Tag Archives: Chattanooga

ChurchSurfer @ First-Centenary United Methodist: Outreach to the Inside

Church Experience #15 – April 17, 2011

First-Centenary United Methodist Church, Chattanooga

Desires, Hopes, and Goals

My desire for ChurchSurfer is to go in to each church that I visit and get blown away by God’s power and love, uniquely displayed by another group of Christians, and write about all the great things that I experienced.  My hope is that by being the person who goes to fifty different churches in a year, I might break down some of the barriers that exist between people of different denominations and open their eyes to the fact that there are true Christians engaging in true worship in every church.  I think this is a great tool to allow people who are happy in a church home to get a glimpse of what other churches in the area are doing, without having to physically go there and miss out on their own service.  My possibly naive goal is that somehow through this process I can begin a work in Chattanooga to bring churches and Christians together to focus on the many things that we have in common, the most important of which is serving our Lord Jesus, and inspire a culture of unity in the local Christian community.  It’s a big task, but I know all things are possible through Christ who strengthens me, and how would I ever live with myself knowing that God put this on my heart and I did nothing to accomplish it?  So here I am…going about it the best way I know how at the moment.  The prerequisite and challenge to this goal (that I mentioned in my opening sentence), is that at each church I attend I must be diligent in attempting to meet people, engage in conversation, and hopefully have a moving experience of God’s power and love.

To Be or Not To Be the Critic

This week was the week I knew I would eventually have, but dreaded experiencing.  You see, my goal with the ChurchSurfer project was never to be a “church critic”.  I do think that a potentially great benefit of this blog is for churches to reflect on what a visitor experiences at their church and make changes that may help them become more welcoming to strangers.  That’s why I try to include positive comments about some of the things churches are doing that I liked, such as the small group signup sheets at Metro Tab, the “hug friendly” congregation at New Covenant Fellowship, or the personal invitation to attend a small group at Signal Mountain Presbyterian.  I think those are simple things that other churches can emulate to help become more visitor-friendly.  I’ve been to many churches before where I have come in, sat through the service, and then exited the building without ever being spoken to.  I knew it would probably happen eventually during the ChurchSurfer project, and I was dreading it because I didn’t know what I should write.  Should I be honest and forthcoming about it when it happens, or not write about it and instead just pull from only the positives of my experience that week?  It’s a tough position to be in, because churches really struggle with this issue, and it can be a really hard for them to build an open environment that makes outsiders feel welcome.  The problem is that it’s not totally in control of the church leaders, and even though they may want to create a welcoming environment, it’s really in the hands of the congregation.  The individuals who make up the congregation are the ones who are going to come into contact with visitors each week, and if they aren’t aware of the people around them and prepared to react when they see someone who may be new, they will probably miss the opportunity to make a strong impression of love on someone who really needs it.  I’m sad to say that during my visit to First-Centenary United Methodist Church, I was the visitor who was overlooked by the congregation.

The Silent Service

First-Centenary United Methodist Church
First-Centenary United Methodist Church, Chattanooga

I showed up at First-Centenary UMC about 20 minutes early for the 10:45 AM contemporary worship service, The Vine, that is held in the Oak Street Center, just across from the main building.  My wife was on an Emmaus Walk this weekend, so I was by myself, and looking forward to visiting a United Methodist church, which was the denomination in which my dad, Mark Davis, served as a pastor for many years.  I stopped on my way up to the building to take a couple of pictures, and stood in silence for a moment, enjoying the warm Spring air and morning sunshine.  As I entered the pale-colored building, I noticed lots of young people…college aged, high school and junior high, and small children accompanied by young parents.  I walked over to the coffee area and began to fill up a cup, and a gray haired gentleman said hello to me as he finished stirring in his sugar and then moved along.  That short “hello” would prove to be the only time I was spoken to outside of the worship service.  After filling my cup, I took a couple of sips and then approached some ladies who were sitting at a tall cafe-style table, having a conversation.  I smiled as I walked up, and I was hoping to meet a few people who could tell me about First-Centenary and their college ministry, but after standing awkwardly next to them for a moment without being greeted, I decided to explore a little.  I walked across the room, passing by some young men seated on a sofa, again failing to engage in eye contact or receive a greeting, so I kept moving along and went up the stairs that led to the elevated breezeway that crosses Oak Street to the main building.  As I meandered across the breezeway, I admired some very cool paintings and photographs on the walls, and then walked down the stairs on the other side into the main building.  In the lobby outside of the main sanctuary, I saw a bulletin board full of photographs of new members with printouts of their names, and thought that was a great idea for letting existing church members know who the new members are.  Time was approaching for the service to start, so I walked back across the Oak Street breezeway, finished my coffee, and then went in to the second sanctuary where they hold The Vine contemporary service.

Palm Sunday

The Vine stage at First-Centenary UMC
The Vine stage at First-Centenary UMC

I was handed a bulletin with a smile as I entered the room, and I walked across to the right side of the stage and took a seat on the third row back.  People continued to fill in the room and take seats, but unfortunately no one sat down within three seats of me on my row or in the row in front of me, again hindering my ability to engage in conversation.  After sitting and surveying the room for a few minutes, the praise band took the stage that was decorated with palms and peace lilies, and started playing a bubbly beat that turned out to be “I Can See Clearly Now”.  The band included acoustic guitar, keyboard, bass guitar, drums, and hand drums, and after a couple of praise songs, we sang “Hosanna in the Highest” as little children filed into the room and circled up and down the walkways waving palm branches.  It was definitely a joyful sight to watch these kids, many of them accompanied by parents, having a fun time while also blessing the service with their participation.  After the palm ceremony, pastor Brian Davis took the stage to deliver his sermon, based on the central idea that people tend to be bandwagon fans, wanting to be part of something big and associated with a winner.  This is why Jesus was cheered by the crowds as He entered Jerusalem on a donkey.  The people laid down their cloaks and tree branches in the road, a customary signal of their anticipation that He would become their King.  The problem was that the Jews were mostly bandwagon fans, cheering Jesus simply because He was their next great hope to free them from Rome, not because they desired to follow Him because of His message that He was the Christ, and the one way to be reconciled to God.  Pastor Brian also pointed out that Jesus was never recorded as teaching that Rome was the problem, but rather that their own hearts were.  His intention was not to free them from Rome, but from their own bondage, because as history had already proved, freedom from a situation is temporary, but the freedom that Christ offered was eternal.  I sincerely hope that if you are a bandwagon Christian, jumping in to be a part of something big with the shortsighted goal of becoming free from a single situation, that you will realize that you are missing the big picture.  Christ came to free your heart from the bondage that leads to destruction.  Even as a Christian you will still experience tough situations.  You will still have to deal with the “Romes” of the world…their laws, oppression, and cultures of greed and corruption.  The difference is, you will never again be subject to the consequences that the world is trying chain you to.  You will still be in the world, but you will never again be of the world.  It is when you understand the true freedom you have in Christ, that you’ll no longer have to look for the next bandwagon to jump on.

Wrap-up

Although it was a difficult week for me, not making any connections or new friends during my visit to First-Centenary UMC, and wrestling with whether to write about it or not, I did receive a follow-up call from pastor Brian Davis and had a wonderful conversation.  I was glad to hear about the many outreach ministries and services that they are providing for Chattanooga, including after-school care and summer programs for inner city children and an awesome college ministry.  Even while writing this article, I began to realize the messages that God allowed me to receive at First-Centenary and the joy of seeing all the adorable little children taking part in the Palm Sunday celebration.  It will be my prayer that the members of First-Centenary begin to look outward from their established friendships, for opportunities to share their love with visitors and to make them feel welcome into their church.  I know God has and will continue to bless them for their service to the community and will increase their blessings that much more as they begin to look for opportunities to serve Him within their own walls on Sunday mornings.

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



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ChurchSurfer @ Signal Mountain Presbyterian: Old Church, New Family

Church Experience #14 – April 10, 2011

Signal Mountain Presbyterian Church

Making the Denominational Rounds

One of my goals for the ChurchSurfer journey that I’m currently on, is to visit as many different Christian denominations as I can in the process of attending fifty different churches in 2011.  I’m now 14 weeks in and there are a few major denominations that I still haven’t visited, so this week I wanted to make sure to check one of those “majors” off the list.  I had been introduced by a mutual friend to Chris Ackerson recently because of his involvement in the Men’s Ministry Network.  I remembered Chris mentioning that he attended Signal Mountain Presbyterian Church, and Presbyterian was one of the “must visit” denominations that I hadn’t been to yet, so I decided I would drop in on him.  I looked up the Signal Mountain Presbyterian website and while browsing through Sunday School classes, I noticed that he was the leader of one of the classes.  I figured that going to Sunday School as well as the regular worship service would add an extra element to this week’s article.  We’ll see.

