Monthly Archives: June 2011

ChurchSurfer @ Scott Memorial Church of God: In Need of Fathers

Church Visit #25 – June 19, 2011

Scott Memorial Church of God – East Ridge, TN

Added Pressure

In the week leading up to this week’s church visit, I received an interesting phone call.  Clint  Cooper from the Chattanooga Times Free Press called me to inquire about doing a newspaper profile on the ChurchSurfer project.  Clint and I had met a few months earlier at a weekend event called the Walk to Emmaus, at which he had heard me mention the ChurchSurfer blog, and since then he had read it and apparently felt like it would be a good story to share in the “Life” section of the Times Free Press.  I was all for it, of course…my thought all along has been that the stories from these churches would be a valuable resource for people in Chattanooga…and hopefully uplifting and entertaining as well.  After making arrangements for a photographer to come out and meet me at the church I was visiting (but still had not chosen) I realized that having a photographer taking pictures of me may complicate the “average-Joe-first-time-visitor” experience that I’m always looking to write about.  I immediately began deliberating about the various churches I had been considering, and questioning to myself whether they would feel intruded upon or exposed, or maybe feel like I was reporting or investigating their church rather than just writing an experiential blog article about it.  I became somewhat troubled about this decision and thought about calling the pastor of a church beforehand to alert them to what would be going on, but then I reasoned that I would be making a bigger deal out of this thing than it really was.  On the morning that I was supposed to call Clint back to let him know which church I would be attending, I still had not made a decision.  I was looking at the calendar and it suddenly dawned upon me that this Sunday was Father’s Day.  My dad, Mark Davis, recently became the Interim Pastor at Scott Memorial Church of God in East Ridge.  How could I possibly choose any other church in the city of Chattanooga to attend on Father’s Day over my dad’s church?  Problem solved!  Not to mention that if having a photographer around caused a stir I probably wouldn’t get kicked out of a church where my dad is preaching, haha!  Thank you Lord!  So here we go…

A Father’s Day Surprise

Scott Memorial Church of God
Scott Memorial Church of God

Laura and I pulled into the gravel parking lot outside of Scott Memorial Church of God (of the Church of God Anderson, Indiana denomination, notChurch of God Cleveland, Tennessee), gathered our Bibles and journals, and exited our vehicle.  We immediately saw a shaggy-haired man with a smile approach us, introducing himself as John Rawlston from the Times Free Press.  We chatted a few moments about the ChurchSurfer blog and he then snapped some photos of us in the church parking lot and then a few more of us walking up to the entrance.  At first I had been a little unsure about having John come inside the church with us, but after meeting him, I was put at ease about that decision and invited him to come inside.  As we headed toward the entrance, we were greeted enthusiastically by an older gentleman who opened the door for us and handed us a bulletin with an eager smile and a firm handshake.  We were stopped a couple of times on our way down the hallway by people who recognized we were visitors and wanted to welcome us, and after a few quick introductions we proceeded on down to the lobby outside of the sanctuary where we saw my step-mom Jean and our good friend Rhonda seated on a bench.  Just like any other week we did not reveal our church visit intentions, and we especially wanted this week’s visit to be a Father’s Day surprise for my dad anyway, so we just showed up completely unannounced.  Jean and Rhonda hopped up from their seats with excitement and hugged us both and began introducing us to the people around them.  After a few minutes of conversation we headed on in to the sanctuary where I saw my dad (I’ll refer to him as pastor Mark through the rest of the article) seated in a pew making some last minute sermon notes.  We gave him hugs and wished him a happy Father’s Day and then all stood around fellowshipping for a few more minutes until the piano music that had started in the background reminded us that church service was ready to begin.  All the while John Rawlston had perched himself at various vantage points, snapping photos unobtrusively in between introductions and explanations about who he was and what he was doing.  As service was about to begin he came up and thanked me, letting me know that he was finished and was making his exit.

