Monthly Archives: May 2011

ChurchSurfer @ Red Bank Baptist Church: Searching for a Baptist Baptist Church

Church Experience #20 – May 22, 2011

Red Bank Baptist Church

Strike One, Strike Two…

So far this year I have attended two Baptist (Southern Baptist, that is) churches and have yet to have what I would consider to be a “typical” Baptist church experience…if there is such a thing.  The first one I went to, Central Baptist Church a.k.a. Abba’s House (read my article here), somehow forgot they were Baptist and started worshiping like free-wheeling charismatics.  The second Baptist church I went to, Lookout Valley Baptist (read about them here), held a prayer and healing service and abandoned Sunday night church in favor of small groups and community service…what gives???  Maybe it’s just that the small town Baptist church I grew up in was part of a different era than the Baptist churches of today.  Can anything qualify as a Baptist church these days, or what?  Maybe today’s Baptist churches are encouraged to break out of the mold and take on organic and dynamic (and any other “-ic” words you can think of) characteristics and grow into something unique…a reflection not of the SBC (Southern Baptist Convention), but instead of the congregation and church leadership.  But, then again, maybe not…so I thought I would give the good old SBC one more chance to show me that all-too-well-known reputation of delivering fiery sermons, tug-at-your-heart altar calls, and those traditional organ/piano driven hymns that seem so down-home simple compared to the rockin’ contemporary worship that has now become all the rage (and which I also prefer, >wink<).  With that being said, I took a new friend of mine, Keith Rocha, up on his offer to visit Red Bank Baptist Church.  Alright SBC, three strikes and you’re out, so here we go…

A Promising Start

Red Bank Baptist Church
Red Bank Baptist Church

Laura and I met Keith out on the front steps of the massive traditional red-brick church building that sits on the corner of Dayton Boulevard and Ashland Terrace in Red Bank (try to say “red brick red bank” five times fast).  We walked in the front lobby, were greeted cheerfully by men handing out bulletins, and then proceeded into the sanctuary.  Keith noted that he and his wife, Becca, were “back-pew” people (they have a toddler), so we found seats at the rear, with easy-exit capability and settled in.  The sanctuary was all white, with red carpet and red pew cushions, and I wondered if that color scheme was chosen to symbolize Jesus as the Lamb, and His Blood.  The service began with a full-submersion water baptism (boom…already on track to be a “real” Baptist service) of a six-year-old boy named Griffin, who professed Jesus as his Lord, acknowledged the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, all as the one God, and then got dunked.  I love water baptisms…they bring joy to my heart.  If you ever want to really experience (or have someone else experience) a water baptism, have my dad, Mark Davis, do it.  He believes in “holding you under there for a minute so that you get the full experience”, which usually ends in a big *gasp* of breath on the way out of the water.  Wow, I just realized while typing that this is payback for all the years I served as “sermon illustrations” for my dad…he can now be “blog material” for me.  OK, I’m seriously sidetracked.  I had better end this paragraph and start a new one and refocus.