Signs of Spring

Signal Mtn Presbyterian spring garden
Signal Mtn Presbyterian spring garden

Laura and I showed up a little bit early for Sunday School so that we could snap a few pictures and explore a little bit.  The Signal Mountain Presbyterian building was a beautiful sight on this Spring Sunday morning, with meticulous landscaping and all the bushes, flowers, vines, and trees in full bloom.  We entered the building into the youth area, and asked someone for directions to Chris Ackerson’s class, which was called “The Experiment”…interestingly enough.  We were led around the building by the Youth Pastor, who was also named Chris, and looped all the way across the lower floor, up the stairs and across the second floor, and then back down the stairs and around again.  It turns out The Experiment didn’t meet in a classroom, but instead in a little lounge area in one of the breezeways.  So after a great guided tour around the entire building, we landed in the right spot and were ready to catch our breath (youth pastor Chris moves pretty quickly).

A Book Other Than the Bible

We filled up a coffee cup and then made our way through introductions with the group, as Chris and all the others in attendance welcomed us very warmly.  Someone came in with donuts, and as we indulged in a sugary treat, everyone settled in a circle of seats consisting of various sofas and chairs to begin the class.  Laura and I had no clue what topic of study The Experiment was focused on, and it turned out that they were currently going through the book “Mere Christianity” by C. S. Lewis, which I am embarrassed to say I have never read.  Each week they read a chapter of the book out loud and then discuss it.  This week’s chapter was “marriage”.  We were given a leading question to ponder while the chapter was being read, which was something like “Is it OK for non-Christians to be married inside a Christian church?”  The chapter was read by one of the men in the class and then an excellent discussion ensued.  I quickly learned that this group had a sense of humor, but also posed excellent questions and offered up some serious insights.  One of the main points that we touched on was the difference of “being in love” and “loving”.  Lewis rationalizes that the reason marriages fail is because they are entered into on the basis of the feeling of being in love with no concept of what it takes to actually love someone throughout the entirety of a Christian marriage.  When the initial excitement and thrills have gone away, one or both of the spouses are left to believe that they have fallen out of love and that the marriage has failed.  Sad but true.  I’ll definitely be reading “Mere Christianity” soon…I love the way C. S. Lewis basically talks through his points of focus in what seems like an intellectual conversation that he’s having in his own mind.

Traditional Magnificence

Signal Mountain Presbyterian rear of sanctuary
Signal Mountain Presbyterian rear of sanctuary

After Sunday School, Laura and I parted ways with the class members and spent a little time meandering our way to the main sanctuary.  It seemed like everyone we passed in the hallway had a warm smile and most offered a warm “hello” or “good morning” in passing.  We definitely felt welcome, and upon entering the sanctuary, a nostalgic feeling swept over me as I took in the massive room that was masterfully constructed from a combination of brick, custom woodwork, and stained glass.  There were fresh cut flowers at the altar and a large open Bible centered in the pulpit area, which was decorated with purple tapestries.  Rising majestically behind the pulpit were the enormous pipes from the pipe organ, which came alive with sound as the service began.  The pastor, Dr. Bill Dudley, opened the service with a Scripture reading from Hebrews, and then proceeded in a very structured procession through the announcement and recognition of new members to the instruction to pass around the “friendship pads” for a record of those in attendance.  I noticed the couple sitting beside us, Don and Jane, whom we had become acquainted with before the service, scanning the filled-out pad on its way back across the row, and smiling to each other as they pointed to a couple of visitor entries.  It was nice to see that they were sincerely interested in knowing who was in attendance and that they displayed excitement over the presence of visitors…I can think of way too many churches that I have attended where everyone seemed to be oblivious to anyone but their own circle of friends, and in total disregard to how visitors may feel by being ignored.

A Family Affair

Signal Mountain Presbyterian front entrance

Signal Mountain Presbyterian front entrance

Leading up to the sermon, the church leaders conducted the service through an efficient series of ceremonial practices, including a time where the pastor asked the members to greet and speak to visitors around them, an impressive celebratory procession of the choir led by a crucifer down the center aisle and up into the tiered seating behind the pulpit, announcements for the church, a personal testimony, and the tithe and offering collection accompanied by a choral performance of “Old Rugged Cross”.  One other act that I found particularly intriguing was the water baptism by sprinkling of new members to the church, during which they were asked to either commit their lives to Christ or reaffirm their faith if they were already believers.  The Church congregation was asked to respond with affirmation of their acceptance of the new members, which is what I really found to be a powerful sentiment.  It was like the church was operating  as a family, and as new members were being “married in”, the head of the family was asking for their blessing.  There is definitely something to be said for these traditional practices that are all too often being cut out of newer non-denominational churches, and also from contemporary services within many denominations.  I’m still not sure why churches wouldn’t want to account for who the members of their family are, and conduct their services and church functions as an inclusive family rather than as a group of spectators.

Left With A Good Feeling

Dr. Dudley delivered a challenging sermon, in which he discussed the problem of being a “crowd pleaser”, drawing from the actions of Pilate regarding the sentencing of Jesus and relating it to our lives and how we find it difficult to speak out against the majority when our stance is unpopular.  He also made a hard-nosed observation that our nation is no longer a Christian nation, which will create situations where our opinions and beliefs as Christians will be contrary to the majority, who are not believers.  Be prepared, my brothers and sisters, because it is almost certain that you will experience circumstances in your life where you will have to make the decision of whether to be a crowd pleaser or to speak out for what is right.  It’s not always easy to make the right choice…just ask Peter.  After service, Chris invited us back to their small group meeting that evening, and we decided to take them up on their offer.  The small group welcomed us in and fed us dinner and treated us like we were old friends.  They asked us to share our story about the ChurchSurfer journey, and listened with interest as we discussed what ChurchSurfer is about and why we are doing it.  They included us in their prayer requests, which can be a very intimate time, as people talk about very personal issues.  This group was very candid and open, which is what it takes to build real relationships and grow together in the faith.  It’s refreshing to see people letting down their guard with friends without fear of being judged.  Laura and I were blessed to have been invited to share in this personal time at Signal Mountain Presbyterian, considering that out of 14 different church visits this year, this is only the second time we’ve actually been invited to a specific gathering or group.  Most churches just expect that if you are interested in a group you will actively seek it out.  I personally think that it is much better for someone to take the initiative and invite you in to their personal space instead of making assumptions.  Thank you “small group” at Signal Mountain Presbyterian (you know who you are)…Laura and I truly appreciate your kindness and were definitely left with a good feeling after being treated so warmly.  Peace be with you.

Signal Mtn Presbyterian Josh & Laura weekly self-portrait

Signal Mtn Presbyterian 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


ChurchSurfer @ East Lake Salvation Army: The Ones Who Need The Most

Church Experience #13 – April 3, 2011

East Lake Salvation Army

A Chasm of Disparity

For this week’s church visit I decided I needed to get right into the trenches with what has become probably the most consistent topic/thought/issue of my ChurchSurfer journey so far this year.  The more I get into the Word, the more churches I visit, the more people I meet, the more time I spend in prayer…the more I get smacked in the face with the issue of money.  The haves and the have-nots, the good part of town and the bad part of town, the state-of-the-art megachurch complexes and the single-room bare bones church buildings.  The gaping chasm of financial disparity that exists in today’s society is unavoidable to some, yet all but ignored by others.  I’ve lived in the East Lake neighborhood of Chattanooga before, among other low-income areas, so I’ve always been aware of the substandard conditions that many people live in, but I’ve never regularly attended church in those areas, and I’ve never attended a Salvation Army church service before.  So in order to get a better understanding I decided to go to a worship service at East Lake Salvation Army, on the corner of 28th St and 4th Ave, just across from the East Lake housing projects.