The Church Experience

Scott Memorial COG sanctuary
Scott Memorial COG sanctuary

The Scott Memorial COG sanctuary was mostly off-white with pastel stained glass windows and traditional wooden church pews.  The pulpit was decorated with ferns and there was an altar table with two burning candles and a vase of fresh flowers positioned in front of a clear plexiglass podium at the front of the stage and a recessed baptismal in the wall behind the stage with a wooden cross above it.  There was a screen projection on the wall just to the right of the baptismal with an animated “Happy Father’s Day” screen saver soon giving way to a humorous montage of video clips, after which the congregation sang Happy Father’s Day to the tune of the happy birthday song.  All the men in the congregation were then given “Man of God” ink pens with an eagle on them as a gift (very thoughtful) and the church members with visitors in attendance were then asked to introduce their guests (Laura and I were introduced by Jean).  After the guest introductions, we all stood for the worship time and proceeded through a series of classic hymns, including “I Love to Tell the Story” and “Because He Lives”, that were accompanied by a lady on the keyboard, a backing audio track played over the sound system, and a praise group of six women who sang from the stage.  In between worship songs the collection plates were passed around while we were treated to a beautiful piano solo, and as worship time finished, pastor Mark led the congregation in a prayer followed by the Lord’s Prayer which was recited by all.  This made me wonder why all churches do not recite the Lord’s Prayer each week.  It is very obvious that these are powerful words which were used as an example by Jesus Himself when asked by the disciples to teach them how to pray.  I know we all have individual and church prayer requests, and I don’t think churches should discontinue the personal prayer time, but why not add the Lord’s Prayer on to the end so that everyone can participate?  It just seems to me that if we are given specific instruction on how to do a few things such as prayer and communion, it is probably a good idea to do them…just sayin’.

The Plight of Fatherlessness

Laura, Jean, and Rhonda
Laura, Jean, and Rhonda

After praying, pastor Mark began his sermon by referring to a long list of alarming statistics from the First Things First website in a subsection called “the plight of fatherlessness”.  I highly recommend reading through these statistics, because the more awareness we all have about the problem of fatherlessness that is crippling our country right now, the better chance we have of changing it.  Pastor Mark transitioned the mood from troubling to lighthearted by going into his weekly top ten list, which this week was a list of first-grader’s responses to well know proverbs.  This provided some much needed laughter after such depressing statistics, and he then referenced the Scripture of Ephesians 6: 1-4 to begin his message.  He outlined four things that dads need to give their children, which he explained were unconditional love, focused attention, discipline, and the blessing.  As he went into detail and used examples from real life and from Scripture to explain each one, he appeared to be emotionally invested as he delivered the sermon with passion.  Pastor Mark never set foot on the stage to address the congregation from the podium, but instead started at the altar table in front of the first row of pews, and paced up and down the center aisle and back and forth in the front row.  He carried an open Bible with notes stuck in it in his left hand and used his right hand to wave around and motion, adding emphasis to the various points of his sermon.  At the end he explained that the blessing that fathers are supposed to give their children is the moment in which they look them in eyes and verbally recognize their adulthood…for sons that they are now their “own man” and for daughters their “own woman”.  Pastor Mark closed the service by inviting anyone who had never received the blessing from their own parents to come to the front and receive it now…a moving gesture.

Being a “PK”

Mark Davis, Interim Pastor at Scott Memorial COG
Mark Davis, Interim Pastor at Scott Memorial COG

After service ended, Laura and I spent another thirty minutes talking and parting ways with all the new friends we had made.  It was a warm and friendly experience with the people of Scott Memorial Church of God, and although much of that had to do with the fact that I am the son of the pastor, I felt like I still would have received a loving welcome had that not been the case.  As for the service and the sermon, I always consider it a blessing to hear my dad preach, and unless you are a preacher’s kid (PK for short) it is hard to explain what it is like to see your parent preaching the Word of God to a congregation of believers.  I’m not sure if other PK’s feel this way, but for me no matter how good a sermon is, if it is not delivered by my dad it always feels like a little something is missing.  Maybe that is because I have seen the time, energy, and effort that he has put into his ministry.  Maybe it is because I feel his love for me as father and son, rather than just on a separate level of a regular pastor and church member.  And on this Sunday maybe it was because I had been able to look back through my life and see how my dad had done his best to give me unconditional love, focused attention, discipline, and the blessing.  Was he perfect at it?  No.  Only our heavenly Father is the perfect father.  But he always did what he thought was best and that is all any of us can ask for.  I will end this week’s article with a call to action for the men who are reading this.  If you are aware of children in your church or somewhere else in your life who you know do not have a father who provides these four important gifts, why not be that person for them?  Why not become a father figure to a fatherless child.  It might just change their life…and maybe yours as well.

