Church Experience #27 – July 10, 2011
Journey Church – Hixson, TN
The non-denominational Christian church movement in recent years is a curious thing to me. I always wonder how each of these churches came into existence. Some of these churches meet in people’s homes, in rented or shared commercial space, in re-purposed abandoned buildings, in church buildings of disbanded churches, the list goes on and on. How they came into being is a whole other story. They may have split from another church, they may have been a church plant from some organization, they may have started as a Bible study group that grew into a church, and I am sure there are countless other ways in which non-denominational churches continue to pop up. For some reason I find it very interesting to think about these things…about how churches get formed, grow, and become a part of the community and have an impact on society. I have done very little research about individual church origins, but I bet there are some great stories out there. A completely separate rabbit trail of thought is how and why the non-denominational church movement itself began. Was there too little flexibility within denominations for different styles of worship and self-expression? Were there doctrinal issues that denominations were unwilling to budge on? One big question I often ponder is whether it is a good or bad thing that the Christian church continues to fracture and divide into more denominations and also unconnected non-denominational churches, or whether it has any consequence at all. I may not receive a definitive answer to these questions during my lifetime, but it does not mean I should stop considering them…or the question of what I can do to try to bring unconnected churches together. The one thing I do feel sure about is that God would rather see his followers united than divided. We, as the Church (big “C”) need to have a heart for each other, no matter what, and find a way to work together to serve our Lord, Jesus Christ. These are all things that have been on my mind since my visit to Journey Church, a non-denominational church in Hixson, TN. Here is how my experience went…
Laura and I pulled into the parking lot for Journey Church, which is in a re-purposed commercial building right beside the Wal-Mart on Highway 153, and really did not feel like we were going to church (that should tell you something about expectations in this country). In fact, nothing about the yellow-ish colored metal-sided building said church at all, except for the signs and two door greeters standing in the hot morning sun. I personally think it is great that churches are thinking outside of the box now, and using existing space (no matter what it looks like) rather than continuing to invest in new construction…why waste more resources? As we approached the door we were warmly greeted and as the friendly gentlemen opened the door for us, we encountered a third greeter just inside, named Carol. Carol exuded passion and enthusiasm and immediately made us feel welcome. She asked us to put on name tags and then proceeded to take us on a tour of the facility. We were stopped and hugged by another enthusiastic lady (don’t most churches have a “hug lady”?) along the way, and Carol showed us all of the child care facilities (even though we did not have a child with us…it was like she was showing off their children, like a proud grandparent) and led us to the sanctuary. After the tour, she took us back to the coffee station so we could get a cup of coffee (she could probably tell I needed one) and while we were filling cups of God’s glorious brown nectar of life (OK, so I’m a coffee lover), Carol went and grabbed us some freebies…travel mug, bracelet, etc. We happily sipped on our coffee as we headed back into the sanctuary, still partially in shock from Hurricane Carol (I’ve gone a little overboard here, but just trying to make the point that she was extremely nice, accommodating, and enthusiastic…which I greatly appreciated).
Don’t Call Me a Music Critic
The sanctuary (and basically the whole interior of the building) had a warehouse feel to it, with stained concrete floors, exposed ceilings, and corrugated metal walls. The lighting rigs on the ceiling and the up-lighting from the back of the stage gave the room a nightclub rock concert type of atmosphere, and the shallow stage with a drum kit, keyboards, and guitars dominating the space only added to it. A group of twenty-somethings stood on the stage in a prayer huddle, and after disbanding for a few moments to mingle around, returned to the stage and took their places with instruments and microphones. Laura and I had been having a short conversation with another young couple seated in front of us, Kim and Kurt, and I had also been watching the room fill in from about thirty people in attendance to what looked like about fifty shortly after the worship had began. There was a large screen above the stage, which projected a “…5, 4, 3, 2, 1…” countdown (also chanted by the congregation) to worship, which I thought was pretty novel and and a cool idea. The worship was heavily rock-influenced modern contemporary and the volume was definitely cranked up, creating the feeling that I was fully enveloped in the sound. The musicians were talented and the female singer had an exceptional timbre that was perfectly suited for the style of worship music they played. I have mentioned before in my article about The Net Church, that the modern alt-rock worship style does not really allow me to sing and connect through participation as much as other styles. If I knew the songs better maybe it would lead to a different experience, but I find these songs more difficult to catch on to and connect with…but at the same time, they are more in line with the style of music that I prefer to listen to, so even though I do not connect through participation, I still connect to the music through “feeling it” (if that makes any sense). So I cannot really say that I am missing out on anything by not singing as much as I usually do…I am still enjoying and worshiping God just the same. Still, I would not want to completely lose the “belt it out” singing that you get from some of the classic hymns and worship songs that we all know and love, so I am hoping that they get mixed in at Journey Church as well.
After worship, a man came up to the stage to deliver the sermon. This person was not the pastor of the church (Mark Love) so I can just assume that he is either an associate pastor or maybe a lay speaker. Since I failed to get a name, I will just refer to him as “the speaker”. One thing I found particularly interesting was that the speaker was dressed in shorts, a t-shirt, and tennis shoes. I have no problem with this, and I think that as long as our nakedness is appropriately covered by something that does not display offensive material, all is well (for the most part, anyway…hopefully you get my point). The reason I think this is interesting is that usually even at the most casual of casual churches, the pastor will be wearing something that is at least one level of casual less than everyone else (worship leaders are a much different story). Anyway, the speaker taught from Acts 9 about the conversion of Saul into Paul. He bounced around a few main points, delivering a somewhat unpolished sermon, but nevertheless bringing out some important lessons from the Scripture topic and some needed exhortations on living a Christian life. I do not want to sound critical of the speaker, but I do want to convey that it was actually kind of refreshing to hear someone deliver a sermon like a regular person. What I mean is…sometimes pastors can be so polished that they sound phony or insincere. It is sort of like me writing this blog. I am not an accomplished author who has dedicated years of his life to literary studies and amassed an expansive vocabulary in the process (I was trying to sound smart there…did it work?). I am just a regular “Joe” (Josh, actually) who can hopefully parlay the limited abilities I do have into pieces of work that accomplish something for the Kingdom. So it sure is nice to hear someone who I can relate to do the preaching in a church, and also deliver a sermon that you know without a shadow of a doubt is from the heart instead of a sermon that sounds extremely well crafted. So even though I did not get to hear Pastor Mark Love speak, I have to give him kudos for not feeling like he has to deliver every sermon at Journey Church.
The service was closed with final worship song, and on the way out Laura and I were again hugged by the “hug lady” (thanks!) and greeted by several people including Pastor Mark Love and several others who encouraged us to come back. In addition to all of the questions and thoughts I touched on at the beginning of this article, I jotted down a few additional ones in my notebook that I will leave you with. I think these are questions/thoughts that every church’s leaders and members should consider and hopefully discuss openly with one another to clarify and prepare. They are…If I am someone (a visitor) who is hungry for God, where would I go in your church? How would I be directed there? Who would help me find the way? If the message that is preached at a church is led by the Holy Spirit, then it must be an indicator of where this particular church is on their journey, how healthy they are spiritually, and their level of maturity in the faith (because God would want the message to be delivered to the right people at the right time, right?). Do your sermons reflect these things about your church? What does that say about your church? Do you hear the Spirit in the messages? Hopefully these are as intriguing thoughts and questions for you as they are for me…and maybe they will give you a little something to think about and discuss until next week. Then at least I will have done a little something valuable through this blog!
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