Wednesday, September 21, 2011

he Knows his Sheep

This was big, really big. And confusing. I wasn’t sure where the entrance was, where the worship center was. It was a like being on a college campus with numerous buildings and never quite being sure where I was supposed to go. But I plunged in. I wanted to see what worship was like at the infamous megachurch—10,000 worshippers at five weekend services.

The first thing that impressed me was that I found a parking spot that was walking distance to where I thought I was supposed to go. Impressive, especially since I am not a fan of large crowds, or of parking shuttles from distant parking lots. The next thing that impressed me as I walked in and found a seat was the ethnic diversity of this church. It was as if I had entered the throne room of heaven where worshippers from every nation and tribe and people and language express their adoration to the Lamb. I actually had to turn around and look at the faces of so many different races, all worshipping the same Savior. This is the Body of Christ as it some day will be!

But maybe what really caught my attention is that this pastor knew his people. And his people responded to him. There was a shepherd-sheep connection that was unexpected for such a huge church. His preaching was directed specifically to his people. And they were engaged. Listening, taking notes, responding to his tender calls for interaction. It struck me that there are pastors of much smaller churches that do not have this kind of knowledge of his people. It reminded me of Jesus whose sheep know His voice and follow Him.

But perhaps the most lasting impression I took from here was that the name of Jesus was exalted and lifted high. They were just beginning a series on Revelation and it was made very clear that this final book of the New Testament is all about Jesus. King Jesus. Savior Jesus. Lord Jesus. Messiah Jesus. The one and only name worthy of our praise and worship and allegiance. This was a beautiful expression of the Bride of Christ, an earthly, localized Bride that is deeply in love with her Groom.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Surprised by Church

This was most unexpected. We were simply trying out a new church in the area, doing a reconnaissance to see what it was like, to see if I should recommend students attend here, that sort of thing. Neither of us was expecting to be moved, touched, like this.

It was a church of some 400-500 people and they had two morning services. The music was very well done—there were some hints that the worship leader had Hollywood connections in the recording industry. The senior pastor was away on vacation or something, but the staff pastor who preached was rock solid. His style was far more classroom type teaching than preaching, but good meat nonetheless.

It wasn’t a particularly friendly church—only one person talked to us. We made it through the gauntlet of donut tables, coffee stations, and door greeters without a single personal contact. Yea, even the door greeter didn’t say anything or hand us a bulletin. We had to go back later and ask for one. But OK, I guess that is pretty normal.

This is a church that has communion every week. The plate of tiny wafers is passed, then the tray of juice cups. It is done near the end of the service with little or no instruction. Each person can take the elements when they are ready. A bit new to us, but OK. I can flex. As I held the broken body of Christ, and a symbol of His blood, I found myself deep into the presence and communion of Jesus. I was not expecting that. I have sat through hundreds of communion services, and unfortunately can be pretty numb to the beauty and mystery of the elements. But something was different. I was swept away.

We stood to sing the final worship song, and something or Someone filled my soul with such love and emotion that I could not sing. God was truly present in this place; the mystery of the cross became incredibly tangible in a quite intangible way. Tears came down my cheeks, and I realized Dawn had been moved in the same way.  

We didn’t know a single person there, still don’t. There are no doubt lots of problems and issues—marriages in trouble, board members who don’t like the pastor’s vision, some who thought the music was too loud or soft or modern or old. But this place is the Body of Christ, the mysterious bride. And that is where the Bridegroom likes to be—with His bride. He was there today. I will recommend this church to my students.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

I am a pastor. My dad is a pastor. My brother-in-law is a pastor. My great-great-grandfather on my dad’s mother’s side was a pastor. I have gone to church my whole life—literally. I have attended a lot of churches, and been the pastor of a few more. Some of those churches I didn’t like. Some of them were good; some not so good. But what makes a church “good” or “not so good”? What does that even mean? I have been hurt by the church, and I have no doubt hurt some people in the church. Does that mean a church is not so good if people get hurt in it?

After many years of full time pastoring, I have shifted gears. God gave me a dream job on the staff/faculty of a small Bible college in Southern California. Part of what I do is connect students with local churches, since each student needs to be part of a local church and have a local church based ministry. Our college is big on the local church, and I am a big part of making that stick. I also teach a class on pastoral ministry, and many other things that go with being in ministry.

So my wife and I attend a different church every Sunday morning, or at least, most Sunday mornings. That allows us to learn about the churches and we are better able to pair up a student and a church. It struck me what a unique opportunity had been handed to us: I get to travel around and witness firsthand this mysterious thing called church, body of Christ, ekklesia, in many different places and expressions. It is an opportunity I don’t want to waste. So I decided to blog our experience of worship each Sunday morning. Join us on this journey through many different houses of worship. Most of them will be in Southern California, but there may be an occasional odd location thrown in here and there. We will attend some good churches, and some not so good churches. But my guess is that God will show up in some pretty mysterious ways in some pretty unexpected places. Can’t wait!