Jesus Loves The Little Children

My wife Laura and I entered the sanctuary of East Lake Salvation Army not really knowing what to expect.  There were about twenty adults and twenty-five children seated in the pews of the clean and simple sanctuary.  The room was nicely kept and had traditional church pews, a basic wooden podium, a piano, and not much more.  There was no excess in this building…no fancy decorations, no electric instruments or high dollar sound system, but what they had was adequate for what they do, which seemed fitting.  Having a fancy church in this neighborhood would accomplish nothing but becoming a distraction and reminder to most of these people about what they go without on a daily basis.  Instead, the message that is sent by covering the basic needs and nothing more allows the Salvation Army to be an honorable example of humility.  As I surveyed the room and studied the people, an elderly lady behind us came over to greet us.  She asked us our names, and spoke to us for a few minutes, thanking us for attending their service and making sure we felt welcome.  While we talked, the continuous ruckus from the twenty-five kids all seated together in the front two rows followed by the constant correction from the lady leading the service, kept stealing my attention.  In addition, another elderly lady from a few rows back kept giving an amusing “amen” or “God love ’em” vocal encouragement every time the church leaders corrected the children.  There were so many kids in the service, I assumed that one of the ladies in the congregation probably went around the housing projects gathering up the children from households where the adults don’t attend church.  The worship leader called the congregation to stand and sing the morning’s hymns, and as we sang through “Love Lifted Me” and “I Love to Tell the Story”, the out-of-tune piano added a somewhat clumsy accompaniment to the sparse singing voices.  I joyfully sang along, knowing that although my vocal ability is not one of my strong points, the music we were making was a welcome blessing to our Lord, who I’m sure was listening with a smile.

Equality in Christ

After the singing came to an end, the congregation was asked to share testimonies.  This was obviously the favorite part of the service for some of the kids up front, as they offered up quips such as “I love the Lord” and “thanks God for Spider-Man and Mommy”.  Joyce, the “amen” lady from a few rows back, stood and offered thanks for the fact that in God’s eyes, no matter what our race or circumstance, everybody is equally loved.  After testimonies, the children were dismissed to attend children’s church and the main speaker came up to deliver the sermon for the day.  The regular church pastor was away at a camp, so the guest speaker for the week (whose name I forgot to write down) was the lady who serves as secretary for the Chattanooga Salvation Army.  Her uplifting message was aimed directly at the people of the East Lake community…that God sees more than what the world does.  She spoke with a nurturing voice and paused with a big smile each time she mentioned the name of Jesus or God’s grace, like just speaking the words brought joy to her heart.  She taught about the life of David and various symbolic aspects of it…about how he was the eighth son of Jesse and the number eight signifies new beginnings…about how David selected five smooth stones when he faced Goliath and the number five is symbolic of God’s grace.  She talked about the three main sources of sin in our lives, which are the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life – which she explained was the sense of entitlement (or deserving) among people.  As she spoke, the Lord gave me discernment that she has a powerful spirit and a deep wisdom of His love and grace.  I imagine she has developed this from her involvement in the Salvation Army.  God has blessed her because of her commitment to love and serve the less fortunate, overlooked, and often forgotten members of society.

Pain and Heart Ache

These are the exact people who Jesus was reaching out to in His ministry and the same message that He was sharing…the message that in Him there is no judgement according to the eyes of the world.  God sees more than the world does, right down to the core of your soul, and what characteristics actually reside there…the true essence and personality of your being.  It is according to this that you will be judged, according to the condition of your heart, and as I desire to become more like Christ through God’s sanctifying grace, it hurts deep within me to ponder on the injustices created by this world through the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life.  It hurts to see how these sins become like parasites to society, even making their way into the church.  I pray right now and ask that you pray the same prayer, that our eyes and hearts be opened to those who are in need around us.  These discarded people and young children grow up and live in conditions that are worse than you can imagine.  They live in homes and neighborhoods that are filled with drug abuse, prostitution, broken families, physical violence, sexual abuse, malnutrition, inadequate education, hate, greed, anger, despair, depression, and many, many more evils.  They starve for affection, positive attention, a sense of self-worth, and Godly role models to be actively involved in their life.  As I sat in the East Lake Salvation Army, my heart ached thinking of all the resources that are available to the people in the churches in the rich communities, but remain separated from these people who need them the most.  These children need more than financial support.  They need our love, our time, and our attention.  They need us to be there sitting beside them in church.  They need us to be teaching them in Sunday school.  They need us to provide healthy activities, recreation, and educational programs.  The Salvation Army and other churches and organizations that are in these communities need your financial support, but the people and children of these communities need you.

Closing Prayer

Father God, please call your people, the church, to action on this issue.  Please begin a work in the Christians in Chattanooga through your Holy Spirit to overcome the sins created by the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life.  Please help us to no longer ignore those in our community who need You the most.  Please help those who are wealthy to no longer be distracted by riches and worldly possessions while others around us go without food, shelter, and clothing.  Please help those who are well educated share their knowledge with those who have no access to a good education.  Please help us to share Your love with those who starve for affection.  Lord, I ask these things in the name of your Son Jesus.  May Your kingdom come and Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.  Amen.

I invite and challenge everyone reading this to get together with the people of your church and dedicate some of your time and resources to the less fortunate in our community.  If you need direction, please contact theSalvation Army, and I’m sure they will welcome your help and support.

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 @ Vineyard Chattanooga: Where Are Your Treasures?

Church Experience #12 – March 20, 2011

Vineyard Chattanooga

Dance Dance Revolution

About 10 or 12 years ago I went through a dancing phase in my Christian worship style.  I had been a fan of live music for a long time (bluegrass, jazz, funk, jambands, etc) and I always enjoyed dancing at the concerts I attended.  This kind of carried over into my Christian life and I would often migrate to the rear of whatever church or venue I was at and dance during the worship music.  I never thought it was all that out of the ordinary, but looking back, I’m sure other people did.  Then I visited a Vineyard church in Nashville and was pleasantly surprised to find that there were other dancers out there.  Not the whole congregation danced, but quite a few people did, as well as bang tambourines, wave banners, and engage in various other free-spirited worship activities.  I specifically remember a lady from the Vineyard service I attended who was a particularly fine dancer, and was probably the oldest person at the church that day, appearing to be well over 70.  Now that my dancing days are for the most part over (except for at home where I still regularly cut loose to the amusement of my wife and dog) I was curious to see whether the Vineyard church in Chattanooga was also a place of free-spirited worship, or if I had just happened across a congregation that held a little more closely to the denomination’s San Francisco roots.

Warm Welcome

Tyner Middle Academy

I searched online and found a local Vineyard church that holds services at Tyner Middle Academy, so my wife Laura and I decided to check it out.  As we pulled up to the school there were several parking lot attendants who enthusiastically directed us to a parking spot and then came up to greet us as we walked up to the building.  Once we got up to the entrance we were greeted at the door, and again just inside the door, and then again on our way down the hallway toward the cafeteria, which served as the worship area.  In fact, it was much like proceeding through a series of greeter checkpoints, where each person was attempting to be increasingly friendlier than the previous greeter (although I think Susan at the front door probably couldn’t be outdone).  I definitely felt welcome and had plenty of opportunities to shake hands and meet people on the way in.  Once inside the worship area, we were quite ecstatic when we laid eyes on the table stacked full of Krispy Kreme boxes, so we grabbed a chocolate glazed donut and cup of coffee and headed over to the information table to meet some Vineyard people.  The information table was at the back of the room, and as we approached the two twenty-somethings standing behind it lit up big smiles and greeted us.  Tyler and Rachel were extremely friendly and as we chatted for a few minutes, they continued handing us free stuff, including the book “Not the Religious Type” by Dave Schmelzer, and a CD of worship music from their church.  I thought the free book was a pretty cool gesture, and the young couple came across as very genuine during our conversation.  The real win was when Rachel said they were having a pot luck lunch after the service and that we were welcome to stay even though we hadn’t brought anything.  Free food…sweet!

Black Beard

Vineyard Chattanooga worship

The cafeteria was quite successfully transformed into a worship area by the strategic use of black pipe and drape extending out from the sides of the stage.  The seating was provided in the form of fold out chairs, and there was plenty of space.  As the worship music began, I noticed that Tyler from the information table was also the bass player in the worship band, and they launched into some Jars of Clay-ish modern worship music (which I expected after reading the “about us” page on their website).  There were various people who lifted hands as they sang and swayed to the music, but other than one particularly spunky elderly man directly in front of us (who despite having oxygen tubes was definitely the most lively worshiper), the atmosphere was more reserved and laid back than the Vineyard I had been to years earlier.  During the worship I retreated to the back of the room to snap a few photos (not dance), and was approached by a tall young man with crazy hair and a big bushy black beard, who I think was curious to find out what I was doing.  I mentioned that I just wanted to take a couple of pictures, and he seemed OK with that and moved along.  After the worship ended the Associate Pastor, Josh Gott, came up to begin the sermon…he was the big bushy black beard guy.  I never would have guessed he was a pastor.  In all the churches I’ve attended over the years, I have to say this is probably the first where I’ve seen a pastor who didn’t look like a pastor…if you know what I mean.  In those early dancing days of my Christian life, I also had a big bushy beard, and it was amazing how differently people treated me back then.  It was like I wasn’t taken seriously because of the way I looked, so I was glad to see a church where someone who didn’t look the part was still accepted in a pastoral role.

