Church Experience #29 – July 24, 2011
Silverdale Baptist Church – Chattanooga, TN
Last Minute Directions
For the most part, throughout my 28 church experiences so far in 2011, I have had little trouble picking a new church to visit each week. I have talked in previous articles about my process for picking churches, which I would basically describe as listening for “clues” or direction from the Spirit, while at the same time being intentional about selecting churches of different denominations, size, and demographics for the sake of providing better content for the ChurchSurfer blog and a better opportunity for me and Laura to grow from a wide range of experiences. There are roughly one-thousand churches in greater Chattanooga, so the pool of potential options is certainly not limited, but for some reason I was struggling a little bit this week with making a final selection. There were a couple of churches that I had in mind, but they just did not “feel” right as it came down to time to commit to one. So around midnight on Saturday night I did what any reasonable husband would do in a time of crisis…ask his wife for help. Apparently Laura did not get the memo that explained how strategic and complicated selecting a ChurchSurfer church should be, because she thought for only a minute or two and then matter-of-factly stated, “I’d like to go to Silverdale Baptist”. The nerve! Of course I second guessed her. I started throwing other potential candidates out there (yes, the same ones that did not feel right to me in the first place) trying to make her waver and realize she did not go through the correct selection process. She simply responded that the decision was ultimately up to me, but I was the one who had asked her for help. OK…ya got me there. So I somewhat reluctantly agreed that Silverdale Baptist would be the church we visited this week, and I continued to second guess that decision even on Sunday morning as we headed out for church.
Pop/Rock and Bubble Gum
We pulled in to the huge Silverdale Baptist complex, which was under heavy construction at the time, and parked in one of the “visitor” parking spaces close to the building (I was feeling a little lazy, but hey, it’s one of the perks of being a visitor, so there). I snapped a couple of construction photos as we approached the building and then we headed on over to the entrance. There was a welcome table with a greeter just inside the door, and we were handed bulletins and a map to help us navigate through the winding hallways leading to the gym, which was the temporary worship facility while the main sanctuary was under renovations. The gym made a pretty functional temporary sanctuary, with the only oddity being the fact that it is obviously much wider than deep, so the stage area was very shallow and stretched out. The basketball goals were folded up overhead, and the “fake wood” gym floor was barely noticeable with all the chairs spread out over it. The chairs were cushioned and comfortable and there was black pipe and drape behind the stage and two large projection screens above it that had countdown timers for the beginning of the worship service. I wondered how this “second rate” temporary setup in a school gym, which would feel spectacularly impressive to many congregations out there that lack adequate facilities, would compare to the normal Silverdale Baptist sanctuary. Laura and I watched the room fill up to capacity, and as the countdown clock neared zero, the band, which was larger than what I have seen at most contemporary churches, got in their places and then kicked off the worship music. I would describe the music as pop/rock worship with a nice full sound that was not too loud or hard on the rock side of things, but also not too “poppy” either, even though it leaned a little farther in that direction. I am really not a fan of music that gets over into what I would classify as the “bubble gum” side of the pop/rock spectrum, and I know in the Christian music realm that is probably the most popular style (think Avalon and Point of Grace ), but it just does not resonate within me like other styles do (acoustic worship, gospel, old hymns). We all have our different tastes and that is what makes us unique and special. So even though I did not deeply connect with the worship music, I did enjoy it and I am always thankful for the chance to freely worship my Savior, Jesus.