If you would like to read the article by Clint Cooper in the Chattanooga Times Free Pressclick here.

Josh & Laura weekly self-portrait
Josh & Laura weekly self-portrait

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

 

 

 

 

Times Free Press article
ChurchSurfer in Chattanooga Times Free Press

 

Advertisements

ChurchSurfer @ New City Fellowship: A Culture of Accepting Cultures

Church Experience #23 – June 12, 2011

New City Fellowship PCA – Chattanooga, TN

With or Without Generalizations

When it comes to making generalizations about how people worship and conduct church services compared to what types of cultures and subcultures make up the majority of the people in a congregation, I would say I have pretty much gotten what I have expected so far on the ChurchSurfer journey.  Denomination seems to be the best foreshadow of what to expect out of a church experience, and then as you add in the demographics of the pastor and people that make up the church you can pretty easily paint the rest of the picture.  For example, if you go to an Episcopal church that has a predominantly white congregation in an affluent neighborhood, you can probably bank on the fact that the service will be dressy and formal with conservative hymn-based worship led by a choir without electric instruments or drums.  There are plenty of generalizations like this that will tell a story about what a certain church is like, and I would argue that (whether consciously or unconsciously) these are the tools most people use to decide which church they will attend or join…it is really just human nature.  So far, I  have attended twenty-two different churches in 2011 and have not really been surprised (by not knowing what to expect) yet.  I am not really sure if this is a good thing or a bad thing.  Should churches be that predictable?  I can think of arguments for both the “yes” and “no” answers to that question, as well as for “yes and no” answer.  Let me also clarify that I am speaking of the typical format and style of the worship service here, not the events that happen (or results of those events) at a church on any given Sunday, which are wholly up to the Holy Spirit (you like how I did that…wholly and Holy?).  The reason I am bringing these things up (as you can probably guess) is that here I am in week twenty-three and feel like for the first time I visited a church that was not what I thought it would be.  Well, to be honest, I have actually been to New City Fellowship once before, probably ten years ago or more, and that was my experience then.  Now that I am married I thought it would be a great church for my wife Laura to experience as well, plus one that should definitely be included in ChurchSurfer.  So here is the run-down on our experience…

The Outside and the Inside

New City Fellowship Chattanooga
New City Fellowship Chattanooga

New City Fellowship is a traditional red brick church building that sits on East 3rd Street near Missionary Ridge.  From the outside it looks very typical…almost boring (not being critical, just setting up the rest of the article).  It is not until you enter the building that you begin to see things you would not expect.  After entering through the big white front doors, we worked our way through the small lobby and a series of smiles and polite greetings, into the large open sanctuary.  The room was filled with old-style wooden church pews leading up to the pulpit, which had various instruments inserted into any available space, as the area was clearly built for a much different selection of musical equipment.  The main component of the pulpit area was a piano/keyboard combo with choir seating that rose behind it, yet remained empty throughout the service, further accentuating changes in the style of worship from when this building was originally constructed.  The walls were adorned with large banners with sayings such as “Praise the Lord All You Nations” sewn onto them in brown, tan, and black letters.  We found seats near the front of the room and greeted people as they filled in the pews around us.  We engaged in casual conversation with a few people in the row behind us, while also being entertained by a small girl in the row in front of us who was popping up and down playing peek-a-boo.  A man came up to the podium and began with church announcements, competing with the low roar of conversations from the congregation, which slowly tapered out as he continued.  The worship band had taken their places during this time and began playing music as the announcements ended.  The music that ensued was joyful and spirited, with singing, clapping, dancing, and hands raising to the jazzy gospel-influenced praise and worship songs.  I smiled and sang as I watched a tambourine lady happily groove and shake her way up and down the center aisle, creating a cheerful atmosphere of praise to the Lord.  James Ward, the music leader at New City Fellowship, is an accomplished musician and songwriter, and I would argue that the praise band at New City is probably the most talented in Chattanooga.  The music was as eclectic as the congregation, which consisted of the most diverse mixture of race, age, and (apparent) income level that I have seen in a church so far.  We sang four songs with a prayer sandwiched in between, followed by announcements in Spanish and then the collection of tithes and offerings.  At one point during this segment the visitors were asked to stand, and then during a designated greeting time the church members were directed to “especially make our visitors feel welcome”.  The beginning of the service closed with the performance of a song that the children had learned during vacation bible school the previous week, complete with the funny face making, lyric forgetting, and attention wandering that always make you smile from ear to ear…one of those wonderful moments that is a blessing to everyone in the church.