Recurring Topics

Vineyard sign

Pastor Josh began his sermon with a reference to Jesus’ sermon on the mount, introducing it as a point where Jesus was directing His people away from “religion”, and toward a spiritual relationship with God.  The topic of the sermon was to be something that I am now identifying as a recurring theme among many of my church visits this year…money.  Pastor Josh pointed out that money changes relationships when it comes into the picture, including our spiritual relationship with God.  After catching me off guard by telling a “crap” joke from the pulpit (he was quite unorthodox with his preaching…in a good way), he referenced Matthew 6:19-21, which establishes the truth that where your treasure is, your heart will be also.  Whether you realize it or not, your actions tell the true story of where your heart is no matter what your mouth may say.  Money, or treasure, is God’s biggest competition for your heart.  Have you ever bought a brand new car and then gotten a door ding or maybe even worse shortly thereafter?  How did that feel to you?  Have you ever purchased stock in a company that you had never been interested in, but then all of a sudden you cared and kept up with the company religiously because you were invested in it?  Where your treasure is, your heart will be also.  Think about that and read Matthew 6:22-24.  If your heart is in your possessions, then your focus becomes your possessions, and sooner or later your possessions become obsessions.  Now think about the opposite side of the coin.  What if you are generous with your treasure…a cheerful giver, as God calls us to be?  Does money become like a bridle for horseback riding…a tool for steering your heart?  If you are looking for a closer walk with God, how about investing in others rather than yourself.  Don’t you think your heart will then be focused on loving and serving others?  Where you treasure is, your heart will be also! Act your way into thinking differently.  Don’t wait on feeling like you have gotten to a certain place in your spiritual walk with God before you begin serving others, because then it will never happen.  Do first…the feeling will follow.  Thank you pastor Josh for an excellent sermon on a subject that is popping up all over Chattanooga.  Most people go to the same church every week and don’t have the perspective that I am gaining on recurring topics that are being preached all over our city right now.  Don’t you think that is God speaking to us?

Pot Luck-y

After the sermon, Laura and I helped fold up and hang all the chairs and transform the church worship area back into a lunchroom.  We were then led in prayer for the pot luck lunch we were about to partake in, and as we moved through the food line, we were amazed at all of the deliciousness that had been prepared by all the various church members.  Even though the people of Vineyard claimed to not do the pot luck thing very often, they brought it out like pro’s.  There was nothing lacking, and I was thankful that God had led me to Vineyard on this particular day to partake in this feast with such a welcoming congregation.  I sat and ate with Jeff Anderle, the head pastor of Vineyard, who explained that they chose to meet in a school because they like the fact that their rent money goes into the school system and they also feel that it is the best way to connect to and serve the community.  Their members have painted the inside the school and raised money to support various programs that otherwise would have been lost due to budget cuts.  Pastor Jeff and a few other people also listened with interest as I talked about the ChurchSurfer blog and some of the goals that God has laid on my heart to work on for the city of Chattanooga.  One of those goals that I’m currently working on is a website that will serve as a one-stop resource for people to search for and find a home church, opportunities to serve the community, and ways to connect to other ministries and organizations that need support.  My opinion is that if there is a better tool for getting connected to churches and service opportunities, that there will be more attendance in church and more people serving the community.  We just need to remove all the obstacles and make it simple and free for all churches and ministries around Chattanooga to be able to reach out through the internet.

If you would like to get involved in the project to provide a community website by either donating money or volunteering your web development skills, please contact me immediately at josh@churchsurfer.com.  ChurchSurfer is being established under New Decree, a 501(c)(3) non-profit ministry directed by my dad, Mark Davis, who also currently hosts a call-in prayer request radio show called The Healing Touch.

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!

 


ChurchSurfer @ New Philadelphia M. B. Church: Outside The Bubble

Church Experience #11 – March 13, 2011

New Philadelphia Missionary Baptist Church, Chattanooga, TN

The Bubble

One of my sincere desires out of the ChurchSurfer journey this year is to find and experience what would be considered “fringe” churches that don’t fit into the norm of my middle class, suburban-dwelling, American bubble.  It’s not that I don’t expect to have powerful experiences or get interesting content for my blog articles from the “inside the bubble” churches, but I know that in order for me to grow, to gain understanding, to increase in wisdom, compassion, and love, I will need to venture outside the bubble.  I’ve probably already done this more than most during my life…I spent a year driving around the country with my friend Michael Cruze, living out of tents and a car, mingling with the homeless, and trying to reach out to anyone God put in our path.  I just haven’t experienced these different environments inside the local church.  I actually believe my experience as a nomad has equipped me with the ability to go into various “outside the bubble” churches and instantly relate to people in their environment (they probably struggle more to relate with me because I’m out of their norm).  So it’s a natural fit for me to explore all these various church environments and allow others to experience them with me through my writing.  You’ve probably guessed by now why I’m leading in to this week’s church experience with this intro…this is one of those “outside the bubble” church visits.

Beauty Is in the Eye of the Beholder

If you live in Chattanooga and you’ve driven down Ringgold Road near the tunnels in the last couple of years, you’ve driven right by New Philadelphia Missionary Baptist Churchand probably never noticed it.  New Philadelphia is in an old brick storefront at the corner of Ringgold and Germantown, with the only distinct markers being a banner hanging on the front of the building and some posters in the windows.  I pulled in to a parking spot next to a well dressed man sitting on the curb smoking a cigarette, with a look of deep contemplation on his face.  I rolled down the window to ask if it would be appropriate for me to attend church in jeans, to which he replied “oh, yes”, so I hopped out and headed in the door.  I was rather early and there were only a few people inside, bustling around setting up sound equipment.  I glanced around the room, which had painted white concrete block walls, a mixture of fold out chairs and red and white painted wooden church pews, a play area next to the door with some children’s toys, a podium at the front beside some microphone stands and two keyboards, and a bathroom in the rear corner.  I approached a counter area of what was probably once the checkout in a retail store, and thought to myself that this was about as far as you could get from the amenities and aesthetic of some of the churches I had attended in recent weeks, like Abba’s House and Calvary Chapel.    This single room served as the entire church building.  It turns out, that’s all you need.  The pastor and members of New Philadelphia couldn’t be happier about their location.  They mentioned multiple times how blessed they were to have so much space and such a great location with visibility on a high-traffic street corner.  I know there are so-called Christians out there who wouldn’t attend a church if it weren’t for the expensive building with all the fancy amenities…what a shame.  Apparently the old saying is true:  beauty is in the eye of the beholder.  I know what Jesus would think.  “Where two or more are gathered…”.  It’s not the building that glorifies God, it’s the people inside.

Blessed To Be Here

I was immediately greeted by a man who introduced himself as Tommy, with a firm handshake and a warm smile.  We engaged in conversation about the U.S. economy, the tragic earthquake and tsunami in Japan, and the unrest in North Africa, to which we both concluded we were extremely blessed to have jobs and live in a place where we could walk out our door without wondering if there was going to be a suicide bomb or military gunfight that could harm us or our family.  Probably attempting to put me at ease in case I was uncomfortable by being the racial minority in their church, Tommy made it a point to ensure me that I was welcome at New Philadelphia and that there was no racial discrimination there.  After a few more minutes of conversation with Tommy about the ChurchSurfer blog, the pastor, Evangelist Brenda J. Millsaps, came through the door and Tommy excused himself to go greet her.  Pastor Millsaps slowly labored across the room, visibly hindered by health problems that have affected her mobility.  Her smile and bright voice lit up the room, as everyone who was setting up for the service seemed suddenly uplifted and energized by her presence.  As she made her way over to take a seat behind one of the keyboards, she looked my way (I had sat down in one of the pews) and asked if I was Josh.  Realizing that Tommy had preemptively introduced me to her, I affirmed that I was, and that I was happy to join them for worship.  She welcomed me to their church and added that “…we may start off a little slow, but it’s all about how you finish”.