A Southern Baptist of Southern Baptists
After two worship songs, there was a short time of prayer and exhortation from the pastor, Tony Walliser, and then two more worship songs and a quick transition directly into the sermon. I guess it is not out of the ordinary in Southern Baptist churches to charge right into the sermon. A lot of other denominations seem to take a while to warm up and ease into the real “meat” of the service, and many denominations devote a lot more time to worship rather than teaching, but at a good ol’ Southern Baptist church you can always expect the main emphasis to be on a hard-driving sermon (and there is nothing wrong with that). I like to say that the main goals of being involved in a church are the opportunities to worship, fellowship, serve, and receive instruction. Churches use Sunday morning services, small groups, Bible study classes, discipleship training, evening and weekday services, and many other programs in different combinations to accomplish these goals, and in my opinion as long as they are succeeding, how they do it is less important than whether they do it. So if “tug at your heart” powerful Southern Baptist sermons are your thing, let me go ahead and recommend that you take a Sunday to visit Silverdale Baptist. Let me also pause right here to explain why I now know that Silverdale Baptist was the right church for us to visit this week. On a recent visit to Journey Church in Hixson, we were given a free book-on-CD by John Piper entitled “Don’t Waste Your Life”. Laura and I were going on vacation soon after receiving it, so we thought it would be an excellent time to listen to the book we had been given. During the long car ride home after vacation we eagerly popped in the CD and listened to about two hours of some of the most intensely intellectual garble I have ever heard. It was like talking in adult language to a baby. Nothing was sinking in and we could not even come close to following John Piper’s high level of vocabulary and thought. So now fast forward back to Silverdale Baptist church and Tony Walliser’s sermon entitled “Don’t Waste Your Life”. His first external reference was to John Piper’s book that we had just failed to understand two days earlier. Wow. Apparently God had a message that He wanted us to hear. Pastor Tony went through point after point dropping bombshells about how people have the “want it now” syndrome as evidenced in society in the way we use credit to obtain possessions, in the way we cannot wait for marriage to engage in sex, and so on. He touched on how we make idols out of the things that begin to define who we are and how we spend our time and money, such as restaurants, sports stadiums, houses, and man caves. He mentioned how the shift in architecture in recent years, dedicating more space in new homes to bigger bedrooms, bathrooms, and closets at the expense of parlors, family rooms, and dining rooms demonstrates our focus on personal pleasure rather than hospitality. The ultimate bomb that Pastor Tony dropped came as he talked about Christians who treat mission trips like vacations, and I wondered if that had become a problem right there in Silverdale Baptist and this was his best way to address and stop it. The end result of all of these misguided pursuits is that you end up with passive Christians who are more focused on their own personal pleasures than serving the one who created them. We all know that in most churches twenty percent of the people do eighty percent of the work…and this sermon was intended to explain why.
Needless to say Laura and I both really received the message from Pastor Tony that morning. We have both committed our lives to following Jesus, not just believing Him. Thankfully we have God’s sanctifying grace to work in us all the rest of the days of our lives as we continue to learn what that means and how we can live it out. Pastor Tony gave some excellent guidance as he closed his sermon with encouragement to pray with a sense of urgency, love with a show of hospitality, and serve with a spirit of dependency. The point of the sermon also got driven home rather significantly as I had a live illustration sitting in the chair right beside me. At the beginning of the service that day, a young, attractive, well-dressed lady showed up about fifteen minutes late and only arrived in enough time to hear part of the very last worship song. She then sat through the rest of the service and texted on her cell phone non-stop. When the service ended she bolted out before I could even turn to speak to her. I don’t want to be judgmental of this girl, because for all I know there was some kind of serious event going on in her life that merited her full attention, but if not then why even come to church? It’s not like you are just going to soak up the sermon and the experience without ever paying attention to it. So this served as a wonderful illustration to me about how many people sitting in church each week are there, but they are not really there. They sing the songs but they don’t worship. They listen to the sermon but they don’t hear it. The understand the message but they don’t live it. They receive from the church but they don’t serve at it. They believe in Jesus but they don’t follow. Jesus did not call us to simply believe that He existed and then still live according to our own will for our own selfish pursuits. He called us to follow and abide in Him. If you don’t understand what that means then I would encourage you to find someone who can help disciple you…they will likely be one of the twenty percent at your church who are doing eighty percent of the work. Don’t waste your life.
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