Tag Archives: Christianity

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.


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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


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