That Sweet Gospel Sound

The service began with a Scripture reading from Proverbs 16: 1-9, as everyone stood to honor the reading of the Word.  Could there have been a more fitting verse to open the service with?  The heading for Proverbs 16 is “Wisdom Is Better Than Gold”…wow!  Coincidence?  I don’t think so.  The worship music then began with pastor Millsaps at one of the keyboards, side by side with her daughter, Sister Felicia Millsaps, Minister of Music, at the second keyboard.  Beside them was another young lady on the drums and three more praise singers including the Youth Pastor, Kentrell Gladden.  The music was straight up gospel praise, and the congregation clapped while singing along with huge smiles.  The praise environment was truly joyful, and the small worship team of 6 or 7 filled the room with as much sound as it could contain, sounding more like a choir of twenty if you closed your eyes.  My only stereotypical judgement of the day was that the Millsaps women sang exactly how you would expect them to based on their appearance…think Aretha Franklin.  My heart was lifted with joy as I clapped along, singing at times and remaining quiet at other times, just soaking it all up.  At one point they sang a melodic anthem that was specifically intended to welcome their visitors, with lyrics that included “…welcome to New Philadelphia where the Bible is taught…”.  Having a custom written song to perform for their guests was fitting, considering each segment of their two and a half hour long Sunday service was interspersed among more and more music, which was obviously the engine that kept the service moving along.

Giants Do Fall

During one break in the music, pastor Millsaps invited the congregation to come to the front to “bring your petitions before the Lord”.  Not fully understanding what the intention was, I came forth (as did most of the rest of the congregation of less than twenty), and we all joined hands.  Going around one at a time, each person requested prayer for their various issues or ailments, or for family members or friends, and when it came to my turn I was led by the Spirit to ask for prayer for unity among the churches and believers in Chattanooga.  After the prayer, we returned to our seats and pastor Gladden delivered the sermon.  His message was that “giants do fall”, and as he read the David and Goliath story from 1 Samuel, he related Goliath, the champion of the Philistine army, to false hopes of the flesh (and the Philistine people) and to challenges in our spiritual walk.  He focused on the sentiment that David went to battle specifically for the opportunity to glorify God in a seemingly impossible situation, not just for the purpose of “doing battle”.  When we, as believers, come against obstacles in life, if we rise against them as an opportunity to glorify God, we will…as was David…be victorious by the strength of the Lord.  What a good lesson to keep in mind each day when you feel like you may not have the strength to overcome the difficulties in your life.  Disease, disaster, relationship problems, money, no matter what the obstacle, God’s strength can conquer all, and we already have victory in Christ over the ultimate obstacle…death.  Praise God.

Final Thoughts

One constant theme that I picked up at New Philadelphia was that they come together as a church for no other reason but to rejoice in the Lord…how refreshing.  It’s evident in their music, it’s evident in the way they stand to honor the reading of the Scripture, it’s evident in the “amen’s” and “praise God’s” that come from the congregation throughout the service, it’s evident in the total disregard for the pre-canned hour long service that most churches abide by, it’s evident in the passion with which they sing and worship, and it’s evident in the welcoming environment they create for someone “outside their bubble”.  Here in a makeshift church building that those who would deem in necessary to always have excess would scoff at, the only thing that I could tell New Philadelphia lacked, was the thought that somehow their current situation was anything less than adequate.  They see it as a blessing and are using their facility for the greatest purpose…as a gathering place for true worship.  My final thought to share with you is a challenge…to venture outside your bubble.  If you attend a church in a wealthy area, find one in a less fortunate part of town, or vice versa.  If you attend a church that is not racially diverse, find one that is equally skewed toward another race and help them move toward diversity with your presence.  There are blessings in life that you will never receive if you are hung up on appearance.  Gifts come in all kinds of packages.  Don’t make the mistake of missing out because someone is different from you or something is outside your bubble.  If I thought that way, I would have missed out on the two angelic voices of Brenda and Felicia Millsaps and a wonderful day of worship at New Philadelphia.

If you would like to experience some of the music and messages from Brenda and Felicia Millsaps, they have audio and video available at the Worship and Ministry Network website.

Sorry for the absence of pictures this week…due to the small size of the building and congregation I didn’t want to be rude or seem intrusive.

Please keep in touch through the ChurchSurfer Facebook page, and make sure to share ChurchSurfer with anyone you know who may be interested!  Feel free to use the “share” button below.



ChurchSurfer @ Lookout Valley Baptist: Red Brick Baptist Myth Debunked

Church Experience #10 – March 6, 2011

Lookout Valley Baptist Church, Chattanooga, TN

Yes, Dear…

So everyone knows that a married man should always make decisions based on what is best for the whole family, and when his wife wants something, it’s probably best for the whole family that she gets it.   Up until this point in my ChurchSurfer journey, I have been making the decisions (often through listening for and following what I think are God’s leads) on where to go to church on Sundays.  That ended this week.  One of Laura’s friends from work invited her to church, so of course, that is where we went :).  I’m sure you understand why I didn’t argue (I’m still amazed that she is going on this crazy journey to visit 50 churches in 1 year with me in the first place).  One of the Christian life lessons I’ve learned over the years is that if you want to hear the Lord…His direction for you, His words of encouragement, His expressions of love…you need only to listen to His people.  As it turns out, using Laura to suggest which church we attended this week was one of God’s leads.

The McDonald’s Theory

The invitation from Laura’s friend, Tammy, was to Lookout Valley Baptist Church.  We pulled up for the Sunday morning worship service without much time to spare, and as we approached the very typical looking, red brick Baptist church,  I already knew exactly how this Sunday’s experience was going to go.  We would go in, shake a few hands, sing a few hymns with organ/piano accompaniment, listen to a sermon about the pitfalls of sin, and then shake some hands again on the way out (I apologize to all Baptists in advance).  So much for the string of consecutive ChurchSurfer weeks of producing some pretty interesting content for people to read.  So much for my desire to experience somethingmore than just regular old church.  This week was going to be bland and accomplish absolutely zero, except to feed the non-believer’s view that there is nothing “happening” in the Christian church.  It’s just like the McDonald’s theory, except applied to churches.  For those of you who aren’t familiar with the McDonald’s theory, they attribute most of the company’s success to the fact that you can go to any McDonald’s in the country and have basically the same experience…the same food, the same atmosphere, the same service…they work very hard to maintain this consistency because if you like McDonald’s, you know exactly what to expect no matter which one you go to.  So the same can be said for red brick Southern Baptist churches, right?  Not so fast, my friend.

Lookout Valley Baptist Church

Lookout Valley Baptist - red brick church

Jehovah Rapha

We entered the very typical looking sanctuary and found seats with Tammy and her husband Dan.  A few of the men in the church circled the room greeting and shaking everyone’s hand with sincerity and a warm smile.  The worship leader kicked off the music, which surprisingly did not include an organ (a staple of the old Southern Baptist church), but did include guitar, bass, piano, and drums.  The music was contemporary worship, and as we went through the songs that included one of Laura’s favorites, I was refreshed to experience real worship with many in the congregation lifting hands as they praised the LORD.  As the worship concluded, pastor Troy Walliser announced that as part of the church’s ongoing “names of God” study, he would be beginning the day with a healing service to glorify the LORD through His name, Jehovah Rapha, which translates into “The LORD our Healer”.  Pointing to the Scripture, James 5:14, pastor Troy called up anyone in the congregation who was sick…physically, mentally, spiritually…to be anointed with oil and prayed over by the church elders.  People came up by the bunches, and here is a synopsis of the prayer that happened, if you would like to join them with additional intercessory prayer on their behalf…

Troy (not the pastor) for heart attacks he has suffered, Judy for arthritis, Dan for lupus, Mike for debilitating physical deformity caused by a car accident, Darlene for bulging discs, chronic pain, and upcoming knee replacement, Clint for a strong mind and heart for Christ, Suzie for attacks by the enemy on her loved ones, Wallace for his right side, Mark for cancer, Lonnie for stomack ailments, Jackie for lifelong arthritis, Judy for psoriasis and hearing loss, Willie for arthritis, Jim for a kidney transplant.