New City Fellowship sanctuary
New City Fellowship sanctuary

A-ha Moments

The sermon for this service was given by a Pastoral Intern, Ronnie Perry, who began with Scripture from Isaiah 6.  He spoke about what he called a corruption in Christianity today in which people attempt to use God as a tool to meet their own goals and desires.  He delved into the deeper subject matter of how many self-willed Christians continue to focus on the short-term in this life rather that on eternity or the big picture, which causes us to blend in with everyone else rather than stand out as Jesus did…a point which he emphasized by saying “Christians today want the things of the world just as bad as the people of the world.” Pastor Perry continued by breaking down the Isaiah passage into three segments which he called a God encounter, a self encounter, and a response.  He reasoned that we must first see God as a reality rather than a concept, after which we will become shaken and self-aware that there is nothing impressive about us without the God who created us.  The response we should then have is to stop trying to shape God around ourselves while only believing what is convenient for us to believe, and instead follow God and live for Him as He calls us to.  During the sermon, Laura and I looked at each other in one of those “a-ha” moments because this message was exactly what we had talked about on the way to church.  I am talking about the same message, not a similar message.  It was a “God” moment in which you get chill bumps because you realize how the Holy Spirit speaks to you and prepares you for certain situations and experiences.  Wow!  God is awesome!

Kenyan Coffee Time

New City Fellowship wall banners
New City Fellowship wall banners

After the service, which had ended with an altar call, we ventured back to the visitor’s reception area that had been mentioned during the service as an opportunity to learn more about the church over a cup of coffee.  Of course, anytime there is coffee involved you can count me in, so we filled a cup and began sipping and struck up a conversation with two ladies, Estar and Sarah, who were attending the coffee station.  Estar gave us some excellent insight into the various ministries and service that New City provides to the community, which mainly focus on serving the poor and supporting foreign missions.  In fact, Estar came to the U.S. from Kenya as a result of the mission work of New City.  She spoke with conviction about the church and how she liked that they hold members accountable for serving in some capacity.  After about thirty minutes of great discussion, we parted ways and headed home.  Laura and I felt like we had experienced a truly unique church that celebrates and embraces all the cultures that make up the extremely diverse congregation.  In this church there was no sense of a forced integration or any sort of reluctance to come together.  It was as if the color and culture barriers had been overcome in this church effortlessly, which tells me that the Spirit is present and the love of Christ consumes the people of New City Fellowship.  If you know someone who has stopped going to church because of a bad experience where they felt out of place, unloved, or not accepted, I would encourage you to bring them to New City Fellowship.  It will not only be a blessing to them, but also an example and a great experience for you as well.  Even though it may look boring on the outside, I promise the experience inside will be anything but.

New City Fellowship street sign
New City Fellowship street sign

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 @ Little Brown Church: Sustained by the Love of a Community