Marrying The World

Red Bank Baptist sanctuary
Red Bank Baptist sanctuary

After the baptism, the choir filled into their seats in the pulpit, and the worship music began.  We sang two songs, both contemporary praise songs rather than traditional hymns, but they were definitely toned down and sang in a hymn style, accompanied by organ, piano, percussion, and a small orchestra with various string and wind instruments.  So although it wasn’t exactly the old-time hymn music that I remember from the Baptist church, it was definitely still in the same vein.  The songs were peppy but not rockin’, and the congregation sang as if they were still holding a hymnal…in other words, no raising hands, jumping, or swaying to the music.  The congregation was diverse in age, with a heavy dose of elderly people, but still a good amount of middle-aged and also young people.  The worship leader announced that it was time to greet those around you, and we reached across pews and around people to shake as many hands and greet as many people as we could while the choir provided the accompaniment of “Standing on the Promises of God”.  That old hymn caused me to drift off in thought, bringing all sorts of old memories of my childhood church, First Baptist Church of Damascus, Virginia.  I spent a few minutes reminiscing about Sunday school classes, potluck dinners, revivals, lock-ins, and gospel concerts, while the Red Bank Baptist choir sang another song during the collection of tithes and offerings.  I was brought back to the present as Interim Pastor, Dr. Richard Land, greeted the congregation and began his sermon.  Dr. Land taught from Revelation and tied in several instances from the Old Testament about the perils of the Church and believers marrying the world.  He noted that when Rome adopted Christianity as the “state church” under Constantine, it was one of the worst things that could have happened to the Christian church.  It was a prime example of the Church marrying the world.  Out of that marriage came a church that worshiped idols, gave priests the power to forgive sins, required money to buy your dead relatives into heaven, and allowed a man to preside over all the church as a god.  Dr. Land pointed out 2 Cor 6:14 where believers are instructed not to be “unequally yoked” with unbelievers, as well as many other Scripture passages that point to the same concept.  This was definitely one of those blunt and divisive sermons that I would expect at a Baptist church.  They have never seemed to fall victim to the fear of having to become too “politically correct”, which is exactly what this sermon topic was about not doing…marrying the world.

The Christian Race

When comparing the church services of different denominations and churches, I have noticed that some churches are sometimes focused or driven by one function more than others.  What I mean is, some churches/denominations seem to be very worship-driven and spend more time on music and prayer, and others can be very sermon-driven and spend more time on teaching and preaching.  I would say the (SBC) Baptist church would land on the sermon-driven side of the coin.  There is not anything inherently wrong with one or the other, in my opinion, but I do believe there can be an overall imbalance that creates a gap in the spiritual race of believers if they do not get enough of one or the other.  I personally think that all Christians have a need for equal parts worship, teaching, and fellowship, and as long as they receive all three, they will grow and mature in their faith.  If one of these pieces is absent or lacking, then spiritual growth will be slow or not happen at all.  I would recommend for everyone reading this to think about what church functions you attend that provide the opportunity for you to connect to God in each of these areas.  If you are getting teaching and worship from Sunday morning service, but you aren’t getting adequate fellowship time…seek out a small group, service committee, or outreach program where you can have fellowship with other believers.  If you are getting worship from Sunday service and fellowship from your small group, but you are lacking the real Bible teaching/study time…find a Sunday school class or local ministry organization where you can receive instruction from wise and knowledgeable teachers.  The point is, as a Christian, it is not OK to remain stagnant in your spiritual race (1 Cor 9:24-25).  We are called to excel, to become excellent, to be sanctified by God in the image of Christ.  This cannot be accomplished on your own, but only through obedience and service to the Lord.  He deserves our worship, He provides understanding of the Word through teaching and study, and He shows us love through our relationships with other believers.  All of these things contribute to a life of spiritual growth and fullness of the Spirit, and create the ability for you to serve, love, and disciple other believers in return.  I thank God for giving me the opportunity here in Chattanooga to become more balanced so that I can continue to grow and become a better servant.  Amen.

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!

Josh & Laura Weekly Self-Portrait
Josh & Laura Weekly Self-Portrait

Josh Davis


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ChurchSurfer @ The Mission Chattanooga: The Increase And The Decrease

