Church Experience #8 – February 20, 2011
Abba’s House (a.k.a. Central Baptist Church)
So here I am, almost two months into ChurchSurfer and I haven’t been to a “megachurch” yet. Shame on me. Having just moved right next to Hixson, TN, I located the closest (there are 50 in Tennessee) mega church, Abba’s House, and decided to visit. Laura and I showed up about 20 minutes early, as I always like to do, to give us time to explore and hopefully meet a few people to talk to and gain a little insider’s perspective into this church. As we approached the building we were warmly welcomed by a door greeter, and I was glad to see that there was someone at each of the six or eight doors, not just one or two for the entire entrance. We walked around the hallway, which seemed shockingly barren for a church of this size…I fully expected to be weaving and bumping shoulders through a massive crowd. I had skipped my regular Sunday morning coffee stop, anticipating a lavish coffee and refreshment station in a church of this size, and was only slightly disappointed to find out that coffee is served in the small group Bible studies (Lifegroups) in another building. Had I been faced with a completely caffeine-free church visit, I might have been recognizably fretful, but alas…there was a cafe/bookstore in the lobby where I was able to make a coffee purchase. Laura and I sipped on our coffee and wandered around the lobby in search of conversation. I’m not sure how, after being able to engage a few people in pre-church conversation almost every week, this week’s attempt was unfruitful…could be a side effect of a megachurch, or maybe just bad timing. So I went outside and snapped a couple of photos of the front of the enormously impressive sanctuary building, and then went to the folks at the guest services desk to dig for some information. It turns out this should have been my initial destination.
Southern Baptist Hospitality
The ladies at guest services were almost alarmingly excited to talk to Laura and I. They were energetic and friendly, extremely receptive, and engaging in conversation. If I had expected to have scripted short answers fired back at my questions and the run-of-the-mill brochures shoved my way to clear the path for the next person in line, I couldn’t have been more wrong. These ladies asked questions about us and were sincerely interested in finding any possible way that Abba’s House could serve our spiritual needs. I’m very (sadly) accustomed to churches that advertise their programs, but leave it on you to wade through them all and get plugged in somewhere. Not this church. They had us profiled within a few moments and began offering personal recommendations on which groups we might like and which groups were available for young couples if we wanted to attend together. Impressive and very refreshing. I walked away from that conversation reassured against many of the negative stereotypes I might have had about megachurches, and was excited about getting inside the sanctuary to worship God.
Very Big Spaces
Laura and I made our way into the auditorium/sanctuary, which opened up in front of us like a grand concert hall, and found seats relatively close to the front. As we watched the stage fill up with musicians and singers, it began to dawn on me just how large this place was. A few weeks earlier I had been in a sanctuary that was near capacity with fifty or sixty people in attendance, and now as the worship music began to kick off, I estimated over a hundred people up on the stage contributing to the music. There was an orchestra with woodwinds and brass, then guitars, basses, drums, pianos, a full choir of singers, and a praise team up front. They filled the auditorium with all kinds of praise music, and as I watched a crowd gather from right in front of the stage and extend back through quite a few rows of seating, I got the feeling that this wasn’t a typical Southern Baptist church (not your mama’s Baptist church). The mass of people up front were mostly young (teens and twenty-somethings) with various other age groups sprinkled in, and were hopping and swaying around, lifting hands, pointing upward, and singing out passionately to the Lord. The worship music didn’t evoke an emotional response from me, which often happens when I really feel connected, but more than anything I would describe the worship atmosphere at Abba’s House as joyous, or simply, fun. The music lasted a full 45 minutes, which was great for me, because I enjoy and cherish every moment I get of glorifying God with fellow believers. And FYI…another indicator that this isn’t a typical Baptist church…they openly tag themselves as a Spirit-filled Baptist church and encourage and teach members to discover and develop their gifts of the Spirit.
Ron Phillips Ministries
After worship, the pastor, Ron Phillips, came up for his sermon. I wasn’t aware before attending church here that he operates Ron Phillips Ministries and appears regularly on Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN). I have to admit, I harbor more negative stereotypes of televangelists than I do of megachurches, but for the second time on this Sunday the stereotypes were wrong. Pastor Ron did not appear flashy or loud, but more like a humble teacher, confident in the Lord and not in himself. He began his sermon (teaching from an iPad, which was a first for me) by drawing a comparison of our outward spiritual walk to sports highlight reels where you see all the great moments leading up to a championship victory, but all the controversy, conflict, and strife is largely hidden behind the scenes. He taught from the Scriptures about the “Red Sea moments” of life, the points we get to where we must let faith handle fear in order to make it through extremely difficult situations. Pastor Ron noted how these Red Sea moments always bring forth criers, critics, and cowards, as was evidenced countless times in both the Old and New Testaments, but those same moments are the time for believers to seek a spiritual perception in order to move forward.
My Red Sea Moment
One particular quote that I latched on to from the sermon was that “walking through difficulty often heralds a new beginning.” Before I decided to follow Christ, I lived a life full of highlights on the outside while I hid all the turmoil I was experiencing from my sin on the inside. Because of God’s love for me, He surrounded me with faithful believers even in the darkest times, when I deserved it the least. Knowing that I would eventually get to a Red Sea moment, God used these people to demonstrate His love and compassion and He personally demonstrated His power by making that moment pass, as only He could, and calling me to the salvation that was available to me in Jesus Christ. There’s no other new beginning that even comes close to being born again to eternal life in Christ, but I’ve received many blessings after relying on faith in God to carry me through tough times. Now my greatest blessing is living to serve Him, worship Him, and love Him, because He first loved me.
2 Months of ChurchSurfer
It’s hard to believe that February is almost over and I’ve already visited eight different churches this year. I plan on writing an overview soon about my first two months of the ChurchSurfer project to touch on the bigger picture of what I’m learning from all these great experiences. I sincerely hope you’ve enjoyed reading the blog this far, and I look forward to continuing the journey with you!
Make sure you visit the ChurchSurfer Facebook page and ‘like’ it to keep up with photos, updates, and other random stuff.
I’d also like to thank Topher Littleton Designs, who is helping me develop a Churchsurfer logo. New website design coming soon…