Church Experience #22 – June 5, 2011

Little Brown Church (Union Chapel) – Summertown, TN

A Church with a History

Little Brown Church front entrance
Little Brown Church front entrance

I will start this week with an interesting fact that many Chattanoogans may not be aware of:  Signal Mountain is not a mountain at all…it is a town that exists on Walden’s Ridge.  So when someone says “I live on Signal” or “I’m going up the mountain”, what they really should be saying is “I live in Signal” or “I’m going up the ridge”.  Walden’s Ridge extends much further past the town of Signal Mountain with other communities and towns tucked away on winding side streets that most of the time get lumped into the catch-all phrase of “Signal Mountain” that everyone recognizes.  One of these communities on Walden’s Ridge is Summertown, which has a very interesting history and a very unique and famous building called Little Brown Church (officially, Union Chapel).  For the sake of space, I will not get into the full history of Little Brown Church (there is an entire book on it) other than to say it is over one-hundred years old and was started by Chattanooga families that made Summertown their escape from the summertime heat in the valley and the Yellow Fever that showed up with the mosquitoes.    They built this little chapel as a gathering place, but rather than hire a pastor, they decided to save the money and do all the teaching and preaching themselves.  Little Brown Church operates from Memorial Day through Labor Day each summer, and to this day is a community-run entity, with no paid staff and a different person serving as the Director each year.  The Director organizes and oversees the efforts of the community to maintain the building and property, schedule the speakers, and facilitate the Sunday church service.  Each week there is a guest speaker who is either a member of the local community or a pastor from another church around the Chattanooga area.  The Little Brown Church has become such a cherished local phenomenon that even people without a connection to Walden’s Ridge or Signal Mountain know about it.  It has become locally famous and for all the right reasons, serving as a shining example of the power of community, and earning such a special place in the lives of all who attended as a child and have continued to return throughout all the seasons of their lives.  Little Brown Church was such a special place to one man who I recently met, Jim Frierson, that when he learned that I was writing about local churches for the ChurchSurfer project, he insisted that it be included and followed up by sending me an invitation for the opening day service for 2011.  Here is my experience…

Church in the Wildwood

Little Brown Church lady at piano
Lady Playing Piano

Laura and I parked along the side of the street just down from the Little Brown Church and walked toward the small group of people who were gathering on the stone patio in front of the building.  The patio was lined with benches and walled-in by plants and trees that fed into a lush green forest which served as the backdrop for the quaint little chapel building.  We were warmly greeted by several people as we explored the outside and inside of the building, taking a few pictures along the way.  The structure was exactly what you would expect from something called Little Brown Church in the wildwood…it was all wood from floor to ceiling, with the only signs of modern technology  being two black speakers mounted to the rafters, two black microphones on stands at the front, and three black ceiling fans spinning above our heads.  The church was open-air with the front doors standing wide and open windows (no screens) running down the length of the side walls.  There was a simple wooden podium at the front of the room with a blue and white flower arrangement sitting on a wooden stool beside it and a piano in the front corner, which was occupied by a little white-haired lady who was already playing to welcome everyone in with music.  There was a mixture of fold-out chairs and park benches split between the inside of the sanctuary and also on a full length balcony that ran down one whole side of the chapel (which filled up faster than the interior seating).  Laura and I went ahead and sat down near the front and watched as more and more people showed up (on transportation that ranged from horses to bicycles to golf carts) to an environment that was much like a family reunion or homecoming, with hugs and handshakes and a crowd that was visibly excited to be returning for another year at their beloved little church.  I had expected the people to be a little bit more dressed-down than they actually were, but then I reasoned that Sunday casual to many of these people (who I would assume most of which are fairly wealthy) is still pretty dressed-up for other folks.  I held a short conversation with an older couple seated behind us that ended as the service began with this year’s Director, Jim Campbell, announcing the first hymn.

A Splash of Diversity

Little Brown Church sanctuary
Little Brown Church sanctuary

I looked around the packed-out building as the congregation stood to sing “What a Friend” in its traditional style with piano accompaniment (by the little white-haired lady).  After the hymn, a young pre-teen boy led a responsive reading, followed by a prayer from the Director and an introduction to the Johnson brothers, who were the music leaders at Church of the First Born down in Chattanooga, and whose father, Alfred Johnson, was the guest speaker this week.  The Johnsons were a black family who had been participating with the Little Brown Church for several years now, bringing what I am sure is a much needed one-week splash of diversity to what might otherwise be an all (or mostly) white church congregation.  Although the Little Brown Church lacked in ethnic diversity, it still could be seen as a melting pot of cultural or spiritual diversity, being established by families who worshipped in different denominations during the rest of the year but who had agreed to piece together a worship service that they could all agree on.  All of these thoughts floated around in my mind while listening to the Johnson brothers sing stripped-down, raw versions of “How Great Is Our God” and “How Great Thou Art”, making up for the lack of instrumentation with their powerful and soulful vocal abilities.  After an offering collection the little white-haired lady returned to the piano to lead the hymn “Savior like a Shepherd Lead Us”.  During each hymn, the first two rows of people were directed to turn around and face the rest of the congregation, serving as a make-shift choir.  At the end of the song, Pastor Alfred Johnson from Church of the Firstborn, came up to the podium, brought his sons back up to the front and kicked off a high energy, hand-clapping gospel song “On the Battlefield” that provided what might be the only glimpse of a typical black gospel church sing along that many of the people in this congregation may ever experience in person (not meaning to be judgmental here, just based on the observation that people are rarely motivated to venture outside their own bubble).

