Church Experience #12 – March 20, 2011
Dance Dance Revolution
About 10 or 12 years ago I went through a dancing phase in my Christian worship style. I had been a fan of live music for a long time (bluegrass, jazz, funk, jambands, etc) and I always enjoyed dancing at the concerts I attended. This kind of carried over into my Christian life and I would often migrate to the rear of whatever church or venue I was at and dance during the worship music. I never thought it was all that out of the ordinary, but looking back, I’m sure other people did. Then I visited a Vineyard church in Nashville and was pleasantly surprised to find that there were other dancers out there. Not the whole congregation danced, but quite a few people did, as well as bang tambourines, wave banners, and engage in various other free-spirited worship activities. I specifically remember a lady from the Vineyard service I attended who was a particularly fine dancer, and was probably the oldest person at the church that day, appearing to be well over 70. Now that my dancing days are for the most part over (except for at home where I still regularly cut loose to the amusement of my wife and dog) I was curious to see whether the Vineyard church in Chattanooga was also a place of free-spirited worship, or if I had just happened across a congregation that held a little more closely to the denomination’s San Francisco roots.
I searched online and found a local Vineyard church that holds services at Tyner Middle Academy, so my wife Laura and I decided to check it out. As we pulled up to the school there were several parking lot attendants who enthusiastically directed us to a parking spot and then came up to greet us as we walked up to the building. Once we got up to the entrance we were greeted at the door, and again just inside the door, and then again on our way down the hallway toward the cafeteria, which served as the worship area. In fact, it was much like proceeding through a series of greeter checkpoints, where each person was attempting to be increasingly friendlier than the previous greeter (although I think Susan at the front door probably couldn’t be outdone). I definitely felt welcome and had plenty of opportunities to shake hands and meet people on the way in. Once inside the worship area, we were quite ecstatic when we laid eyes on the table stacked full of Krispy Kreme boxes, so we grabbed a chocolate glazed donut and cup of coffee and headed over to the information table to meet some Vineyard people. The information table was at the back of the room, and as we approached the two twenty-somethings standing behind it lit up big smiles and greeted us. Tyler and Rachel were extremely friendly and as we chatted for a few minutes, they continued handing us free stuff, including the book “Not the Religious Type” by Dave Schmelzer, and a CD of worship music from their church. I thought the free book was a pretty cool gesture, and the young couple came across as very genuine during our conversation. The real win was when Rachel said they were having a pot luck lunch after the service and that we were welcome to stay even though we hadn’t brought anything. Free food…sweet!
The cafeteria was quite successfully transformed into a worship area by the strategic use of black pipe and drape extending out from the sides of the stage. The seating was provided in the form of fold out chairs, and there was plenty of space. As the worship music began, I noticed that Tyler from the information table was also the bass player in the worship band, and they launched into some Jars of Clay-ish modern worship music (which I expected after reading the “about us” page on their website). There were various people who lifted hands as they sang and swayed to the music, but other than one particularly spunky elderly man directly in front of us (who despite having oxygen tubes was definitely the most lively worshiper), the atmosphere was more reserved and laid back than the Vineyard I had been to years earlier. During the worship I retreated to the back of the room to snap a few photos (not dance), and was approached by a tall young man with crazy hair and a big bushy black beard, who I think was curious to find out what I was doing. I mentioned that I just wanted to take a couple of pictures, and he seemed OK with that and moved along. After the worship ended the Associate Pastor, Josh Gott, came up to begin the sermon…he was the big bushy black beard guy. I never would have guessed he was a pastor. In all the churches I’ve attended over the years, I have to say this is probably the first where I’ve seen a pastor who didn’t look like a pastor…if you know what I mean. In those early dancing days of my Christian life, I also had a big bushy beard, and it was amazing how differently people treated me back then. It was like I wasn’t taken seriously because of the way I looked, so I was glad to see a church where someone who didn’t look the part was still accepted in a pastoral role.
Pastor Josh began his sermon with a reference to Jesus’ sermon on the mount, introducing it as a point where Jesus was directing His people away from “religion”, and toward a spiritual relationship with God. The topic of the sermon was to be something that I am now identifying as a recurring theme among many of my church visits this year…money. Pastor Josh pointed out that money changes relationships when it comes into the picture, including our spiritual relationship with God. After catching me off guard by telling a “crap” joke from the pulpit (he was quite unorthodox with his preaching…in a good way), he referenced Matthew 6:19-21, which establishes the truth that where your treasure is, your heart will be also. Whether you realize it or not, your actions tell the true story of where your heart is no matter what your mouth may say. Money, or treasure, is God’s biggest competition for your heart. Have you ever bought a brand new car and then gotten a door ding or maybe even worse shortly thereafter? How did that feel to you? Have you ever purchased stock in a company that you had never been interested in, but then all of a sudden you cared and kept up with the company religiously because you were invested in it? Where your treasure is, your heart will be also. Think about that and read Matthew 6:22-24. If your heart is in your possessions, then your focus becomes your possessions, and sooner or later your possessions become obsessions. Now think about the opposite side of the coin. What if you are generous with your treasure…a cheerful giver, as God calls us to be? Does money become like a bridle for horseback riding…a tool for steering your heart? If you are looking for a closer walk with God, how about investing in others rather than yourself. Don’t you think your heart will then be focused on loving and serving others? Where you treasure is, your heart will be also! Act your way into thinking differently. Don’t wait on feeling like you have gotten to a certain place in your spiritual walk with God before you begin serving others, because then it will never happen. Do first…the feeling will follow. Thank you pastor Josh for an excellent sermon on a subject that is popping up all over Chattanooga. Most people go to the same church every week and don’t have the perspective that I am gaining on recurring topics that are being preached all over our city right now. Don’t you think that is God speaking to us?
After the sermon, Laura and I helped fold up and hang all the chairs and transform the church worship area back into a lunchroom. We were then led in prayer for the pot luck lunch we were about to partake in, and as we moved through the food line, we were amazed at all of the deliciousness that had been prepared by all the various church members. Even though the people of Vineyard claimed to not do the pot luck thing very often, they brought it out like pro’s. There was nothing lacking, and I was thankful that God had led me to Vineyard on this particular day to partake in this feast with such a welcoming congregation. I sat and ate with Jeff Anderle, the head pastor of Vineyard, who explained that they chose to meet in a school because they like the fact that their rent money goes into the school system and they also feel that it is the best way to connect to and serve the community. Their members have painted the inside the school and raised money to support various programs that otherwise would have been lost due to budget cuts. Pastor Jeff and a few other people also listened with interest as I talked about the ChurchSurfer blog and some of the goals that God has laid on my heart to work on for the city of Chattanooga. One of those goals that I’m currently working on is a website that will serve as a one-stop resource for people to search for and find a home church, opportunities to serve the community, and ways to connect to other ministries and organizations that need support. My opinion is that if there is a better tool for getting connected to churches and service opportunities, that there will be more attendance in church and more people serving the community. We just need to remove all the obstacles and make it simple and free for all churches and ministries around Chattanooga to be able to reach out through the internet.
If you would like to get involved in the project to provide a community website by either donating money or volunteering your web development skills, please contact me immediately at firstname.lastname@example.org. ChurchSurfer is being established under New Decree, a 501(c)(3) non-profit ministry directed by my dad, Mark Davis, who also currently hosts a call-in prayer request radio show called The Healing Touch.
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!