Church Experience #19 – May 15, 2011

The Mission Chattanooga

Traditional vs. Contemporary

Recently during a small group meeting we were discussing all of my various church visits this year, and specifically, what type of service my wife Laura and I liked the most out of all the ones we had visited.  This discussion was, of course, drilling down into the traditional worship versus contemporary worship debate, with a layer of complexity added by spreading the topic across denominational lines rather than just examining it from the perspective of one church or one denomination (yes, our small group goes there).  I have noticed during the ChurchSurfer project, that there is not much shared space between the traditional service and contemporary service camps.  What I mean is, the traditional services I have attended are very traditional, and the contemporary services are very contemporary.  There is very little resemblance of one to the other.  While we were on this topic, I expressed the desire to find a church whose service had pieces of both, because I believe there is an ideal blend in there somewhere that would produce an awesome result (for me at least, but hopefully for others also).  That is when The Mission came up.  One of the group members recommended that I visit this church, believing that it might be just what I was describing.  So I looked up their website to find out more, and did not get a single answer to any of my questions.  But what I did get was a mysterious and intriguing gobbledy-gook of descriptions and information that left me even more interested in visiting the church in person (which had to be on purpose).  For example, under the “Essential Beliefs and Values” page it states:

“Like trees planted at the waters edge, our Anglican roots are nourished by three streams: the Scripture, the Sacred and the Spirit.”

Sounds like a bunch of artistic new-age hippy jargon to me…so of course I went there immediately.  Here is my experience.

Downtown Coolness

The Mission / The CAMP House
The Mission / The CAMP House

The Mission Chattanooga meets in a downtown industrial brick coffee house called The CAMP House, in the re-purposed and urban-cool Southside District.  We parked on the street and approached the rather unassuming and almost invisible entrance, which luckily I knew the whereabouts of because I have had coffee there before with friends.  Paired with their overly-vague website, I began wondering if the almost-invisible-entrance was part of a scheme to remain the cool underground church that only the hip downtown Christians know about, but then I rationalized that artist-types are just like that without really meaning to be (they always defer to cool and low-key over blatant).  Anyway, can you imagine one of those change-a-letter signs in front of a really cool church/coffee house?  Me neither.  We ventured inside, and were greeted by some smiling faces as we passed the coffee bar and headed toward the center of the room.  All church activities take place in one big room with brick walls, concrete floors, and exposed steel structural beams and air ducts.  There is a large stage in the front corner, a full size coffee shop counter down the opposite side, and a few long rows of fold-out and stackable lightweight chairs for the congregation.  There are a couple of lounge areas with sofas and chairs in the back of the room that are not used during the church service (unless the pastor gets really long-winded), but are permanent fixtures of the coffee shop.  At the front of the stage was a small altar/table with two burning candles and two silver communion chalices with white napkins draped over them.  The strong smell of incense and coffee permeated the room, and we helped ourselves to a cup of hot java as we glanced around at the various Celtic-style crosses and decorations.  This was definitely a very different and unique church atmosphere, and I was beginning to anticipate what I hoped would be a similarly unique worship experience.  I took a sip of coffee, which is hands down the best cup of church coffee I’ve ever had, and began surveying the faces around the room.

Connected Worship

The Mission street view

The Mission street view

I recognized a new acquaintance I had recently made, Micki Ann Harris, who serves at the Chattanooga House of Prayer, (a place I’ve been going lately during my lunch hour to pray) and went up to greet her.  She introduced us to her husband, Chuck, and the pastor, Chris Sorensen.  Pastor Chris had a bald head and a bushy white goatee, and was wearing jeans, an untucked black button-down shirt, and flip-flops.  He greeted us with enthusiasm and we made our way around to be seated, as it was time for service to begin.  The service opened with call-and-response prayers recited by a worship leader with each segment ending in “Lord have mercy on us”, to which the congregation would reply “Hear our prayers”.  After the prayers and a Scripture reading, the worship music began from the stage with instruments you would expect from a contemporary service…drums, keyboard, electric guitar, and bass guitar.  Two young female singers led the worship with beautiful and soulful voices, and I instantly connected to the music in a true spirit of worship.  The room was not very crowded…I learned afterward that the morning service, called Morningsong, has only been offered for a few weeks, and their Sunday evening service, Evensong, is the more heavily attended service.  Despite the small group, those in attendance were visibly worshiping, with expressions of intense focus on many faces, some with hands raised toward the heavens, and plenty of swaying to the mood of the music.  I enjoyed the opportunity to worship the Lord and felt like the music experience had been heartfelt and intense, without being over-produced or showy.

