Tag Archives: charismatic

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

Holy Spirit Power

Church Experience #5 – Jan 30, 2011

Joyful Sound Church of God

Lively Up Yourself

It’s the end of my first month on ChurchSurfer and I thought it was about time to take the blog to one of the more…how should I say it…energetic or charismatic denominations – Church of God.  We all know the stereotype that all the variations of Pentecostal have earned over the generations, and I usually recall the movie “The Apostle” with Robert Duvall as the Pentecostal preacher, scenes of the rural South, roadside tent revivals, and sermons that resemble “pep rallies” that evoke the Holy Spirit, usually climaxing with people jumping, shouting, writhing on the ground, and speaking in tongues.  I mention this not because I buy into this stereotype, but because we all know it.  I personally believe most stereotypes of this nature begin with some amount of truth, but you never know how much gets exaggerated and fabricated over time.  So I don’t believe the hype until I experience it for myself…and in this case let’s just say I wasn’t disappointed!  Not that the stereotype was confirmed, but that I discovered where the truth of it began.  So here we go…

Don’t Judge a Book…  

Joyful Sound Church of God

I snapped a couple of photos of the outside of the building and then went inside with quite a bit of time to spare before the morning worship service started.  Upon entering I realized that Bible study was in session, so my wife Laura and I quickly and quietly sat in a back pew trying not to disturb anyone.  There was a well aged lady with long silver hair and a diminutive stature teaching from the podium about love and forgiveness.  She sported clothes that were many years out of style by society’s fashion standards (actually the purple and teal colors of her shirt and vest have probably gone out of style and come back in the time that she’s owned them).  I point this out not to make fun, but to enhance my next observation…she spoke with a confidence and wisdom that I rarely see out people who obviously “think highly of themselves”.  Let’s just say she stood there and taught the Bible without any visible concern of her image or appearance and I couldn’t help but wonder how she would be received if we were in a fancy church in an upper class neighborhood.  I think we all know the answer to that, whether we’ll say it out loud or not.  I’m not so sure that doctors and lawyers with all their years of education would be able to humble themselves to receive Bible lessons delivered by an old lady from the wrong part of town.  Maybe that’s why it’s been said (by Jesus) that it is harder for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for the rich to make it to heaven…oooooohhhh, that may sting a little but don’t get me wrong here, I don’t have a bone to pick with anyone because of their social status or wealth, I’m just trying to make everyone really think a little.

Down Home Worship

After Bible study my wife and I were greeted by my new friend Joel Barker, the worship leader at Joyful Sound, who had invited me to visit this church as part of my ChurchSurfer journey.  We were also warmly greeted by many of the others in attendance, and in a church of this size it’s hard not to bump into almost everyone there anyway (this definitely isn’t one of the mega-churches that you can sneak in and out of mostly unnoticed or “blend in”).  Being that I grew up in a small rural town, I felt right at home with the 50 or 60 other working class, plainly dressed people.  The praise band took the stage and started a rockabilly beat that had purely Southern country/western roots, but also a very contemporary worship feel to it.  The band included drums, bass, electric and acoustic guitar, piano, keys, maracas, and tambourine.  The worship was lively and I welcomed the passion and intensity that this congregation displayed.  I sang along and worshiped from the heart and truly enjoyed praising God in this manner.  After the music there were announcements including a mention of the youth team that won a huge trophy (which was on display) for having the most spirit at a recent youth rally.  The phrase “doing cartwheels down the aisle” was used, and I felt like I was probably in store for a lot more excitement than what I had just gotten from the worship music.

Bring On the Fire

Before Pastor James began his sermon, he spoke to his congregation intently about the current (and at that time new) situation happening in Egypt.  He drew a parallel between the countries surrounding Israel and the birds of prey that Abram had to drive away from his animal sacrifices to God, and asked the congregation to pray for Egypt and also brought up the U.S./Israel relationship.  I was glad to hear him speak to his congregation about these topics, as I think it is a pastor’s responsibility to make sure the people in their church are aware of world events and their relevance to Biblical history and prophecy.  Pastor James then exploded into a sermon beginning with Ephesians 3:20 and dealing with God’s intentions in the way He designed us.  His delivery of the sermon was loud, booming through the church sanctuary at levels that I sometimes felt his voice could barely support.  The volume of his sermon rose and fell with his Bible references from Genesis and sermon points about God’s promises for His people and the inevitable doubts that we struggle with.   His sermon and my experience left me pondering about why Jesus was always attracted to poor people and why He seemed to prefer helping them deal with their troubled lives rather than spending His time with the wealthy and their tendency to judge others and place their appearance and possessions above all else.  I think it’s clear who He felt would be more receptive to what He was offering.

