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… Read more...
Church Experience #30 – August 7, 2011
Rock Point Community Church – Chattanooga, TN
Faith Changes Things
(Warning, philosophy ahead – please read this first paragraph slowly) It is a strange thing how faith changes your life. When you think about it, how could it not change your life? Hebrews 11:1 gives us a definition of faith when it tells us, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” When you have evidence of something that you have not seen, it makes it possible to believe it exists. Without evidence, that thing is just an idea or concept, but with enough evidence it becomes established as real, or as truth, even without physically seeing it. This initial belief in the existence of something by faith then results in a change of your understanding of the things that are related to that thing. If this thing is significant enough, then over time, the way you act, feel, and think about everything else will change, as it is now filtered through this newly established truth. One day the world is believed to be flat, then there is evidence to prove it is round, and everything changes. For those who are disciples of Christ, the evidence of the claims He made is revealed to us in a real way that cannot be denied. This evidence (which comes from Jesus Himself and the Holy Spirit) gives us the ability to believe, and as the rest of our lives are then filtered through this new truth…we change. The more we are willing to act, feel, and think through the filter of our faith in Jesus, the greater our faith becomes (given, of course, because of God’s grace) and the more we as an individual change. The strange thing (that I alluded to in the very first sentence) is that this changed person of great faith is who you were really created to be…so basically you are becoming your real self. I told you it was strange (or maybe just my strange way of explaining and phrasing things). The point of this feeble attempt at a philosophy lesson was to prelude some significant events that happened around this week’s church visit. Now that I think about it, that message does not actually do a good job of leading into this story at all, but it was on my heart to share for some reason, so there you go…faith. Now on to the next paragraph. Read more...
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. Read more...
Church Experience #28 – July 17, 2011
Church of the First Born – Chattanooga, TN
To Gain a Better Perspective
At the beginning of the summer, I visited Union Chapel (also known as “The Little Brown Church“) and was exposed to an inner city pastor named Alfred “No Middle Name” Johnson for the first time. The article I wrote about that church experience dealt in part with observing the contrast of a black inner city pastor preaching at a white Signal Mountain church. For the purposes of ChurchSurfer this provided great content because, in my mind, talking about how the love of Christ allows His people to rise above things that do not make sense to the world (all they see is the paradox of an inner city black man teaching wealthy white people), is a great way to glorify our Lord. I felt like that article, although limited to just one speaker in a church that hosts a different speaker every week, did a good job capturing the essence of what the Little Brown Church is all about. What the article did not do, however, was capture a clear picture of what Alfred Johnson was all about. I was greatly impressed and intrigued with his sermon at the Little Brown Church in the way that it basically called to attention the current generation of youth that we, as Christians, are failing to reach in so many ways. A sharp sermon delivered by a fiery preacher definitely gives insight into the man and his ministry, but it does not give a complete picture of either. In order to get a more complete picture I knew I would actually have to see him in his ministry. I needed to visit Church of the First Born, where Alfred Johnson serves as Pastor and see him in action in his own environment. I always look forward to visiting churches where I am an ethnic minority anyway, because I feel like if I really want to gain a deeper understanding of other cultures and grow in my ability to truly love and connect to all people, I need to be exposed to people who are different than me. If you really want to discover your own capacity for love, you cannot build walls and limit your contact to what you know…you have to explore the unknown. So here is how my experience at Church of the First Born went… Read more...
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… Read more...
Church visit #26 – July 3, 2011
White Oak United Methodist Church – Red Bank, TN
It’s Been How Long?