We Are God’s Messengers

After worship had concluded, pastor Chris began his sermon by clarifying that the sermon message was the collective idea of the preaching team, not just his own, which I thought was a great idea and an excellent way to keep the sermons in harmony with the congregation as a whole.  He began in the Gospel of John (chapter 1) speaking about John the Baptist, examining his ancestry as a Levite (the priesthood lineage) from both his father, Zacharias, and his mother, Elizabeth, and confirmed by the archangel Gabriel (Luke chapter 1).  Pastor Chris then compounded the story of John the Baptist with Romans 10:14 and made the point that throughout all of history God has used humanity to point to Him.  He didn’t write His own name in the starts, or send Jesus down on a lightning bolt.  His chosen way of speaking to us is through us…through those like John the Baptist, who live to serve Him, who seek to obey Him, and who desire to become like Him.  But rather than receive glory and honor according to their own fame, God’s true servants seek to deflect the glory to God, who deserves it.  Pastor Chris pointed to John 3:28-30, and to the fact the John the Baptist acknowledges that he must decrease and Jesus must increase.  John did not desire fame, recognition, or honor, but only to use anything he had gained to take the spotlight off himself and point it to Jesus, who he rightly identified as the Son of God.  Pastor Chris then launched into what seemed like a discussion with himself as much as a sermon to a congregation, weighing out the importance our society places on creating heroes and celebrities with the way Christian leaders and evangelists are placed in those positions.  Think about some of the most famous Christian musicians, pastors, evangelists…do they deflect the spotlight or welcome it?  Do they retreat from the glory and honor or revel in it?  Do they decrease so that God may increase?  Tough questions, and honestly the answers should be blatantly obvious, but unfortunately I don’t always feel that way from today’s Christian superstars.  The exception and best example would be Billy Graham.  He’s not a millionaire.  He only accepted a modest salary from his ministry.  He always pointed to Christ.  He decreased so that God would increase.  It was during this discussion that Pastor Chris opened up to one of the most honest and introspective moments I have seen a pastor admit to in front of an audience, as he talked about his band working with a PR firm through a record label to “accentuate the positives and hide the less attractive attributes”.  Should a musician’s appearance affect how many albums they sell, or a pastor’s appearance affect how quickly the church membership grows?  I don’t know if John the Baptist was attractive or not, but I know he wore less than fashionable clothes and did not work with a PR firm to accentuate or hide any of his attributes.  I guess that was a pretty good sign that he was not interested in glorifying himself, but only preparing the way for He who was greater.  Praise God.

Closing

After the sermon, all Christians were invited to take communion.  I gladly took part and gave thanks to God for giving me life…life with meaning, life with purpose, and life with no end.  We sang two more songs and closed the service with a blessing from the pastor.  The Mission was indeed a very unique blend of traditional and contemporary.  I had never been to an Anglican church service before, but I knew I would probably like it, being that it was the church that C.S. Lewis was a member of during his life.  I’m currently reading the book “Mere Christianity”, which I have found to be an amazing resource of Christian philosophy and I would highly recommend it.  I would also highly recommend visiting my new friends at The Mission Chattanooga, so that you may also be blessed through the worship and preaching that is happening there…not to mention you will get a great cup of coffee.

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!