From Fire to Volcano

After the Sunday service I decided to come back on Monday to experience one night of a week-long revival at Joyful Sound.  Just as I expected, the revival service was a notch up on the charismatic scale from what I had experienced the day before.  For someone who has never been to a Church of God, I would warn you that things can get pretty crazy…and this night was no exception.  Worship was spirited, and after a sermon from the guest pastor, there was an altar call and that’s when the real action started.  As the church members flowed out of the pews and down to the front, both Pastor James and the guest pastor began laying their hands on the people’s heads and praying over them, sometimes in English and sometimes in tongues.  The volume of the service ebbed and flowed as some people received comforting words of encouragement and prayer, and others received shouted commands for healings, resolutions to various issues, or empowerment to follow Jesus.  In the midst of the crowd as people were prayed over they began to jump, dance, shake, convulse, fall down, cry, scream out, and speak in tongues, and as all this was going on the praise band led by Joel continued to sing and play.  I sang along and at times shouted some “Hallelujah’s”, “Praise God’s”, and “Yes Lord’s” as a couple of people chose to answer the calling on their heart and accept Jesus for the first time.  One man also spoke in tongues for the first time, which is something the Church of God refers to as the baptism of the Holy Spirit.  As this was happening, Pastor James jumped up on the pew in front of us, and reached over to lay hands on that man and pray over him in tongues.  I’m not sure how long all of this continued, because I glanced down at my watch and noticed that it was 9:00 and I needed to get home for the evening.  As I walked to my car I already began thinking about what had just happened and how different it was from the other churches I had recently attended.

Final Thoughts

My experience at Joyful Sound Church of God really made me start thinking about different worship styles and wondering how it is that they have become so varied from one church or denomination to the next.  The other thing that I find perplexing is the expectation that many churches have for their members to worship according to the style that is accepted at their church.  If I laid hands on someone to pray over them or decided I wanted to jump around and dance at a church where that wasn’t a common occurrence, how would those behaviors be received?  I can only think that worship styles are as diverse as humans are, and if you aren’t open to something that is different, then you may need to spend some time finding out why.  What is it that makes you uncomfortable about it?  What gives you the right to dictate how other people should express themselves to our God?  I’m finding out more and more as I experience new churches that I prefer an atmosphere of acceptance.  If I feel like jumping and shouting, I don’t want to feel like an outcast, or on the other hand, if I feel like being reserved and taking the time to meditate and internalize what I’m experiencing, I don’t want to be told I’m not on fire for God.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not talking about acting out at inappropriate times, what I’m talking about is that true worship that occurs during designated worship time should be open for each person to give their worship to God in the way that they feel He would like to receive it.  Should church leaders maintain order?  Yes, but they should also make sure people understand that it’s OK to be themselves.  After all, if you are believer, then the Holy Spirit who resides in you will lead you in worship and prayer, and I won’t place limits on the Holy Spirit.  For what it’s worth, I’ve worshiped in many ways and have been given different gifts of the Spirit, but tongues is not one of them.  There are people who would say that means I haven’t been saved yet, but I know that I have.  The Holy Spirit is in me giving me wisdom and understanding from the Father and bearing fruit through me in many different ways.  I have surrendered myself to my Savior Jesus and have been baptized.  If at some point I speak in tongues then praise God, but if not praise God as well, because He has already given me a greater gift…love.  I love you God.

Video clips from the revival service will be available at the ChurchSurfer YouTube channel and you can view more photos of all the ChurchSurfer church visits at the ChurchSurfer Facebook page…make sure to “like” it while you’re there!

Also, make sure to follow Joyful Sound COG on twitter and also “like” them on Facebook.

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