As pastor Troy anointed each one with oil, he prayed over them with the church elders surrounding them and laying hands on those who were suffering.  As I later told my wife on the ride home, I have no clue why every church doesn’t do this.  Prayer works, people.  We have a God who heals.  Does he heal everyone who asks?  No.  He heals according to His will.  We may have the opportunity to glorify God more in sickness than in health, so why then would He take away that opportunity for us to serve His purpose?  All things on earth are temporary, except for us.  Sickness doesn’t exist in heaven.  Christ suffered more tragically than anyone, considering He didn’t deserve any of the affliction He received.  Why then would we not expect the same while here on earth?  God’s intention isn’t to hurt us.  He can’t be blamed for “allowing” us to suffer.  He shouldn’t be criticized when bad things happen to good people.  He should be honored and glorified, that His people persevere through all earthly circumstances, solely focused on what is to come after this life.  Does it not make it easier to go through adversity if you already know what the outcome will be?  It does for me.  I am happy and thankful to experience life and all of its ups and downs, with the confidence that my Lord has already prepared a place for me in heaven.  But we should still pray for healing, so that unnecessary suffering doesn’t take place, and so that the power of God may be demonstrated through His miraculous healing.

Down Home Feel

After the healing service, the associate pastor, Greg, gave the main sermon, teaching on Jonah 1 and 2 about God having a mission for us that we often run from, affecting not only us, but those around us.  Pastor Greg delivered the sermon with sincerity and conviction, and from my outside perspective, with an intent and purpose specifically for this congregation.  Lookout Valley Baptist seemed like that kind of small town church, where the members all know each other’s families, and the pastors really know their members and tailor their teachings specifically for what the church needs at any given time.  In speaking with pastor Troy, it was very apparent that he is passionate (and emotional) about serving as the shepherd for his flock.  Although he takes responsibility for leading, protecting, feeding, and nurturing, he doesn’t go at it alone…he relies on the support of his church elders.  Churches like Lookout Valley Baptist that have that small town atmosphere always seem like a weekly family reunion.  The people appear open and honest, willingly letting others into their lives, sharing their struggles, offering encouragement, and rejoicing together in good times.  When you forget about appearances, let down your guard, and take people at face value, you begin to understand what being a church family is all about.  It is my hope that Lookout Valley Baptist and pastor Troy can continue to cultivate that down home feel among the congregation and take joy in knowing they are fulfilling God’s true purpose for them just by doing that…loving each other unconditionally through the good times and the bad.

Adonai

After an awesome experience on Sunday morning, Laura and I came back for the Wednesday night “names of God” Bible study with pastor Troy.  This week’s name was “Adonai”, which is translated into modern Bibles as the word “Lord”.  The word “adon” means lord or master, and Adonai is the plural of adon, which represents both God’s plurality which is the trinity, and it also represents God as the Lord of all lords, or the supreme Lord.  I learned something from pastor Troy this week that was completely new to me, and that was that there is a difference in the words “LORD” and “Lord” in the Bible.  When you see the word “Lord”, it is translated from Adonai (or Kurios from Greek in New Testament texts) and means Master or Owner, but when you see the word “LORD”, it is translated from Yahweh, which is the name of God.  So in Scripture, where our modern Bibles say “Lord” (Adonai or Kurios), it is actually a reference to God and His characteristic as our Master or Owner.  This same relationship is evidenced in the New Testament by Paul, who refers to God as “Kurios” (Owner) and himself as “doulos”, which is translated in the modern Bible as “servant” but could also be translated as “slave”.  Read the Scripture, Luke 6:46, and see if that doesn’t reveal a little more about what Jesus was saying there.  Pastor Troy went on to teach that we, as Christians, need to submit to the fact that there is a big difference between our Biblical understanding of being a servant to our Adonai and being a slave.  The word “servant” implies being hired, while the word “slave” implies being owned.  If you are a Christian, you are owned by God.  He bought you with a price, plain and simple.  Don’t let our tainted, modern American understanding of what an owner and slave relationship is come between your relationship with the Lord.

Closing Thoughts

When you begin a prayer with the word Lord, think about what you are really saying…I hope you mean it.  Our God, Yahweh, deserves to be acknowledged as our Owner, Master, Lord.  If our souls didn’t require a price…the ultimate sacrifice…then why did Jesus hang on the cross?  Why was He beaten, tortured, and humiliated?  Why was he buried as dead?  Let me tell you that you have only two choices in life, and that you are a slave no matter which choice you make.  If you choose to live for the world, you are a slave to sin.  If you choose to believe and follow Jesus, you are a slave to Love, and through Love you can experience the best of what life is really about.  You can realize your true purpose that you were created for.  You can enjoy true fellowship with your Creator and all who follow Him.  You can experience true love from your Father who created you.  You can look forward to eternal life with Him in heaven, and that is my hope for everyone.

If you would like to talk about any of these issues, I’d love to get together with you, just contact me through the ChurchSurfer Facebook page.  You can also contact pastor Troy at Lookout Valley Baptist Church.  He will be happy to welcome you in to their church!

Please share the ChurchSurfer blog with anyone who may be interested.  I truly hope you enjoy reading about the ChurchSurfer journey!

Laura, Tammy, and Dan at Lookout Valley Baptist
Laura, Tammy, and Dan

 

 


Jeans. Coffee. Elementary School. Church?

Church Experience #9 – Feb. 27, 2011

Bridge Christian Church, Chattanooga, TN

Networking for Church

One of the things I enjoy most in life is meeting new people.  In business, I’m an avid networker.  I seek out and get involved in various meetings, groups, organizations, social circles, etc. on a regular basis.  My opinion is that the more people I know or know of, the better.  I feel that in some way, maybe I’m increasing the odds of meeting someone who could make a substantial impact on my life (or I on theirs), that I would otherwise miss if I didn’t get out there and network.  [For all you psychologists out there, maybe that’s why I felt the need to begin the ChurchSurfer project…it’s my spiritual networking.]  This thought of increasing the odds of making a meaningful connection definitely proved to be true in the instance of discovering Bridge Christian Church…had I (and they) not been involved in networking, it may never have happened.  The Chattanooga Chamber of Commerce morning networking events I attend always include “self introduction” time where they pass the microphone around the room so everyone can announce their name and business.  At one event, I heard an introduction from someone followed by a church name…Bridge Christian Church.  I was instantly intrigued.  I had never seen a church come to a business networking event and I knew I needed to meet this person immediately.  It turns out the person was Scottie Blackburn, Community Pastor at Bridge, which is a four month old church.  Cool!  A new angle for a ChurchSurfer article…exploring the beginnings of a baby church.

Bridge Christian Church @ Westview Elementary

A Jeans Church

Laura and I pulled up to Westview Elementary School, the meeting place for Bridge, and as we walked toward the building I supposed that a school building was probably the perfect place for a new church to start.  The essence of a new church is sort of like a school full of young children who are growing and learning together.  At the door, we were warmly greeted by a bubbly young lady who recognized that we were visitors and directed us to the welcome table just inside the door.  We filled out name tags and then moved along through the lobby, impressed by the refreshment table which was stocked with coffee and bagels.  We engaged in a few short introductions and conversations (which seemed to happen very naturally), and entered the school auditorium (or sanctuary on this morning).  I spoke to Christine, who was passing out the bulletins, briefly about how she came to Bridge, and she explained that she was a friend of the pastors and was excited to be part of a brand new church.   Everyone I spoke to exuded enthusiasm and energy, which probably had something to do with David Sternberg, the head Pastor, who stood before me in jeans and an untucked button down shirt, smiling contagiously, and appearing to be all of about 30 years old (which I never asked/confirmed).  Scottie, the Community Pastor, looked to be about the same age, dressed in the same manner, and smiled almost as much.  Now I understood why their Google ad says “Try us out this Sunday 10am, you can wear your jeans”.

Bridge Christian Church inside auditorium

Retro

As the worship music kicked in, we ended our conversation and Laura and I found some seats.  There appeared to be around 50 people in attendance, mostly young couples and families, and quite a diversity of ethnicities.  The worship music was led by a young singer/guitarist who was backed by bass guitar and drums.  They played the newer style of contemporary worship music that reminded me a lot of The Net Church that I had visited earlier in the year.  We sang a few songs and ended with prayer, and then pastor Scottie took the stage to give the sermon for the week.  Normally pastor David handles the sermon, and I caught wind that this was Scottie’s first full sermon at Bridge.  He began by touching on the ongoing topic that Bridge had been studying, titled “Retro”, which was intended to review the beginnings of the Christian Church in the book of Acts and throughout the New Testament.  I definitely think this topic is a great place for Bridge to spend time laying the foundations for their church body, growing with each other, defining their identity, and shaping their goals and missions.

