Another Sunday — Flint River Baptist Church III


This entry is part of my series on my on-going “church journey” that I’ll be documenting as it takes place. You can read about other visits with the “journey” tag.

The last time I saw Steve Bell, he was in handcuffs.

This is the third Sunday morning I’ve visited Flint River Baptist Church with Heather recently, but the last two were special programs. No sermons. So this week was the first time I’ve heard their regular pastor preach for about two and a half years.

The last time I saw him, he was in handcuffs, as an illustration for his sermon series about breaking free of spiritual prisons. To be honest, while I thought the sermon was good, I thought the handcuff bit was rather gimmicky.

This Sunday was about spiritual “hoarders.” There was, as with last time, a flashy introductory video, and the stage was covered with junk as an illustration for the concept. To be honest, I thought it was all a bit gimmicky.

All of which would be fine, except that the sermon dealt with wrong attitudes Christians have. They don’t prepare before coming to church, and they expect to show up and be the audience. They fail to understand that church isn’t where you come to catch up with God, and that when you come, He is the audience for your worship.

And the problem I have with that is, sure, it’s easy to say, but you can’t be surprised that people feel that way when that’s what the church trains them to do. Rather than a New Testament model where everyone comes to church to participate, today’s church turns most members into an audience, mostly watching quietly and still as the preacher and worship team perform. And here’s a preacher, on stage, complete with big screen videos and set dressing, like a concert, chiding his audience for acting like, well, an audience.

This is one of the biggest problems with the church today — you cannot create a structure based on complacency, and then be surprised when it produces complacent Christians.

In his defense, he was preaching, generally, the right things. I agreed with almost everything he said. I just wish the medium didn’t outweigh the message.

That said, this past Sunday was unusual for me for another reason — it’s the first time in almost two years that I’ve been to Life Group or Sunday School or whatever name it happens to go by. And it was good. The lesson was somewhat pro forma, but that’s OK. The real great part was the people. It was the first time I’d been to Heather’s class with her. I’d met many of the people before in other contexts, but I was still a little worried about what it was going to be like going to her class with her, how people would accept me, how they would accept the change. And everyone was wonderful. In addition to having met some of the people, Heather has talked about them a lot, and how they’ve supported her, in myriad ways, over the year. And being there, it’s easy to understand. This are good people, this is a good group.

And that, to me, more than preachers and sermons and worship leaders, is what a good church is about. (And, again, I think Steve Bell wouldnt’ completely disagree.) It was a pleasure to be among them.

Another Sunday — Flint River Baptist Church II


This entry is part of my series on my on-going “church journey” that I’ll be documenting as it takes place. You can read about other visits with the “journey” tag.

This past Sunday took me back to Flint River Baptist Church with Heather and the boys. For the second time in a row, there was a musical program instead of a sermon, which included a couple of songs with a children’s choir that included Finn, which was cool. But, as a result, I don’t have a lot of content notes, just a few random thoughts.

• I like corporate music. A lot. And I like the freedom to truly enjoy it. I forget this. If I’m not in a Sunday morning service in a couple of weeks, or if I’m in one where the music doesn’t engage me, then when I go into a service with good music again for the first time in a while, I’m consistently surprised by how much I like it. And I like to be able to lift my hands if I feel moved to, and don’t like being in a situation where I feel constrained to not. Sunday, for example, was wonderful. The music was good, the congregation was singing, and I wasn’t the only one lifting my hands. I talk a lot about having a small group or home church be my primary congregation, which has basically been the case this past year with my Sojourn Journey Group, and then I’m reminded of how much I would miss good worship through music.

• I don’t care much for spectator music. To be fair, this is a big part of why I am interested in having a small group or home church be my primary congregation — I don’t care much for spectator anything. I don’t like having “church” were a large number of people are sitting quietly and still watching other people perform the service. No wonder we have so many Christians who leave the church on Sunday morning and are unengaged in their beliefs the rest of the week — that’s what they’re trained to do on Sunday morning. What is the point in having the congregation NOT sing? Why would you have a choir or worship team singing, and not let the congregation lift up their voices to the Lord also? The funny thing is, I’ve never enjoyed this part of the service; I just never knew why before.

• I like being in a church where people read “For God so loved the world…” and actually believe it. I’m a little overwhelmed with the idea that what John really meant to say was that “God so loved Himself …” I try to respect people’s beliefs, but it just seems sad to me.

• OK, a standard gripe, along the lines of the second point. The preacher, at the end of the service, gives the prayer of decision, inviting people to pray to accept Christ, and asks people to raise their hands if they prayed the prayer. And he says, “I won’t call out your names; I don’t even know your names, probably.” Now, granted, some of these may be people that were there for the first time, and it’s a little more understandable that he wouldn’t know their names. But it’s not uncommon for people to visit a church more than once before making a decision like that. More importantly, in a small group or house church congregation, even if its your first visit, people are going to know your name. Your pastor should know you. To be a pastor to you, someone should know you, be accessible to you, know what you’re dealing with, be there for you, support you. If a preacher can’t do that for his flock, he’s not really their pastor. It’s sad to me how many Christians are trying to make their spiritual life work without having a pastor, and who don’t know that they don’t have one and don’t know that they should.

• That said, those are kind of universal gripes that I wanted to get out of my system. I do like Flint River. A lot. And the pastor did, in fact, come shake my hand and introduce himself to me before the service. I look forward to hearing him preach again, and I imagine my opinion of the church would also evolve if I become involved in a small group there.