Labeling a Generation

Little Brown Church balcony
Little Brown Church balcony

After some deeply passionate gospel singing, Pastor Johnson engaged the congregation in an equally fiery sermon, reading from Judges 2:10 (stop now and read it) and related that passage to the current generation of youth that are among us.  He noted that over the course of history, generations come to be labeled according to an overall mindset that they are known by, such as the one applied to the generation spoken about in Judges 2:10 that followed Joshua and his generation of Israelites.  Pastor Johnson pointed out that the current generation of youth in our country is becoming known for their unwillingness to get to know God and their lack of respect for or desire to learn about history and traditions.  The current generation of youth are stricken with a plague of violence that stems from the complete absence of appreciation for life, for freedom, and for the well being of a community and its’ people.  These issues become manifest with the constant display of anger and outward criticism that consumes many people’s lives today.  Pastor Johnson’s voice became increasingly gravelly from the volume at which he delivered his sermon, and his necktie seemed to cinch down tighter and tighter as the temperature rose and the sweat on his forehead beaded up and dripped to the floor.  “Why do we have this problem?” he asked rhetorically.  Pastor Johnson pointed his index finger at the air as he answered himself…stating that what has become a self-willed society has stopped teaching about God, removed Him from schools, and excluded Him from sermons.  People today are trying to promote and get people to know this person or that person, or anyone it seems except Jesus Christ.  There is an extreme problem of not living a subdued lifestyle…people get so hyped up all the time that it requires prescription medication to be calm.  He argued that when people are so focused on themselves, everyone else around them suffers the consequences.  He concluded his sermon with a frenzy of requirements for us to have true reconciliation with God that included the necessity for self-willed people to deny themselves and submit to God, to remain under control, to do away with self-centeredness.  “Reconciliation”, he said with a pause, “is not about what is right, but aboutdoing what is right”.  Pastor Johnson’s sermon was ferocious, with peaks and valleys and points of emphasis that were expertly crafted and delivered with sincerity and humility.  I overheard a lady behind me quip to the lady seated next to her “he sure has enthusiasm, doesn’t he?”  I looked at Laura, who had heard the comment as well, and we shared a chuckle as we were both reminded again about the splash of diversity that Pastor Johnson and his sons had brought from the inner-city up the mountain (or ridge) with them.

Lessons to be Learned

Karen Stone - Little Brown Church historian
Karen Stone – Little Brown Church historian

After Pastor Johnson returned to his seat, the church Director came back up to announce that the attendance was counted at two-hundred twenty-one people and the collection amount was $1595.00, all of which is donated to local Christian charities since there are no salaries to pay and the church expenses are completely covered by fees from weddings held at the Little Brown Church.  As the congregation was dismissed, the children rushed to the front to help ring the church bell…a tradition I’m sure most of the congregation has taken part in at some point during the church’s long history.  Laura and I walked back out to the patio, where people lingered in conversation and fellowship.  We talked to Jim Frierson and a very sweet lady named Karen Stone, the church historian, about the history of the Little Brown Church and about life in general, and I could have easily seen myself standing in that exact spot during any decade of the last century doing the same thing.  It was at that point that I began reflecting on some deep thoughts that I hope you will contemplate as well.  If this little church that people love so dearly can be operated by the community, why have our church budgets become so convoluted?  Why are churches so focused on maintaining dozens of paid staff members, fancy equipment, huge buildings, and all the creature comforts we can cram inside them?  Are those things really a distraction considering that the minimalistic environment of the Little Brown Church seemed to actually emphasize and support the powerful sermon, the sincere worship, and the real sense of community on display?  I know what my heart tells me, and I believe that while so many denominations and churches flounder in their misguided attempts to operate according to the example of the New Testament churches, they could learn some valuable lessons from a simple little church in the wildwood on Walden’s Ridge that is what it is because of the love and service of the community that maintains it.  It’s just too bad the Little Brown Church isn’t available year round.

Little Brown Church front walk and patio
Little Brown Church front walk and patio

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 @ Bethel Temple Assembly of God: Which End of the Pentecostal Spectrum?