The Messy Bits

Scottie spoke about the early church in Jerusalem, which was both successful, growing to 15,000 +/- members out of 80,000 people in Jerusalem, while at the same time furiously persecuted, as evidenced with the stoning to death of Stephen and all the other martyrs for Christ.  But if there is one thing that is obvious about Christianity…one glaringly blatant theme…it would be that through adversity comes perseverance and then glory.  Example #1…Jesus.  Persecuted, crucified, persevered, glorified.  None of us should expect any different than what our Savior experienced.  The world hates us.  Those who are lost mock us.  Those who are intellectual dismiss us.  Those who are influenced by the evil one lash out at us.  Those who are wealthy despise us.  We are persecuted in the midst of a world that we don’t belong to.  Those that live for this world will never treat us with respect.  But all the forces that amass against us only draw us closer to the One who saves us.  His strength conquers all.  The hardships we suffer in His name give us character, endurance, and end up helping to advance the Cause that they seek to snuff out.  I watched the movie “Letters to Juliet” recently and a line from that movie really stuck with me.  As an older lady sought out a lover from her youth, who was a simple farmer, one of the possible candidates to be that man lived in an enormous mansion.  On their way in the mansion to see if it was indeed the same man, her grandson commented that it would be a great life to marry him now as a rich man and skip all “the messy bits” that surely happened along the way.  The lady replied “it’s those messy bits that are life”.  Our hardships are what this earthly life is all about.  We don’t live in a utopia…that’s what is to come next.  We will suffer.  We will die physically.  We will persevere.  We will be raised again to His glory.  The messy bits may cause pain, but as pastor Scottie stated, there are two reactions to pain.  You either shut down and your life becomes your loss, or you open up to God and your life is about what you are becoming.

A Journey

After attending Bridge Christian Church and getting to experience their youth, energy, passion, and excitement about what is to come for their fledgling group, I can’t help but share in their excitement.  Something is always fun about new beginnings.  Think about the early days of your relationship with your spouse and what that new love was like.  Think about your first moments as a born again Christian and your zeal for God.  That same love and zeal hasn’t subsided, it should actually grow stronger with age, but I guarantee you probably smiled thinking back to those moments.  The freshness and newness is just mesmerizing and something that brings joy to your heart whenever you think back to it.  If you are at a point in your Christian walk where you feel that you could lend a hand to a young church I urge you contact them and see if it is the right place for you.  Although there is excitement, the journey for Bridge won’t be easy.  They are tasked with establishing church leadership, building their internal ministries, developing outreach ministries, attracting new people to join them, making tough decisions about a building, and managing their staff and integrity throughout the process.  Sounds like fun doesn’t it?  Remember the messy bits.  My guess is that Bridge will be highly successful as the blessing of the Lord will be upon them to go about His work.  Oh yeah, I almost forgot…if you would like to have a block party in your neighborhood, Bridge will provide one for free, complete with an inflatable bounce house and double-lane slide.  Did I mention they are young and a little quirky?  I wouldn’t expect anything less from a church that networks at Chamber of Commerce events.  Gotta love it!

Check out pictures from all my church visits and stay up to date by “liking” the Churchsurfer Facebook page.  You can also check out some videos on the Churchsurfer YouTube channel.

Josh & Laura weekly self-portrait


Not Your Mama’s Baptist Church

Church Experience #8 – February 20, 2011

Abba’s House (a.k.a. Central Baptist Church)

Megachurch

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.

Abba's House - Central Baptist Church Hixson Tennessee

Abba's House (Central Baptist Church)

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

Inside Abba's House

Abba's House sanctuary and stage

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…



Growing A Church From The Ground

Church Experience #7 – February 13, 2011

Calvary Chapel

Old Friends

After my wife, Laura, and I had been invited by at least 3 or 4 different people to attend Calvary Chapel on Broad Street in Chattanooga, I posted on Facebook that I was planning to attend there and received an immediate encouraging comment from an old friend.  The old friend was one of the Buntin sisters that were both in the Brainerd United Methodist youth group with me back in our high school years.  17 years later and now with the married name, Susan Potter, she informed me that her sister, now Sara Coffman, also attended there, as did our old BUMC youth pastor Bryant Black, who is now head of the history department at Chattanooga Christian School.  There was no way I could miss out on a reunion like this, so I asked Susan to meet Laura and I before the Sunday worship service so that we could sit together, and she reluctantly agreed :).

The Buntin Women

Sara Coffman, Brenda Buntin, Susan Potter

Purely Downtown Chattanooga

We pulled into the Calvary Chapel parking lot and I was immediately impressed with the modern architecture of the building, with contrasting Earth tones, a very “green” or eco-friendly feel to it, clean lines, and beautiful simplicity.  We walked in to the lobby about 20 minutes early for the 9:00 AM early service, and it was bustling with activity, probably due to the impressive coffee stations where everyone was fueling up on caffeine for the day.  The inside of the building had exposed beams, stained concrete floors, natural wood, and a wide-open warehouse feel.  This church really captures the essence of downtown Chattanooga, which has been resurrected from a post-industrial junk heap to a true jewel filled with parks & recreation, museums, unique restaurants and shops, and all connected by pedestrian friendly bridges and river walks.  I was later told that the Calvary Chapel building is an old Bi-Lo grocery store, and that there is still an additional 10,000 square feet of unfinished space that they will be converting into a cafe and an area for the youth.  As I looked around at the building and the people, I definitely got the overwhelming sense that this church had gotten it “right” by creating an environment that was purely Chattanooga.

Calvary Chapel Chattanooga

Outside Calvary Chapel

A Family Meeting

We went in the sanctuary and found seats as the worship music was just beginning.  The songs were mostly acoustic guitar driven, slow and melodious, heart-felt ballads.  These are the type of songs that tug at your emotions and really allow you to connect on another level, as if you are right there in the presence of God, worshiping and singing to Him straight from your heart.  If you’ve ever landed on the 90’s song “More than Words” by Extreme while you were alone in your car, you know what I’m talking about…don’t laugh.  After a couple of worship songs, pastor Frank, who appeared to be quite young, began to speak and that’s when things took a turn for the interesting.  This Sunday’s message (which from what I gathered was a continuation of what had been going on for a few Sundays now) was a lot less like “church” and a lot more like a family meeting.  You know, the kind that a dad calls on Saturday morning to gather the household together and discuss issues and establish ground rules…pretty much like that.  He began by recapping their church’s story, starting as a small group meeting in an apartment clubhouse that had grown all the way to where it is now.  He likened their church, both the building and the people, to the verse Isiah 58:12 (if that doesn’t strike a chord, stop and reread the last paragraph about Chattanooga), and talked about always staying true to the three main focuses of their church:  Love Jesus, be led by the Spirit, and give back to the Lord.  As he spoke of these things you could hear the passion in his voice and almost tap into the raw emotion of the 10 year journey he had been on with Calvary Chapel, that had come all the way to the present, to this very Sunday morning, to this family meeting.

Growing Pains

In talking about the present situation at Calvary Chapel, Pastor Frank’s voice grew slightly more stern.  Living up to his name, he addressed the congregation very directly about the immense growth that Calvary Chapel had experienced in recent years, expanding from a single Sunday service to two Sunday services, and now are set to begin a third service that will be held on Saturday evenings.  It seemed that his main fear would be that in the midst of all of their growth, the church would lose its sense of community and potentially become disjointed and unconnected, subjected to conflict, or become a victim of what he referred to as “consumerism”.  This latter issue dominated the rest of his sermon time and attention, as he explained that large churches easily become a place where people come to consume without giving back, and drew the comparison of a hotel versus a home.  To prevent this from becoming the norm, he implored those in attendance to make Calvary Chapel a place where everyone serves.  It was pretty plainly stated that “if you are going to be a part of this, then this is what you need to be” as he spoke of the three ways he expects God’s people to give:  time, talent, and treasure.

