Church Experience #31 – August 14, 2011
ChristWay Community Church – Ooltewah, TN
A Gang of Six
For about the past two or three months we have been attempting to visit ChristWay Community Church in Ooltewah. The problem with visiting this church is that we have multiple friends who we have been trying to coordinate with so that we can all attend on the same Sunday. We all know how easy it is to coordinate multiple families’ schedules to be at the same place at the same time during the summer with vacations, weddings, some having to work on weekends, and other obligations…it is about as easy as herding cats. So eventually we just gave up and decided that this would be the week we visited there (otherwise we may have never made it) and whoever else could attend with us would just be a bonus. Our friend Michael had just worked a 24-hour shift and was getting off work at 7 a.m. Sunday morning, so unfortunately he was out, but his wife Shannon and their two children, Lydia (4) and Eli (2), were able to make it, as was our friend Carol. We agreed to go to the early service, which began at 9 a.m. (better for the kids), and so we all planned on meeting up before the service so that we could sit together. Two weeks ago we had brought a guest with us to Rock Point Community Church, and we have visited a few churches where we had either been invited by or knew people who attended there, but I believe that this was the first week where we were meeting up with other first-time visitors to a church. I am all for any change of routine in my church visits, so I was excited that this week would have some extra dimension to it and some new “characters” for the ChurchSurfer blog. Instead of just me and Laura, there would be a gang of six first time visitors descending upon the unsuspecting souls of ChristWay Community Church, so this should really put them to the test. Here’s how it went…
Debbie at the Door
Laura and I met up with Shannon and the kids in the parking lot and decided to go ahead and check the little ones into child care while waiting for Carol, the final member of our entourage. Just like Silverdale Baptist, the visitor parking was really good, so we took full advantage and parked right outside the entrance. As we approached the steps, the doors swung wide open with two smiling men welcoming us in, and then we immediately walked into a second tier of greeters standing just inside the door. All the greeters were wearing matching t-shirts and lanyards, so it was very easy to identify them (and avoid them if you happen to be anti-social). We, of course, are definitely not anti-social (except maybe Laura when she doesn’t have me forcing her into socializing), so we walked right up to the very first greeter, who introduced herself as Debbie. Debbie enthusiastically welcomed us in and correctly identified us as first-time visitors (another benefit of the visitor parking spaces). She helped Shannon get Lydia and Eli checked in to child care, and kept us engaged in conversation as Carol arrived and joined the group. Debbie then took us on a complete tour of the facility, and dropped us off at the Cafe so that we could all grab some morning coffee. Laura leaned over to me and whispered, “I think the people here are all on happy pills or something”…which should tell you a little about the environment and the demeanor of all the bubbly people we passed by (or maybe it’s because Laura is not a morning person and anything other than a scowl at 8:45 on a Sunday morning is perceived as “happy”). I definitely appreciated the welcome and personal tour we received from Debbie and after we each got some coffee, we headed to the sanctuary for worship.
Are You Fruity?
The sanctuary was mostly white with two rows of columns running down either side of the room and aisles of cushioned chairs on the inside and outside of the columns. The stage area was back-lit with a green glow and had projection screens on both sides and a huge banner in the middle with large white letters spelling the word “LIES”, which was marked through with a red slash. The congregation was made up of mostly young families and a large crowd of youth who were sitting together in the front few rows to the left of the stage. The atmosphere was very casual, and most people were wearing jeans (including the pastor). The worship band, which consisted of guitar, bass, keyboard, and drums, came on to the stage and began an up-tempo contemporary praise song, filling the room with a big, full sound compared to the small size of the band. After one song, there was a video presentation on the screens promoting the new season of lifegroups that was about to start as summer came to a close and kids were going back to school. I really enjoyed the humorous nature of the lifegroup video and thought the use of multimedia was an excellent way to utilize newer technology to engage the congregation. After the video, the senior pastor, John Waters, came on stage and began his sermon (you can listen to the full sermon online), taking me a little off guard by infusing some comparisons of Yankees vs. Northerners (and conversely Rednecks vs. Southerners) and a hemorrhoid joke into an analogy with an annoying lady from his recent vacation who acted consistently obnoxious but then claimed to actually be very considerate of others. The context in which he told this story was to
illustrate the point that oftentimes people do not have anything in their lives that back up their own claims. Many (or most?) Christians, for example, do not live a life or do anything that would distinguish themselves from the world. Pastor John rationalized that many believers probably think there is a distinction between being a Christian (believer) and being a disciple of Christ (the terminology is explained in Acts 11:26), and think that they have been saved simply by the act or ritual of attending church and professing to “believe”, but yet go on living the same lifestyle as those who are of the world. He then referenced Matthew 7:21-23 which makes the point that not everyone who thinks they are saved is actually saved. So how will we know we are saved? John 15:4-7 and Luke 6:43-46 tell us to look for the fruit, which is the evidence of a healthy tree. Pastor John then went on to make two very profound points, one of which was that we should not focus on the fruit…we should instead focus on the tree. The next was a rhetorical question that asked, “what if every person who claimed to be Christian was bearing much fruit?” How different our churches, communities, and world would be! Pastor John continued on, exhorting the congregation to look at their “tree” (currently, not at some previous stage of life) and examine the roots (personal time with God, John 8:31), the trunk (fellowship with the body of Christ, John 13:34-35), and the branches (giving our resources and serving, 1 Peter 4:9-11) and making sure everything lines up with what God has called us to do in His Word.
After the sermon, the praise band came back on stage and we sang two more powerful worship songs (thankfully, because I was more than slightly disturbed to think that there would be only one worship song in the whole service). The spirit of worship was definitely strong and the band and congregation rocked out and sang praises to our Lord. After the service closed we exited to the cafe to wait for Shannon as she picked up the kids from child care. Both of the children seemed to have a great time and the six of us then settled in on some comfy sofas in the cafe for a little while, enjoying each other’s company and fellowship. I ran around and snapped some pictures and then we all said our goodbyes for the day and headed for home. All throughout the church visit I was under the impression that ChristWay Community Church was non-denominational, and it was not until I met with Pastor John later in the week that I found out it was actually affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention. He explained that they did not promote their Southern Baptist Affiliation because they do not want it to become a barrier for anyone. He said that their goal as a church was to reach the unchurched (about 60% of the local population) and to focus on remaining a healthy church, rather than just growing for the sake of growing and potentially becoming a large but unhealthy church. That lined up with both the sermon he preached on Sunday and the overall experience we had while visiting ChristWay. It looks like they are heeding their own teaching and examining the “tree” rather than focusing on the “fruit”.
If you feel like your “tree” is not as healthy as it should or could be, and you would like to fully realize the blessings that Jesus promises to those who abide in Him, please send me an email at email@example.com and I would be honored to help you take the next step of faith in your life. We are not called simply to believe. Attending church each week is not the fulfillment of God’s calling on the lives of His children. There is much more, and I pray that you will answer His call – Revelation 3:20.
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Peace and blessings in Christ,