Church Experience #40 – October 23, 2011
River City Church – Chattanooga, TN
The end of the month of October is upon us, which means there are only two more months left in 2011. Each time I sit down to write a new blog article now, I think about how many churches I have visited this year (forty!) and how few I have left to visit. Knowing that I only have ten church visits remaining (yes, I realize that looking at the calendar my fiftieth church will actually be on 1/1/12, so technically I will not visit fifty churches in 2011) makes each decision on where to go more difficult. My desire is to experience something unique, something special, something completely “of God” each week, which means that just like every other decision I make in life, I must truly seek His guidance and trust in His direction. I am already thinking about all the writing I will have on my plate after all fifty of my blog articles have been completed…there are a ton of reflections, lessons learned, and discoveries made that I can share (if anyone is interested) which will certainly keep me busy for an unknown portion of 2012. But without looking too far into the future, I still have an immediate task at hand…church visit number forty. While searching for a church to visit this week I used Google to do some online browsing. This is something that I have (surprisingly) done very few times this year, and instead I have usually selected churches by word of mouth, personal invitation, or drive-by. Google search is, however, a relevant tool that most of us use for finding pretty much anything in today’s world, so I would feel remiss if I did not use it for discovering potential churches to visit. While browsing search results looking for churches that I had never heard of, I came across the website for River City Church and was immediately intrigued. It wasn’t that the website was something spectacular (not to pick on them, but there is actually a ginormous blank white space dominating the visible part of their home page), but what grabbed my attention was the place where the church meets…Mosaic Arts Venue. I work on Market Street in downtown Chattanooga, so I spend a lot of time down there and for me Mosaic is one of those businesses that I always see and am always curious about but never go in the door to find out what is inside. So I decided to go to River City Church and find out what it and Mosaic, were all about.
Young and Hip
Laura and I parked on the back side of the Mosaic building and went in the rear entrance, where we were greeted by a few friendly folks who seemed to be enjoying the morning sunshine. It did not take long to get a feel for Mosaic…after our first steps inside the doorway we were immersed into a world of art. A long hallway leading to the main meeting room was lined with paintings and had I taken the time to stop and fully reflect on each piece I would have missed church entirely. It was definitely a cool way to make an entrance into Sunday morning church, and after taking a few photos Laura and I proceeded down the hallway slowly, appreciating as much of our surroundings as we could. At the end of the hallway we took a left turn through a doorway into the main room. The building was exactly what you would expect out of a hip downtown Chattanooga art gallery…exposed brick walls and ceilings, black concrete floors with chalky pastel pink and blue highlights, and a painted black stage that looks like the backyard project of a neighborhood garage band. The wall behind the stage looked as if Vincent Van Gogh had added his signature “Starry Night” swoops and swirls to it and in front of the stage were rows of chairs with various pieces of stained glass art hanging from chains overhead. Yeah, it was cool. In the rear corner of the room was a small bar area with coffee and donuts surrounded by a gathering of twenty-somethings socializing in small clusters. We helped ourselves to some coffee and were greeted by Jane, who was keeping everything stocked from behind the bar and engaged us in conversation with some questions about who we were and where we were from. Jane seemed spunky and personable and after a few minutes chatting with her I learned that she was the pastor’s wife. We told her a little about the ChurchSurfer blog and had a few laughs about whether her coffee and donuts service would increase the chances of a positive “review” in my write-up about River City Church (yes!). We were offered a few more warm greetings as we made our way toward the front and grabbed some seats, which were filling in quickly. As I glanced around, it dawned on me that besides the super-cool artsy atmosphere and the amazing coffee and donuts service offered by Jane, what struck me the most was the collective age of the congregation. I am thirty-four years old, and there may have been five people in the room who were older than me (and no, there weren’t only five other people in the room). It is a pretty awesome thing to see a room full of young people gathered to worship the Lord!
In a place like Mosaic, I would not have been surprised to see the lights go down, the fog machine crank up, and some hard rockin’ emo-style worship kick in, but instead the four people on stage began playing acoustic praise music with an acoustic guitar, a muffled bass, keyboard, and hand drums. The worship was sincere and powerful, and many in the congregation lifted hands as they sang along with the melodic and soaring choruses that typify modern praise songs. After a few songs Pastor Martin Scott welcomed everyone and began stalling from the floor in front of the stage. He was dressed casually in jeans and a plaid short sleeve shirt, and seemed very grounded and amiable, and maybe a little scattered (which I think is common among pastors, but also endearing) as he clipped on his microphone and gathered himself before launching into his sermon. He taught from the Scriptures in Mark 2:1-12 and began with a juxtaposition of the “real” Jesus versus a “fake” Jesus. He explained that a fake Jesus is a thing which we ask God for in prayer and then ignore Him when we receive it. Our root desire of a fake Jesus is normally money, power, or sexuality, and though we may fully believe or convince ourselves that God wants us to have these things (or even worse, that we deserve these things), they quickly become our idols when we get them and God falls into the background of our lives until we desire something else. As a side note here, I was recently reading Psalm 115, which gave me a great reinforcement to this sermon and had me contemplating what the truth is of the “blessings” and “increase” that are mentioned, but I’ll save that discussion for another time. Pastor Martin continued to teach through Mark 2, with the most poignant subject being the dedication of the paralytics’ friends, who would stop at nothing (even digging through the roof of the house, in verse 4) to get their companion to Jesus. His next question came like a punch in the gut when you’re not expecting it…”what does it take to stop you from bringing a friend to Jesus?” Ouch! I will be the first to admit that I have been too quick to back off from unbelieving friends, making excuses like “I’ll just continue to love them and try to attract them to Christ through my example,” which if I’m being honest with myself, really means “I’ll just continue to hang out and have fun with them and hope for the best.” Not sure how I can justify that one, when Romans 10:17 pretty plainly states “So faith comes from hearing, that is, hearing the Good News about Christ”. Had God left it up to me to seek Him, I would be sitting here today a dead man. Thank God He continued to pursue me and did not stop when I ignored Him the first time. Oh, that I might be His faithful servant and do the same for my friends by serving them and continuing to share the Good News with them often, for that is the love and the example of Christ.
After the sermon we sang a couple more worship songs and then prepared for communion with an exhortation from Pastor Martin for everyone in attendance to examine their hearts before taking part. The communion experience at River City Church was very unique. Two communion stations were set up at the front and people were asked to come up in small groups (ten or so per group), and then form a circle. The bread and wine were passed around the circle and each person broke off a piece and then dipped it in the chalice. After everyone in the group had a piece of dipped bread in hand, they ate it and then the circle drew in close so that everyone could place their hands on the shoulders of the people to either side while the pastor or church elder prayed over them. I enjoyed the group focus of the communion and I still had the opportunity to pray silently from my own heart when I returned to my seat. After the service ended, Laura and I hung around for a short time for more conversation with Pastor Martin and some other people we had met. I left the service with joy in my heart for the new friends I had made and a strong desire to be a better friend to some of the ones I already have. I hope I can be a faithful and loving friend.
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Grace and peace in Christ,