Church Experience #21 – May 29, 2011

Bethel Temple Assembly of God – Hixson, TN

Call Me Crazy

Once again on my ChurchSurfer journey I was venturing out to my weekly “first-time” church visit without my wife Laura, who was traveling to Florida to help a long-time friend of ours move to Chattanooga.  For you analytical folks out there, one of the things I have found to be very interesting along the ChurchSurfer journey, has been to compare the way different church experiences have gone (sociologically, I suppose) based on various environmental factors…such as whether I’m alone or with Laura, whether we are dressed up or casual, how different we are from the majority demographic, etc.  Of course, none of these analyses can be scientific or definitive, but I often find myself thinking about them anyway…what might have made the experience go differently, either for the better or worse, and why does any single experience turn out the way it did in the first place?  Let me take a moment and speculate on what God’s perspective may be on these issues (an ignorant undertaking, of course, but I’m OK with that).  I would be inclined (or, not be declined…inside joke for my wife) to think that one area in which God would especially want all the individual local churches to be of the same accord, would be on how they receive guests or visitors.  I’m not taking the time to search for any Scripture references to back me up here (dangerous, I know), but shouldn’t every single church be looking for the opportunity to “wow” their guests and visitors?  I do not say this meaning that churches should put up some kind of superficial exterior that is not a true representation of the hearts and attitudes of the individual members.  What I mean is, shouldn’t having a guest or visitor in a church be one of the easiest and well-timed opportunities for us to share Christ’s love with someone?  I would think that Christ Himself would want us to welcome people with hugs and brotherly kisses, with visible excitement over their presence, with sincere interest in getting to know another fellow heir to the Kingdom, and with the desire to serve them, esteem them, and honor them.  Whoa!  How completely awesome would that be?  Some of you are probably thinking I am crazy right now, but that’s OK with me too.  Now, let me tell you a quick story about a church called Bethel Temple Assembly of God that came closer to that word-picture I just painted about how visitors should be treated than any other ChurchSurfer experience I have had on my journey thus far.

Nice to Meet You

Bethel Temple Assembly of God
Bethel Temple Assembly of God

I pulled in to Bethel Temple not really knowing what to expect.  I know that Assembly of God churches are cut from the Pentecostal cloth, but that can mean quite a few different things these days.  You could get anything from the “we believe in the gifts of the Spirit” end of the charismatic spectrum, all the way to the “we don’t consider it church until everyone in the room has spoken in tongues and hit the floor” at the opposite end of the spectrum.  I’m joking of course, but you get the point.  Ready for anything, I crossed the parking lot and came to the front door, where I was greeted by a sweet lady named Pat, who asked my name and whether this was my first visit to Bethel Temple before I had even set foot inside the building.  I confirmed to her that it was my first visit and she lit up like a firecracker, welcomed me, and walked me over to the guest reception desk which was positioned only a few steps inside the entrance, front and center like the host(ess) station at a restaurant.  At the guest reception desk I met Arlene, who handed me a visitor information card and an ink pen, and then began blistering me with questions as I attempted to fill out the card and answer her questions simultaneously.  Arlene was dressed in a flower-print frock, with a vibrant and youthful countenance, and is one of those indescribably sweet old ladies that you could sit with in rocking chairs on the front porch and just talk all day long without realizing any time had passed.  In fact, we did stand there at the guest reception booth and talk for about twenty minutes as she asked about my family, my job, and my life history…all while introducing me to various other church members as they came to say hi and give her a hug and then move along.  After finishing my guest card and conversation with Arlene, I headed toward the sanctuary, receiving a greeting and handshake from basically every person I passed along the way.  I met a couple of more ladies, Nancy and Sheila, who were extremely sweet as well, and they introduced me to more people who were all just as nice.  I can’t even remember the names of all the people I met (and it was way too many to write down), but each one wanted to know my name and find out a little bit about me.  Needless to say, I was blown away by the warm weclome I received from these kind-hearted people.