Josh Davis


ChurchSurfer @ Living Faith Church: Baseball and BBQ Sauce

Church Experience #18 – May 8, 2011

Living Faith Church, Hixson TN

It’s Gotta Be The Clues

For the fourth time this year I was left alone on a Sunday, deserted by my wife (to be with a friend who was recovering from surgery in Atlanta), and left to venture out to a church service all by myself.  So far my solo church visits have been interesting…a gospel-fest at New Philadelphia Missionary Baptist with two of the kindest and most talented women I’ve ever met, my sister’s crazy California New Year’s Eve wedding, and a fly-under-the-radar Sunday at First-Centenary United Methodist.  This week’s visit was to Living Faith Churchin Hixson, a church I knew very little about except for what I had read on their website on Saturday night before the next morning’s church service.  I had been told about the church by a friend, who had never attended there either, but had somehow heard about it through word of mouth.  I don’t even really remember what it was that my friend said about the church, but what was important to me was that it was mentioned at all.  This stood out to me because I drive by this church a lot and had thought about attending there (or at least researching it), but for some reason I had written it off, maybe assuming that it was a Church of God, and since I had already been to a church in that denomination (Joyful Sound COG), I was more interested in attending other denominations first.  But I’m always listening for “clues” as to where God is leading me next, and anytime a few clues point to the same place, I take that to mean I should go there…so here I am.

Human Contact

I pulled up to the cream-colored church building and parked, enjoying the warm sunshine as I walked around the corner and up to the entrance.  There were smiling faces in the parking lot, and as I headed inside, I noticed that pretty much everyone I saw seemed to have a bubbly countenance about them.  The inside of the building appeared to be either newly remodeled or very well kept, and like the outside of the building it was very clean and simple, lacking the grandeur of the more extravagant churches, but instead communicating the message that fancy is not necessary to worship and serve God.  I exchanged some smiles and greetings as I headed down the hallway, and upon entering the sanctuary was immediately approached by two men, Duane and Gary, who welcomed me and asked if I was a visitor.  I told them that it was my first time attending their church and they handed me a visitor’s card, encouraging me to fill it out and drop it in the bucket during the collection of tithes and offerings.  I took a seat and scanned the room, noticing a very balanced mix of young, middle-aged, and elderly people.  There were various greeters stationed around the room, I assume to make sure nobody would be overlooked, and even though Duane and Gary had done a fine job welcoming and engaging me in conversation, a gentleman named Claude also came around to do the same.  I’ve seen several techniques for greeters at all the churches I’ve attended…parking lot greeters, door greeters at the church entrances, bulletin passer-outers at the sanctuary entrances, inside-the-sanctuary floaters, and more, but I think the main point here is that this is an important position and service provided by the church.  Why would you not want to have a greeter program at your church?  It gives church members a way to serve, it makes visitors feel welcome, and it encourages (or forces) human-to-human interaction (which surprisingly doesn’t always happen if it is not specifically made to be a priority).  If your church does not have a greeter program, or has a very limited one…why not volunteer to coordinate the effort yourself?  I guarantee that you will increase the ratio of smiles per person, and you could potentially win repeat attendance from visitors who actually felt welcome and want to come back for more…not to mention it’s really easy!

Give Honor Where Honor Is Due

The sanctuary was spacious, with rows of individual cushioned chairs rather than traditional pews, and a large stage lined with all the instruments you would expect from a contemporary worship service…keyboard, electric and acoustic guitars, bass, and drums, plus a trumpet which added a unique element to the worship music.  We sang two songs (taking a total of about 15 minutes), with the main chorus sections being repeated numerous times, building with emphasis each time through.  I enjoyed the worship experience and felt free to lose myself in the moment, lifting my hands, clapping, and swaying around to the different segments, seeking a truly focused and connected worship time with God.  At the close of the second song, pastor Michael Lindon led the congregation in a prayer, and then transitioned into some announcements.  He asked all first-time visitors to raise their hands, and then welcomed them to Living Faith Church as “honored guests” (which really made a strong impression on me).  Pastor Michael also recognized the recent high school and college graduates, as well as all the mothers (it was Mother’s Day), and asked for applause from the congregation, encouraging them to “give honor where honor is due”.  How often do you think we, as Christians, miss the opportunity to make someone feel special by honoring them in front of others?  Jesus taught us to not seek or expect the place of honor, because then you may be embarrassed when others are honored above you and you are “bumped down” a notch, but how awesome is it to see someone receive honor and recognition when they totally did not expect it.  What a great chance for us to share God’s love with the people who quietly serve and expect nothing in return.