Deep Thoughts…by Josh Davis

After experiencing Calvary Chapel on Sunday and also attending the men’s Deeper series on Wednesday evening, I got the sense that this is a church that breaks the “typical church” mold and doesn’t really mind.  They are fixated on growing, not in attendance numbers, but in their relationship with Jesus Christ.  They don’t want to encourage behavior amongst the Christian community that they feel is fostering consumerism and preventing people from doing the things (serving, giving, living) that really matter on the “eternity scale”.  I, for one, applaud Pastor Frank and the rest of the Calvary Church leadership for speaking so boldly on the issue, because there are plenty of other church options out there for the people who feel differently.  But if you are interested in a church where you will be encouraged to live for God every day, this is a great church for you.  If you are interested in a church where there is a real passion for creating relationships that truly mean something, this is a great church for you.  If you are interested in a church where you will be challenged to grow, challenged to be a giving person, challenged to be held accountable for your actions, and challenged to serve the body and the community, this is a great church for you.  If you are interested in a church where you can slip in and out of Sunday service, blend in, drop a $20 bill in the box each week, and never get involved…good luck not feeling really, really guilty.  Thank you Calvary Chapel for a refreshing experience, and I pray that God blesses you with continued growth, not only in attendance, but also in the constant desire to draw closer to Him.

*Special Note*

Laura and I have decided to begin attending the Calvary Chapel Saturday night services that begin in March.  My commitment to the ChurchSurfer project and to visiting a different church every week in 2011, prevents us from getting rooted into a “home” church, so we are excited for the Saturday service and look forward to building new relationships.  If you would like to worship with us there, I invite you to join us.

I am currently transitioning the ChurchSurfer blog over to a self-hosted version where I will have the ability to create customized designs that will change the look and feel of the website.  Please remember to use www.churchsurfer.org to visit the blog in the future.  You can also visit Churchsurfer on Facebook at www.facebook.com/churfer.



Super Sunday

Church Experience #6 – February 6, 2011

Metro Tabernacle

No More Sporting Goods

In selecting a church to visit this week I had to take into account that it was Super Bowl Sunday…so naturally I chose Metropolitan Tabernacle (a.k.a. Metro Tab), because it is in a building that began as a sporting goods store.   I was interested to see how this former retail big box store was transitioned into a church on the inside, and what type of church service was held there.  I was assuming that it would be a pretty large congregation, because the building with its colorful banners on the side are highly visible from Highway 153, which is high traffic and prime real estate for advertising.  I guess the only reason the sporting goods store didn’t make it is because of the lack of other supporting retail stores on that particular exit, which is mainly a residential area and much better suited for a church.  After parking the car and stepping out to hold my wife Laura’s hand, I noticed a gentleman immediately zero in on us and begin to head our way.  Apparently this church takes greeting people a step further than most and instead of waiting until you get to the door, they have greeters roaming the parking lot.  I have to say it was very nice to be approached and greeted with a handshake and a warm smile so promptly, and I would imagine these people are also there to give assistance to elderly or to help people find parking spaces once it begins to fill up.  The other thing I like about greeter programs is that in addition to providing a service for the congregation, it also gives people the opportunity to serve, which I’m sure makes them feel good about contributing something and giving back to their church.  We headed on up to the entrance and were again greeted, this time by the traditional front door greeters, who handed us a bulletin with a smile and welcomed us inside.  The lobby was wide open and very spacious, with various “stations” set up with tables and attendants with information for different programs.  There was a coffee shop area off to the side, which I didn’t visit because I had just been to Dunkin’ Donuts and brought my own <insert smile here> so I browsed through each station to see what they were about.  The first table I came to had the general information about the church for visitors, so I picked up a few printed materials and moved on to another station that particularly caught my attention.  The reason for my interest was that I stumbled on what may be the 2nd best small group signup program that I’ve ever seen (take note church administrators).  A few long banquet tables were lined with clipboard signup sheets just below plexi sign holders with each one displaying an information sheet containing the small group name, topic, location, description, and the name and photo of the leader(s).

Small group signup table

Small group signup table

One of my biggest points of disgust with almost all the churches I’ve ever been to is how seemingly impossible it is to get acclimated into a small group as a new church member.  I’ve concluded that there must be some kind of top-secret church small group rite-of-passage that makes you prove yourself worthy of joining a group through the long chain of “submit a contact form in the offering plate, send us an email, visit our website, and the group leader of your choice will be in contact with you” just to get to the awkward stage of going to an already established group or waiting until next January for the new ones to start.  Ummm…how about no.  It’s easier to just not join and avoid the awkwardness of trying to get involved (disclaimer:  the preceding sentences only contained a small hint of exaggeration).  So thank you, Metro Tab, for making the signup process informative and easy.  I just hope that the signups really do get followed up on and that you’re not part of the secret society.  Oh, and for those of you who were curious…the BEST small group signup program I’ve known about was instituted by my dad, Mark Davis, when he was Associate Pastor at Brainerd United Methodist Church and he personally invited all new members to his own small group made up of other new members.  This way they already knew somebody (him) and everyone else in the group was also relatively new and sympathetic to how it feels to be in that position.

A Super Place

Laura and I entered the sanctuary and sat down, and were blown away by the setup.  The entire sanctuary was superbly designed and looked very nice and modern without being overly lavish.

Inside Metro Tab sanctuary

Inside Metro Tab sanctuary

As I looked around I was pleasantly surprised to see that the congregational was more diverse than any church I’ve ever attended.  The mix of black/white was probably 50/50 and there were other nationalities represented as well.  The diversity tells me that this church is doing something very right.  If you are attracting all kinds of races and people, then you can believe that it is because they are getting an unbiased message, a true worship experience, and an environment that breeds love and acceptance.  After noticing the wonderfully diverse congregation I was already anticipating a great worship experience, and as the music started I was definitely not disappointed.  The music was modern praise with all the instruments (electric guitar, bass, keys, piano, drums, hand drums, etc) and a vocal praise team.  There were also women with brightly colored flags stationed at various points around the stage that added a very cool “multi-sensory” appeal to the worship experience (you can watch from the Metro Tab website).  I couldn’t help but move to the music and as I looked around I saw people engaging in all kinds of ways with singing, swaying, and lifting hands to honor and glorify God.  One particular song was so beautifully powerful that it made me cry tears of joy, and when the song ended two ladies on opposite sides of the room erupted in screams (yes, screams) and at least a few full minutes of repeating “Praise you Jesus”.  It was awesome.  As a tribute to Super Bowl Sunday, various church members were given the opportunity to come up and take the podium to give a testimonial as to why they felt like Metro Tab was a “super place”.  As I listened to the five or six different testimonies throughout the morning I began to pick up on what I felt like was an unmistakably common link – every single person talked about coming to Metro Tab in a state of hurt or anguish, for various reasons, and many of them stating that this was their last shot at church before giving up completely on God.  Yet they all found God here, got healed, and now describe Metro Tab as being a place where the pastors truly care about every person there and show it, not just say it.  They described Metro Tab as NOT being “church as usual”, but instead a place where the Bible is taught without added words or opinions, where people find real relationships and for the right reasons, and where things are ever changing and evolving instead of growing stale or complacent.  After experiencing the people, the worship, and the spirit at this place, I would have to agree with them but also add that Metro Tab is a hospital for troubled souls.

Sports Fans vs. God Fans

At one point during the service, Pastor Steve actually did get up and deliver a short sermon that really hit home.  He compared fans of any given sports team (on that week everyone had the Packers and Steelers on their minds) to Christians, pointing out that our country spends millions of dollars on t-shirts, hats, flags, license plates, and all the other team memorabilia and then proudly displays it for all to see.  He made the observation that a fan of one team will dress in their team colors from head to toe and then go into a stadium full of fans of the opposing team and cheer obnoxiously loud right in the middle of them.  Wow…how many of us would do that for Jesus?  He highlighted a few characteristics and behaviors of sports fans that we as Christians need to learn from…to not conform, to be big spenders for the cause, to be tireless, to be loyal, and to be passionate.  I also liked his thought that in both life and sports, some of the greatest victories are decided in the final moments.  Eternity is not a game, however, and if we treat life like we always have another half or another quarter, we may fail to do the things we should be doing right now in this very moment.  I’m typing a blog article hoping that someone reading this will decide to seek a deeper relationship with Christ.  I’m hoping that someone reading this will stop reading and pray for the strength to do all the things that are in their heart to do, but that they’ve never had the courage to pursue and accomplish.  I’m hoping that someone reading this will realize that God deserves fans that care more about worshiping and pleasing Him than anything else going on in their life, because I know that when you put God first you at least have one priority right.  For all who read this blog, I want to thank you and to let you know that I’m praying for you.  Peace be with you until next week!

Metro Tab stage

Metro Tab stage

See pictures from all the church visits on the ChurchSurfer Facebook page .

Also, make sure to follow Metro Tab on twitter and also “like” them on Facebook.


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