hopes of attracting some new members, which I have to admit I have felt in several churches I have attended in the past. Unfortunately some churches can be likened to casinos…they “lure” you in with the pretty lights and entertainment, but once you are inside it becomes less about making sure you leave with more than you came, and more about keeping you busy so that you won’t go somewhere else. In these churches, relationships and engagement never progress beyond superficial habits into real transformational experiences that lead to a life of committed service. These churches have no real “equipping process” (I stole that from Men’s Ministry Network, by the way) to send seasoned spiritual warriors out into the world, and instead focus more on inviting the newly enlisted to join their ranks. I do not mean to be overly critical here, but unfortunately the “competition” among churches for attendance numbers is a very real thing (if you don’t believe me, ask your pastor) and only serves as a distraction to sharing the Gospel outside of the church and serving the local community. I was impressed that Pastor Mark invited us to come back to Christian Family Church, while also making sure to offer his prayers that we would find a church family period, whether it was theirs or not (at this time he didn’t know about the ChurchSurfer blog and the required regimen of weekly visits to different churches). One final invitation that Pastor Mark extended to me and Laura was the one that meant the most. He and his wife Colleen invited us to their home to have dinner with them (she even followed up with an adorable email invitation to make sure we didn’t have food allergies or preferences). It was not something special just for us…Pastor Mark said that this is something they do for all new visitors to Christian Family Church (or at least as often as possible). I cannot believe that this was the first time Laura and I have been invited to someone’s home out of all the hundreds of people we have met from 42 different churches this year. How is that possible? Just to clarify, we were actually invited over to the home of C’Na Raines (love you C’Na!) for an Abba’s House small group gathering, but this was the very first time anyone had invited just the two of us over for a personal meal together. To me, it is both disappointing and telling of the society we live in. People no longer open their homes to others, especially new acquaintances. I am so glad that there is someone out there in Chattanooga who still thinks it is important to spend time getting to know people on a personal level inside the home. So “thank you” Pastor Mark and Colleen, and we look forward to breaking bread together! I hope everyone reading this will consider extending a personal invitation to have someone over to your house for a meal. A new acquaintance, a close friend who you haven’t been able to spend time with lately, someone you need to get to know better…whoever it is, I am sure it will mean a lot to them, just as Mark and Colleen’s invitation meant so much to me.
If you did not click to watch the video “The Chisel” above, here’s another chance…CLICK HERE.
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Grace and peace in Christ,