To start this week’s article I would like to take a moment to celebrate, reflect, and glorify God for a ChurchSurfer milestone…I am now officially halfway through my fifty church visits for 2011. This week is my twenty-sixth church visit of the year and I cannot believe how quickly it has gone by and the amazing things that I have experienced. The most valuable things I have taken away from the experience so far are the spiritual growth that Laura and I have both been blessed with, and the wonderful people we have met along the way. I thank the Lord Jesus Christ, that He has walked with me every step of the way, giving me discernment, understanding, compassion, humility, love, and a willingness to venture outside of a normal routine without fear of being scoffed at, ridiculed, or not accepted. These accomplishments and fruits of the Spirit serve as evidence of God’s power to work through us for good, and to build up and equip His followers as heirs and ambassadors for His Kingdom. I thank God and hope that this blog and these experiences are in some way an encouragement, an opportunity for reflection, a call to action, or a help in some way to all who read it, for it would be a major disappointment to think that this journey was in any way self-serving. With that being said, there are still twenty-five more church visits to go, starting with this one. One of my goals for the next six months will be to continue to explore different denominations, cultures, and parts of town to seek Christ in each place…how He is taught, worshiped, and glorified by different groups of believers. This can sometimes be controversial, and although Christians have plenty of disagreements, I would rather confront them rather than allow them to keep us divided (probably not a popular stance, I know). So this week I decided to attend a church that has something that none of the other churches I have been to so far this year have had…a female (senior) pastor. This is probably very controversial to some and probably no big deal to others, but it’s an experience I wanted to have, so here is how it went… Read more...
Church visit # 25 – Saturday, June 25, 2011
Hamilton Community Church (Seventh-Day Adventist) – Chattanooga, TN
One of the things that has been amazing about the ChurchSurfer journey so far has been the overwhelming response from the people I have talked to who have told me that after reading one ChurchSurfer article (usually about their own church) they continued to keep up with the blog week after week. The majority of these people have told me that the reason they like to keep up with it is because it gives them insight into what is going on in other churches in the community. It gives them a sense of “having been there” without actually being there. You could argue that it is good for Christians to venture out of their home church on occasion to visit another congregation, but many people simply do not have the desire to do that. They are understandably connected to their own church and do not want to miss out on their “family” time. This is especially true of church leaders…elders, deacons, teachers, preachers, pastors, etc. The church leaders are potentially the ones who would get the most out of experiencing other congregations, but are obviously the ones who would have the hardest time sacrificing a Sunday (or Saturday for the Adventists) at their own church. The result of never venturing outside of your own church is that people tend to become “denominationalized” (OK, I just made that word up), meaning that they become intensely loyal to their own church denomination, adopting it as their identity in some instances, which can lead to forming negative stereotypes and attitudes toward other churches and denominations. This is where it becomes a problem. If we harbor these ill feelings toward other churches, how in the world are we supposed to work together to advance the Kingdom of God? Of course I know that there actually are substantial differences in doctrine and practice from denomination to denomination, and I agree with C.S. Lewis who writes in his book “Mere Christianity” (a HIGHLY recommended read) that Christians cannot even agree on what is acceptable to disagree about (what are salvation vs. non-salvation issues?). But the more we disagree, the less we work together, and the less we work together, the less we will accomplish for God, plain and simple. So it was my intent with ChurchSurfer…both for myself and for those who read the blog…to experience as many different denominations as possible and hopefully come away with a better understanding of who we all are and a more open and positive outlook on how we can work together. It was this desire that led me this week to visit a denomination I had absolutely zero knowledge and experience with, aside from reading “The Great Controversy” by Ellen G. White about ten years ago (which was donated to me by a missionary). The denomination I am referring to is Seventh-Day Adventist (or just Adventist). So Laura and I got up on Saturday morning and here is what happened… Read more...
