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.

Another Sunday — Building Church I


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.

worship team area at Building Church in Huntsville

I don’t remember what movie it was I was skipping church to go see.

This was back pretty early on in this whole process; I was still attending Whitesburg Baptist Church regularly, but had also started attending a house-based congregation in addition. This was back in the “what’s a real church” era, and was part of the transition to the idea that something other than what I was used to could still be real church. I had met with the house-based congregation the night before, and was skipping church to see the movie partially as a way of communicating to myself, “Hey, it’s OK, that last night really was church, and you’ve already been to church this weekend.” What can I say, I was young and naive and legalistic back then.

Point being, it was interesting to me that when I went to the movie theater that morning, there was a church meeting there. My thought process was probably something like, “Huh, interesting.” Given what was going on with me, I probably took it as evidence that church could be more diverse than I had thought, but that it wasn’t anything I was interested in doing personally.

It’s been a long road since then before I finally visited that church this past weekend, and this post is probably going to be unfair to the Building Church as a result, for which I’m sorry.

In fact, I’ll start by saying, they were awesome. That’ll make up a bit for what’s to come.

The church has been meeting at the Rave Theater in Jones Valley in Huntsville for years, though my timing was rather fortuitous; they’re going to be moving to the Monaco Theater at Bridge Street the first weekend in December, so I almost missed visiting where I had first seen them.

It was almost certainly the most friendly and welcoming church I’ve been to; I was met at the front door, and escorted directly to the “sanctuary” theater, being introduced to several people along the way. They were very much set up to make sure that guests felt very welcome, and welcomed, at the service. Plus, there was free coffee and hot chocolate, though I didn’t partake, so can’t speak to quality.

The music was lively and energetic, the set-up was nice, the guest sermon was interesting and accessible.

All in all, I was very impressed.

OK, there’s my nutshell review. Here’s the personal part, since this series is really more about my journey than about the churches I visit.

They’re all the same.

The first year of my journey was about learning about how very different churches can be, how much diversity there is. Now, however, it seems to be about how they’re all the same, how little diversity there is.

Once you get past the myriad superficial differences, it’s all the same. The format or volume of the music is a little different. There are differences in theology and doctrine, but not so that you would necessarily notice on a week-to-week basis. The people sitting around you are different, but if you barely interact with them, you don’t notice so much. Go to any given church long enough, and maybe the music will be a little different one week, or a guest preacher will talk about something a little different, or you’ll sit by different people. Ignore the decorations, and that’s what it’s like visiting different churches at some point.

When I visited Southside the second time, I noted that I wondered what the take-away was from the fact that my second visit was so different from the first, if it was a lesson in the fact that I should be more careful not to judge a church just based on one visit. Looking back, those two visits to that one church were as different as a lot of weeks going to entirely different churches.

It’s all the same.

I want something different. I want something more like the house church I was involved in.

I desperately want community, and that made me realize that it’s been over two years since I’ve really been to some sort of Sunday School equivalent.

I like my Wednesday night group, but I don’t necessarily believe everything they do, and at times it’s frustrating. I want people whom I can explore things with, not who want to make sure everyone understands proper doctrine. When we read and discuss scripture, or when we focus on sharing our journeys through life, I love the group. When we’re supposed to be learning about John Piper or Food Inc., not so much.

I’m tired, I’m frustrated, and I’m disheartened.

I read Revolutionby George Barna, and it really didn’t help. It’s a little more open to the idea of just walking from organized church completely than I want to be. But there are times like last week when it sounds freeing.

I want my church to be freeing, too.