Not a Lovey-Dovey Mother’s Day Message

Pastor Michael, who is young, clean cut (military style), and energetic, began his sermon by stating that it was part six of the current series with the objective to “Scripturally introduce the child of God to who they are in Christ” (which he repeated three times).   Despite oozing with positivity and somehow never losing an enormous smile, pastor Michael methodically proceeded point by point through Luke chapter 15 using Scripture cross-references and real life illustrations (parables) to teach about being made righteous through Christ.  The sanctuary became like a classroom, as pastor Michael taught masterfully from the Spirit, speaking calmly and plainly, making sure not to leave anyone behind by moving too fast or by trying to cram in too many points or too much information.  I was impressed not only by the excellent teaching, but by what this service wasn’t…it wasn’t a pep rally, it wasn’t a manipulation of emotion, it wasn’t a stage production, it was just plain and simple teaching of the Word like a shepherd feeding the flock to sustain growth and life.  He made references to baseball, BBQ sauce, shoes, and a speeding ticket he had received that very morning (you’ll have to ask him about all that), to effectively engage and relate to the congregation as one of them, not as someone who wished to exalt or lord himself over everyone else.  He closed the sermon by encouraging the people to be aware of who we are in Christ, because without this awareness we lose the authority, tools, and resources we have available to us to go about God’s business in this world.  Yet, if we are aware of who we are in Christ, we have all of heaven backing us.  We are ambassadors going out into a foreign land by the authority of the King of heaven, with the Great Commission of inviting those who do not know our King to accept His gift of salvation and join us as heirs to His Kingdom.  Praise God from Whom all blessings flow!

Final Thoughts

On the way out of church, I met the Associate and Youth Pastor, Allen Lindon (pastor Michael’s older brother), and we scheduled a lunch meeting for Thursday of that week.  We met up and talked about the beginnings of Living Faith Fellowship, their growth, their move from the original location to the current building, and their ongoing goal throughout their existence, which is to get out into the community and reach the unreached.  Like his brother, Allen is clean-cut, positive, constantly smiling, and passionate about serving God.  We talked about the ChurchSurfer blog, and he was visibly excited to get detailed feedback about what my experience was like at Living Faith Church.  He asked questions about their church as well as experiences I’d had at other churches, obviously looking for anything I could offer that may help them improve or make changes.  How refreshing is it to know that the pastors of this church value that type of feedback and upon learning that I had been to so many churches, earnestly sought any information that they might use to help them make a difference in their church.  I’m sure many churches don’t care, or worse yet, think they don’t need it.  Once again, God sent me to the right place at the right time, and I was blessed by Him through Living Faith Church and the Lindon brothers.  They have a heart and desire to serve the Lord and I have a feeling they will be a big part of the coming revival in Chattanooga that many (including myself) are feeling.  May His kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.

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!

Josh Davis

P.S.  Sorry for the lack of pictures this week…taking photos is something I’m obviously not good at without my wife around 🙂



ChurchSurfer @ Trinity Lutheran Church: Seeking The Next Generation

Church Experience #17 – May 1, 2011

Trinity Lutheran Church, Hixson, TN

Unnecessary Reminder

Laura and I had planned on visiting a different church this week, but due to the loss of power at that church from the storms that passed through the area, we had to find an alternative.  I live in Hixson, and drive by the intersection of Hixson Pike and Highway 153 pretty much on a daily basis.  Elevated just above this intersection sits Trinity Lutheran Church, calmly peering down on the flurry of activity that consumes the surrounding roads, restaurants, and stores.  I had never attended a Lutheran service before, so I thought this would be an ideal time to experience a new denomination without having to wander too far from home.  We pulled up the church driveway and parked, noticing a large tree laying on its side with its massive root ball facing the parking lot…as if we needed another reminder of the recent weather related devastation that had hit our area in the previous days.  Walking by the downed tree, I squeezed Laura’s hand and refused the urge to go over and get a closer look, doing my best to  refocus my attention to this week’s church experience. (I have included some additional post-storm thoughts after the end of this blog article)