On the Lord’s Time

The sanctuary at Bethel Temple was spacious and simple, colored with neutral tones and lined with padded chairs.  The building was modern and clean, with more focus on function than on any kind of ornate aesthetic.  The praise band took the stage and launched into contemporary worship music with guitars, drums, keyboard, and bass as the congregation joined in singing “Open the Eyes of My Heart”.  There was clapping, dancing (subdued, not crazy), and many hands raised among the congregation and I joined in like manner, truly engaging in a meaningful worship experience.  After two songs we were lead in a prayer for all service men and women (for Memorial Day weekend), and then listened to the church announcements followed by the personal testimony of one of the women from the congregation who had recently had an answered prayer in the form of a financial breakthrough during a bad situation.  During the collection of tithes and offerings, an older couple sang a duet to the hymn, “Master of the Sea“, with a good old-fashioned country-gospel twang that we don’t get enough of anymore (in my opinion) in modern worship services.  The praise band then jumped back into action as we sang an additional four or five songs, getting right back into the same spirit of worship, lifting hands and swaying to the music.  At about forty-five minutes into the service, the worship music wrapped up and we were invited to take about five minutes of fellowship time to greet those around us.  During this time I met and was greeted by basically everyone that I hadn’t met before the service.  There may be one or two people in the congregation that I didn’t meet, but I would be surprised (and it took longer than five minutes).  One of the Pentecostal stereotypes that was confirmed at least on this church visit, was that they have no concept of time when it comes to church…we started at 10:15 am and finished at about 12:45 pm (not that I have a problem with spending two and half hours at church, but I’m just making note of the fact because it is out of the ordinary for most churches).

Giving = Sacrifice?

After the first half of the service, Senior Pastor Terry Evans took to the stage to give his sermon.  He began by teaching on Luke 19:45-46 and referencing Isaiah 56:1-7, but also ventured out into the subject of giving, sharing a sentiment from David, who basically said that if it’s not a sacrifice to him, he’s not going to offer it to God.  Think about that for a second…if David’s offering was not a sacrifice to himself, then he did not want to offer it to God.  This sparked a thought in my mind about my own giving and whether I offer my first and my best to God, or whether I offer the left-overs.  This sermon seemed to also reinforce a portion of the C.S. Lewis book “Mere Christianity” that I had read recently in which Lewis makes the argument that if you are able to live according to the same standard of living as other people at your income level, then you are not giving enough.  Wow…that hits home, doesn’t it?  His thought, much like David’s, is that there is no sacrifice in giving out of your excess.  Sure, Old Testament offerings and modern day offerings are way, way different, but I would argue that giving out of excess is sort of like saying to God:  “Here you go God.  Thanks for the abundance you have blessed me with.  Since I’ve got more than I need, why don’t you take a little as well?”  Seems pretty silly, huh?  If the abundance came from God in the first place, don’t you think He deserves the most of it?  The best of it?  The first of it?  Don’t you think God will judge us according to how we were stewards of what he gave us in this life?

A Lasting Impression

Pastor Terry continued to teach some tough truths accompanied by his opinion that “fluffy butterfly messages” and prosperity doctrines that many churches are teaching are simply not true.  He then segued into a Memorial Day tribute video, and with two microphones placed at the front of the sanctuary, asked for members of the congregation to come forward and offer prayers for the military, their families, and our government, and also victims of recent natural disasters.  Several people came forward and offered heartfelt and sometimes tearful prayers, which reflected the sweet spirit that I saw in so many of the people I met at Bethel Temple.  Pastor Terry urged the congregation to continue praying for these specific issues in our world right now, adding that “prayer is where the battles are won”.  I spoke to Arlene, Pastor Terry, and a few other people after the service and left feeling like I had just been to a family reunion where I was a long lost family member that had just been discovered and everyone wanted to meet.  I was humbled and honored to have been welcomed with such love and enthusiasm, and will thank God in my prayers for Bethel Temple’s example of how to treat a visitor.  As for the “Pentecostal” experience that I was unsure of…the worship was spirited, but pretty much like many other contemporary church services I have attended that have an open atmosphere where people feel free to raise hands, sway and dance, and clap to the music.  I did hear chanting in tongues during some of the worship and prayer time (which was a little distracting when I was trying to listen to the pastor’s words), but only by a few women, not by the entire congregation (which can be overwhelming for a visitor), and the pastor’s message was a Bible lesson, not a Holy Ghost shouting spectacle.  So all in all, my experience at Bethel Temple Assembly of God was on the conservative end of the “Pentecostal Spectrum” and I would say most Christians would feel quite comfortable visiting there…especially if they get to meet Arlene.

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


%d bloggers like this: