Church Experience #18 – May 8, 2011
Living Faith Church, Hixson TN
It’s Gotta Be The Clues
For the fourth time this year I was left alone on a Sunday, deserted by my wife (to be with a friend who was recovering from surgery in Atlanta), and left to venture out to a church service all by myself. So far my solo church visits have been interesting…a gospel-fest at New Philadelphia Missionary Baptist with two of the kindest and most talented women I’ve ever met, my sister’s crazy California New Year’s Eve wedding, and a fly-under-the-radar Sunday at First-Centenary United Methodist. This week’s visit was to Living Faith Church in Hixson, a church I knew very little about except for what I had read on their website on Saturday night before the next morning’s church service. I had been told about the church by a friend, who had never attended there either, but had somehow heard about it through word of mouth. I don’t even really remember what it was that my friend said about the church, but what was important to me was that it was mentioned at all. This stood out to me because I drive by this church a lot and had thought about attending there (or at least researching it), but for some reason I had written it off, maybe assuming that it was a Church of God, and since I had already been to a church in that denomination (Joyful Sound COG), I was more interested in attending other denominations first. But I’m always listening for “clues” as to where God is leading me next, and anytime a few clues point to the same place, I take that to mean I should go there…so here I am.
I pulled up to the cream-colored church building and parked, enjoying the warm sunshine as I walked around the corner and up to the entrance. There were smiling faces in the parking lot, and as I headed inside, I noticed that pretty much everyone I saw seemed to have a bubbly countenance about them. The inside of the building appeared to be either newly remodeled or very well kept, and like the outside of the building it was very clean and simple, lacking the grandeur of the more extravagant churches, but instead communicating the message that fancy is not necessary to worship and serve God. I exchanged some smiles and greetings as I headed down the hallway, and upon entering the sanctuary was immediately approached by two men, Duane and Gary, who welcomed me and asked if I was a visitor. I told them that it was my first time attending their church and they handed me a visitor’s card, encouraging me to fill it out and drop it in the bucket during the collection of tithes and offerings. I took a seat and scanned the room, noticing a very balanced mix of young, middle-aged, and elderly people. There were various greeters stationed around the room, I assume to make sure nobody would be overlooked, and even though Duane and Gary had done a fine job welcoming and engaging me in conversation, a gentleman named Claude also came around to do the same. I’ve seen several techniques for greeters at all the churches I’ve attended…parking lot greeters, door greeters at the church entrances, bulletin passer-outers at the sanctuary entrances, inside-the-sanctuary floaters, and more, but I think the main point here is that this is an important position and service provided by the church. Why would you not want to have a greeter program at your church? It gives church members a way to serve, it makes visitors feel welcome, and it encourages (or forces) human-to-human interaction (which surprisingly doesn’t always happen if it is not specifically made to be a priority). If your church does not have a greeter program, or has a very limited one…why not volunteer to coordinate the effort yourself? I guarantee that you will increase the ratio of smiles per person, and you could potentially win repeat attendance from visitors who actually felt welcome and want to come back for more…not to mention it’s really easy!
Give Honor Where Honor Is Due
The sanctuary was spacious, with rows of individual cushioned chairs rather than traditional pews, and a large stage lined with all the instruments you would expect from a contemporary worship service…keyboard, electric and acoustic guitars, bass, and drums, plus a trumpet which added a unique element to the worship music. We sang two songs (taking a total of about 15 minutes), with the main chorus sections being repeated numerous times, building with emphasis each time through. I enjoyed the worship experience and felt free to lose myself in the moment, lifting my hands, clapping, and swaying around to the different segments, seeking a truly focused and connected worship time with God. At the close of the second song, pastor Michael Lindon led the congregation in a prayer, and then transitioned into some announcements. He asked all first-time visitors to raise their hands, and then welcomed them to Living Faith Church as “honored guests” (which really made a strong impression on me). Pastor Michael also recognized the recent high school and college graduates, as well as all the mothers (it was Mother’s Day), and asked for applause from the congregation, encouraging them to “give honor where honor is due”. How often do you think we, as Christians, miss the opportunity to make someone feel special by honoring them in front of others? Jesus taught us to not seek or expect the place of honor, because then you may be embarrassed when others are honored above you and you are “bumped down” a notch, but how awesome is it to see someone receive honor and recognition when they totally did not expect it. What a great chance for us to share God’s love with the people who quietly serve and expect nothing in return.
Not a Lovey-Dovey Mother’s Day Message
Pastor Michael, who is young, clean cut (military style), and energetic, began his sermon by stating that it was part six of the current series with the objective to “Scripturally introduce the child of God to who they are in Christ” (which he repeated three times). Despite oozing with positivity and somehow never losing an enormous smile, pastor Michael methodically proceeded point by point through Luke chapter 15 using Scripture cross-references and real life illustrations (parables) to teach about being made righteous through Christ. The sanctuary became like a classroom, as pastor Michael taught masterfully from the Spirit, speaking calmly and plainly, making sure not to leave anyone behind by moving too fast or by trying to cram in too many points or too much information. I was impressed not only by the excellent teaching, but by what this service wasn’t…it wasn’t a pep rally, it wasn’t a manipulation of emotion, it wasn’t a stage production, it was just plain and simple teaching of the Word like a shepherd feeding the flock to sustain growth and life. He made references to baseball, BBQ sauce, shoes, and a speeding ticket he had received that very morning (you’ll have to ask him about all that), to effectively engage and relate to the congregation as one of them, not as someone who wished to exalt or lord himself over everyone else. He closed the sermon by encouraging the people to be aware of who we are in Christ, because without this awareness we lose the authority, tools, and resources we have available to us to go about God’s business in this world. Yet, if we are aware of who we are in Christ, we have all of heaven backing us. We are ambassadors going out into a foreign land by the authority of the King of heaven, with the Great Commission of inviting those who do not know our King to accept His gift of salvation and join us as heirs to His Kingdom. Praise God from Whom all blessings flow!
On the way out of church, I met the Associate and Youth Pastor, Allen Lindon (pastor Michael’s older brother), and we scheduled a lunch meeting for Thursday of that week. We met up and talked about the beginnings of Living Faith Fellowship, their growth, their move from the original location to the current building, and their ongoing goal throughout their existence, which is to get out into the community and reach the unreached. Like his brother, Allen is clean-cut, positive, constantly smiling, and passionate about serving God. We talked about the ChurchSurfer blog, and he was visibly excited to get detailed feedback about what my experience was like at Living Faith Church. He asked questions about their church as well as experiences I’d had at other churches, obviously looking for anything I could offer that may help them improve or make changes. How refreshing is it to know that the pastors of this church value that type of feedback and upon learning that I had been to so many churches, earnestly sought any information that they might use to help them make a difference in their church. I’m sure many churches don’t care, or worse yet, think they don’t need it. Once again, God sent me to the right place at the right time, and I was blessed by Him through Living Faith Church and the Lindon brothers. They have a heart and desire to serve the Lord and I have a feeling they will be a big part of the coming revival in Chattanooga that many (including myself) are feeling. May His kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.
Please share the ChurchSurfer blog with anyone who may be interested and make sure to “like” it on Facebook. I truly hope you enjoy reading about the ChurchSurfer journey!
P.S. Sorry for the lack of pictures this week…taking photos is something I’m obviously not good at without my wife around 🙂