Sunday, May 01, 2005

Tale of Two Churches, Part Two

Not your fathers church

A quick stop at Starbucks (my daughter Heather loves Mocha Frappachinos) and we were off to Mosaic, our second church for the morning. If Sierra Madre Congregational is like California in 1975, Mosaic (to me, mind you) is like, well, um, lets see, the Planet Zork in 2053. No sanctuary, no hymnals, pews, ushers in suits, no organ, no pastors in robes, not even a cross.

Ok, so right there, just now, I guess I exposed some of my questions and "issues" about the whole emergent church thing. Those of you who have been with me since the beginning of my personal Blogorama know that I love the church, in quite all its forms, dearly. But the Emergent Church, for me, is like that strikingly hip couple that moved into the condo next door. They dress so cool, it hurts. Their interior decorating involks all sorts of wild ideas and themes, but not a feeling of home. They have jobs in the internet, and can actually speak entire sentences without using any terms I can understand. And they give you looks on occasion that seem to say, "You are so old school, dude." Sigh!

That said, I would have to also say that in this church (rented auditorium at a Christian school campus, complete with outdoor tents for various ministries of the church) the gospel is proclaimed. But this church is truly emergent, baby. Good, and fairly generic praise music, with three guitars, drums, bongo, and synthesizer. Good vocals. Then a segue video about the theme of the sermon for the morning. Then a short drama/comedy presentation which also illustrated the theme of the morning. An artist off to one site painting the logo of the theme for the morning during the service. Strikingly cool. Complicated, yet simple. Sensory overload, to a point. Is this a movement of God, or another trend. Funny to think, that compared to this, the Vineyard is old and boring.

The demographic: 20s and 30s, and very close to the age and racial demographic I noted for the area I noted below, in that there were all sorts of races present. Lots of crying babies, and "Preschool #s" would occasionally appear on a big screen (quietly) during the service. My daughter and I surmised that this meant if you got the lucky number, your kid was somewhere, at that moment, raising heck, and you'd best go rescue that preschooler. Like leaving your car lights on, only different. I was probably among 50 or so people over 40 years old, in a room with about 1,000 present. So, if you are closing in on your AARP membership, you might feel out of place.

The spoken Word you ask? Very good. Clearly, this sermon had not been dialed in by the pastor. He walked us through four separate New Testament illustrations of Jesus and the Christian life well, making his point, and making it in the context of modern life. Ancient and modern (very modern) connected well. Glory to God.

My one big problem. The thematic of the preaching series of this church since Easter has been "Imagine - Creating the Life of Your Dreams". Ok. This bothered me. So, is this what the church should be promoting - the "Life of Our Dreams"? What if my dreams are selfish, and pointless. What if my dreams sort of, but not really, involve the guiding of the Holy Spirit? What if my dreams are about 14 degrees off of True North of what Christ is really calling me to do and be?

Your dreams? My dreams? I don't trust my dreams. I can only cling to the dreams that God in Christ has for me. Seek out those dreams; pursue God. Perhaps its just my semantical problem, but I cannot be trusted by my own dreams, they must be slowly, daily, painfully sometimes, conformed to the will of Christ.

Better idea for a theme: "Imagine - Creating the Life of His Dreams for you"

For some other very interesting perspectives on this sort of thing try reading here, and here.

Parting thought. In neither of these two places did I feel at home. No one offered to ask my name, or how I was, or how I got there. At least in the Congregational church we got to shake hands during the service. In the end, is not our best experience of the church through the touch, the smile, the listening ear of a human? All the forms of liturgy and pomp (or lack thereof), of worship and order tend to recede in meaning unless we are met by others in a personal way.

Enough said. Grace and Peace

A Tale of Two Churches

Your father's church...

As some of you may know, I have been doing some church exploring for the past nine months or so. I have posted about it before here and several other different places.

Today, I went to church twice. And I have lots of things spinning around inside my head now. A disclaimer before I begin. Following the way in which God has created all sorts of different shapes and kinds of people, so too is His church reflected, and I love this. Some of you will note that I almost turned into a Catholic last month. But no, wouldn't be prudent. So, for anyone reading (that is all 12 of you) nothing I am going to say here is meant to be critical, although it might sound that way. I love the church, in all its forms, and I hope by what I say, that I might, in some small way, help it grow and flourish.

So. First, to understand what I am about to do, go look at Ship of Fools Mystery Worshipper website. Today, I was a mystery worshipper of sorts at two churches. This first is pictured above. Its your father's type of church.

Sierra Madre Congregational Church

This church is located in a serene suburban setting that most people would mistake for "Main Street, USA". I go here because my 11 year old daughter has friends in and enjoys greatly the youth department.

I attended the 9:30 worship service. The pastor seems to be a kind, warm, and very pastoral fellow who has lead this church for many years. This is a very white, upper middle class church; the choir was singing this morning, and there was not a single person in the choir under the age of 40. My guess on the mean age for the choir and congregation is about 50 years old. The median age - 55. This is interesting, as within a five mile radius, the population is 53% white, 29% Hispanic, and 24% Asian. The median five mile radius age is 37.6. Remember this for the other church I visited.

A new Missions Director was introduced to the congregation, and her brief comments were for me, the highlight of the morning. When asked what she had to say about the new opportunity to lead Missions, she commented, "This is about glorifying God". Well done.

The sermon was from Ephesians 1:3-6; and the title "Why do we Worship God?". Pastor Anderson really only had one answer, and it was a good one. Grace. The only challenge for me was that the pastor repeated this about (not kidding here) 30 times. It seems to me that there are many more reasons why we might want to worship God. Good topic, very light on content. And if you were not a frequent church attender, there was too much "church speak" in this message. Not seeker friendly. At the end of the sermon, communion was served, which is always a sweet moment for me in any setting; although no words of institution were offered, and the pastor said, at the end "its time to drink, drink ye all".

My thoughts in summary; I grew up about two miles from this church, and really, this service felt like I had never left home, and been frozen in a time warp. This worship service felt like Arcadia, California in 1975. The clothes, the sermon, the music. Everything.

So then, I went to another church. You might call it the bi-polar opposite of Sierra Madre. See that above.

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