The Coffee Room Incident

Trinity Lutheran Church

Trinity Lutheran Church

As we approached the entrance, the door was pushed open from the inside by a spunky old man who welcomed us in with a handshake and a warm greeting.  We walked down the hallway and were greeted by several people, including a man who I recognized from some Chamber of Commerce meetings we had both attended, and were asked for our first and last names several times.  We passed through the hallway into the lobby area outside the sanctuary, where we saw a small room off to the side with a coffee sign above it.  Laura and I had been running late this morning and did not have the chance to get our morning coffee, which is a very big deal, so we headed straight for the small coffee room to grab a quick cup before the service.  On the way through the door, I noticed that all the people inside the small room had on long white and gold robes and were seated in chairs around the perimeter of the room.  I quickly got the feeling that this domain might only be intended for people in the choir or ministry, but rather than turning back for fear of interrupting something, the desire to drink coffee drove us onward to our destination.  As we filled our cups, I awkwardly asked if it was OK for us to be in there, to which one of the robed men replied that we would now be required to sing in the choir.  We exchanged a few jokes about how they really did not want me or Laura singing in their choir, and even though we were obviously out of place, the robed people simply made light of it and welcomed us in.  They even went so far as asking Laura and I to join hands with them as they prayed for the service that was about to take place, that God’s message would be spoken through the pastor, and that the Holy Spirit would fill the place with His presence.  I was thoroughly impressed that they did not just ask us to step out while they prepared for the service (and I would not have been offended at all had they gone that route), but the fact that they included us without making us feel embarrassed was pretty cool.  These Lutherans are alright.

A Unique Sanctuary

Trinity Lutheran sanctuary
Trinity Lutheran sanctuary

We only managed a few quick sips of coffee before we hurried on into the sanctuary, doing our best not to be late.  We slid into a front row wooden pew to the left side of the pulpit area, and settled in while glancing over the bulletin.  Upon first glance I did not really grasp the functional layout of the sanctuary.  It was an octagonal room with a stained glass ceiling trimmed in wood.  A large white cross descended from the ceiling in the center and hung just above a smaller octagonal platform enclosed by wooden rails with kneeling pads around the outside.  The pews wrapped around three sides of the middle platform, with the back of the room containing the choir area, an altar with an open Bible and smaller cross suspended above it, and the large pipes from the pipe organ off to the side.  In the middle of the center platform was a wooden stand with a glass bowl full of water and large white candle with gold caps adorning it.  The pipe organ trumpeted to life with a processional as the choir somberly walked in and took their seats.  The pastor, Gary Schimmer, whom we had met in the hallway (and who did not introduce himself as the pastor, but only by name), walked into the center platform area to begin the service, and it wasn’t until this moment that I realized it was the pulpit, which surprisingly did not have a podium for the speaker.  Instead, pastor Schimmer just strolled around freely as he addressed the congregation, facing different angles to engage everyone directly at least some of the time.  Pastor Schimmer held up a tattered piece of paper that he had found on his property while cleaning up from the storm, which he explained was a cancelled check from someone in Alabama.  He took a moment to greet everyone who had been affected by the storm, and offered the church for shelter, hot showers, or laundry facilities for all who were without power or had severe damage to their homes…a gesture I’m sure many churches have been making during these tragic circumstances.