Church Visit #24 – June 19, 2011
Scott Memorial Church of God – East Ridge, TN
In the week leading up to this week’s church visit, I received an interesting phone call. Clint Cooper from the Chattanooga Times Free Press called me to inquire about doing a newspaper profile on the ChurchSurfer project. Clint and I had met a few months earlier at a weekend event called the Walk to Emmaus, at which he had heard me mention the ChurchSurfer blog, and since then he had read it and apparently felt like it would be a good story to share in the “Life” section of the Times Free Press. I was all for it, of course…my thought all along has been that the stories from these churches would be a valuable resource for people in Chattanooga…and hopefully uplifting and entertaining as well. After making arrangements for a photographer to come out and meet me at the church I was visiting (but still had not chosen) I realized that having a photographer taking pictures of me may complicate the “average-Joe-first-time-visitor” experience that I’m always looking to write about. I immediately began deliberating about the various churches I had been considering, and questioning to myself whether they would feel intruded upon or exposed, or maybe feel like I was reporting or investigating their church rather than just writing an experiential blog article about it. I became somewhat troubled about this decision and thought about calling the pastor of a church beforehand to alert them to what would be going on, but then I reasoned that I would be making a bigger deal out of this thing than it really was. On the morning that I was supposed to call Clint back to let him know which church I would be attending, I still had not made a decision. I was looking at the calendar and it suddenly dawned upon me that this Sunday was Father’s Day. My dad, Mark Davis, recently became the Interim Pastor at Scott Memorial Church of God in East Ridge. How could I possibly choose any other church in the city of Chattanooga to attend on Father’s Day over my dad’s church? Problem solved! Not to mention that if having a photographer around caused a stir I probably wouldn’t get kicked out of a church where my dad is preaching, haha! Thank you Lord! So here we go… Read more...
Church Experience #23 – June 12, 2011
New City Fellowship PCA – Chattanooga, TN
With or Without Generalizations
When it comes to making generalizations about how people worship and conduct church services compared to what types of cultures and subcultures make up the majority of the people in a congregation, I would say I have pretty much gotten what I have expected so far on the ChurchSurfer journey. Denomination seems to be the best foreshadow of what to expect out of a church experience, and then as you add in the demographics of the pastor and people that make up the church you can pretty easily paint the rest of the picture. For example, if you go to an Episcopal church that has a predominantly white congregation in an affluent neighborhood, you can probably bank on the fact that the service will be dressy and formal with conservative hymn-based worship led by a choir without electric instruments or drums. There are plenty of generalizations like this that will tell a story about what a certain church is like, and I would argue that (whether consciously or unconsciously) these are the tools most people use to decide which church they will attend or join…it is really just human nature. So far, I have attended twenty-two different churches in 2011 and have not really been surprised (by not knowing what to expect) yet. I am not really sure if this is a good thing or a bad thing. Should churches be that predictable? I can think of arguments for both the “yes” and “no” answers to that question, as well as for “yes and no” answer. Let me also clarify that I am speaking of the typical format and style of the worship service here, not the events that happen (or results of those events) at a church on any given Sunday, which are wholly up to the Holy Spirit (you like how I did that…wholly and Holy?). The reason I am bringing these things up (as you can probably guess) is that here I am in week twenty-three and feel like for the first time I visited a church that was not what I thought it would be. Well, to be honest, I have actually been to New City Fellowship once before, probably ten years ago or more, and that was my experience then. Now that I am married I thought it would be a great church for my wife Laura to experience as well, plus one that should definitely be included in ChurchSurfer. So here is the run-down on our experience… Read more...
Church Experience #22 – June 5, 2011
Little Brown Church (Union Chapel) – Summertown, TN
A Church with a History
I will start this week with an interesting fact that many Chattanoogans may not be aware of: Signal Mountain is not a mountain at all…it is a town that exists on Walden’s Ridge. So when someone says “I live on Signal” or “I’m going up the mountain”, what they really should be saying is “I live in Signal” or “I’m going up the ridge”. Walden’s Ridge extends much further past the town of Signal Mountain with other communities and towns tucked away on winding side streets that most of the time get lumped into the catch-all phrase of “Signal Mountain” that everyone recognizes. One of these communities on Walden’s Ridge is Summertown, which has a very interesting history and a very unique and famous building called Little Brown Church (officially, Union Chapel). For the sake of space, I will not get into the full history of Little Brown Church (there is an entire book on it) other than to say it is over one-hundred years old and was started by Chattanooga families that made Summertown their escape from the summertime heat in the valley and the Yellow Fever that showed up with the mosquitoes. They built this little chapel as a gathering place, but rather than hire a pastor, they decided to save the money and do all the teaching and preaching themselves. Little Brown Church operates from Memorial Day through Labor Day each summer, and to this day is a community-run entity, with no paid staff and a different person serving as the Director each year. Read more...