An Aging Congregation

Trinity Lutheran stained glass ceiling and cross
Trinity Lutheran stained glass ceiling and cross

I craned around to survey the congregation from my front row seat, and noticed that the room was only sparsely dotted with attendees and was way below capacity.  The majority of the congregation was made up of the elderly, with far fewer middle-aged people, even less (only a couple of other people) who were in my age bracket (mid-30’s) or young adults, and a handful of young children.  I took all of this in while a church member, after being invited up by the pastor, entered the pulpit area to share his “vision speech”.  Apparently various members of the congregation had been coming up each Sunday to share their vision for Trinity Lutheran Church.  This week it was Mike, a beefy middle-aged man who spoke with nervous conviction about how much of an impact he felt the church could make on people, but openly acknowledged the lack of attendance they were currently experiencing, even calling it a problem.  This thought about an aging congregation struggling to attract new and younger church-goers held my attention for the rest of the service.  All throughout the hymns and responsive readings, the children’s church segment, and even during pastor Schimmer’s moving sermon about the breath of God giving life in Genesis and the resurrected Christ breathing the new life on His disciples, I could not help but examine this experience as it was happening, wondering how or why the format of their service might contribute to the attendance problem.  Pastor Schimmer began to talk about how the first business of the Church is forgiveness, and the second business of the Church is to give life as we were given life.  We sang the hymn “Breathe On Me Breath of God”, and then all baptized Christians were invited to come up and kneel at the pulpit to receive communion.  Laura and I quietly went up and knelt and received the communion wafer representing Christ’s body that was broken to pay for our sins, and dipped it in the wine representing Christ’s blood that washes our spirit clean.

Final Thoughts

After the service, a couple of the women, Eleanor and Shiel (sp?), came up to us to thank us for attending and invited us to come back the next Sunday.  We explained that we went to a different church service each week for the ChurchSurfer blog (which I don’t think they completely understood), but we thanked them numerous times for their hospitality and then stuck around for a little while just enjoying the conversation.  As we were leaving I began contemplating scenarios in the different churches that I have attended this year, comparing the number of people in attendance with the type of welcome we received.  Is it possible that the churches that are experiencing growth do not feel the same sense of urgency to identify and reach out to visitors?  Would it make sense that churches that have long maintained strong attendance levels somehow become more concerned with creating new programs to offer to their existing members rather than programs designed to welcome in potential new members?  Do these same churches assume that visitors will see the crowds of people in attendance and automatically want to join in also, thinking that if so many other people like it here so will I?  What if every church actively sought out visitors to honor them as esteemed guests and desired to make them feel welcome and special out of love rather than a sense of obligation?  The people of Trinity Lutheran Church were focused on doing these things for us, but I wonder if they got to that point after poor attendance had become a problem, only realizing their mistakes when it was too late, or if they’ve always been this way and younger Christians are just looking for a more contemporary service.  I’m not sure of the answer, but I’m glad to have experienced their kindness and pray that God provides the increase in attendance they seek.

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!

Josh Davis

Thoughts After the Storm

Trinity Lutheran outside
Trinity Lutheran outside

If you ever need a reminder of just how little of what happens in this life is under our control, just ask someone who has been through a tornado, hurricane, tsunami, or other natural disaster what their experience was like.  Everything changes in the blink of an eye, and there’s absolutely nothing you can do about it.  Plans, commitments, activities, possessions, and responsibilities get ripped from our lives like a 200-year-old oak tree in a 175-mile-per-hour vortex of wind, and all that is left is pure devastation that washes over you along with a tidal wave of emotional responses.  Fear, the will to survive, pain, sorrow, grief, thanksgiving, love, shock, compassion, charity…depending on your circumstance, you may experience one or all of these emotions within yourself and from others.  For those of us in the Chattanooga area and around much of the Southeastern United States, April 27, 2011 is a day that will not soon be forgotten, specifically for those reasons.  As some of the worst tornados in the recorded history of the U.S. swept through our lives, we were all either directly or indirectly affected and forced to deal with the realization from my opening statement…we are in control of very little in this life.  But along with that realization comes a very important addendum.  We are in total control of what happens after this life.  With all the various forces at work in the world that have the potential to create endless scenarios and situations in our lives that could produce limitless numbers of outcomes based on how we respond, it can be simply mind boggling.  How great is our God, however, that He gave us one single choice to make about where we want to spend eternity after this life, and the complete free will to do so.


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