Tag Archives: Hixson

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

Church Experience #21 – May 29, 2011

Bethel Temple Assembly of God – Hixson, TN

Call Me Crazy

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

Nice to Meet You

Bethel Temple Assembly of God
Bethel Temple Assembly of God

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

On the Lord’s Time

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

Giving = Sacrifice?

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

A Lasting Impression

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

Please share the ChurchSurfer blog with anyone who may be interested and make sure to “like” it on Facebook.  I truly hope you enjoy reading about the ChurchSurfer journey!

Josh Davis

ChurchSurfer @ Living Faith Church: Baseball and BBQ Sauce

Church Experience #18 – May 8, 2011

Living Faith Church, Hixson TN

It’s Gotta Be The Clues

For the fourth time this year I was left alone on a Sunday, deserted by my wife (to be with a friend who was recovering from surgery in Atlanta), and left to venture out to a church service all by myself.  So far my solo church visits have been interesting…a gospel-fest at New Philadelphia Missionary Baptist with two of the kindest and most talented women I’ve ever met, my sister’s crazy California New Year’s Eve wedding, and a fly-under-the-radar Sunday at First-Centenary United Methodist.  This week’s visit was to Living Faith Churchin Hixson, a church I knew very little about except for what I had read on their website on Saturday night before the next morning’s church service.  I had been told about the church by a friend, who had never attended there either, but had somehow heard about it through word of mouth.  I don’t even really remember what it was that my friend said about the church, but what was important to me was that it was mentioned at all.  This stood out to me because I drive by this church a lot and had thought about attending there (or at least researching it), but for some reason I had written it off, maybe assuming that it was a Church of God, and since I had already been to a church in that denomination (Joyful Sound COG), I was more interested in attending other denominations first.  But I’m always listening for “clues” as to where God is leading me next, and anytime a few clues point to the same place, I take that to mean I should go there…so here I am.

Human Contact

I pulled up to the cream-colored church building and parked, enjoying the warm sunshine as I walked around the corner and up to the entrance.  There were smiling faces in the parking lot, and as I headed inside, I noticed that pretty much everyone I saw seemed to have a bubbly countenance about them.  The inside of the building appeared to be either newly remodeled or very well kept, and like the outside of the building it was very clean and simple, lacking the grandeur of the more extravagant churches, but instead communicating the message that fancy is not necessary to worship and serve God.  I exchanged some smiles and greetings as I headed down the hallway, and upon entering the sanctuary was immediately approached by two men, Duane and Gary, who welcomed me and asked if I was a visitor.  I told them that it was my first time attending their church and they handed me a visitor’s card, encouraging me to fill it out and drop it in the bucket during the collection of tithes and offerings.  I took a seat and scanned the room, noticing a very balanced mix of young, middle-aged, and elderly people.  There were various greeters stationed around the room, I assume to make sure nobody would be overlooked, and even though Duane and Gary had done a fine job welcoming and engaging me in conversation, a gentleman named Claude also came around to do the same.  I’ve seen several techniques for greeters at all the churches I’ve attended…parking lot greeters, door greeters at the church entrances, bulletin passer-outers at the sanctuary entrances, inside-the-sanctuary floaters, and more, but I think the main point here is that this is an important position and service provided by the church.  Why would you not want to have a greeter program at your church?  It gives church members a way to serve, it makes visitors feel welcome, and it encourages (or forces) human-to-human interaction (which surprisingly doesn’t always happen if it is not specifically made to be a priority).  If your church does not have a greeter program, or has a very limited one…why not volunteer to coordinate the effort yourself?  I guarantee that you will increase the ratio of smiles per person, and you could potentially win repeat attendance from visitors who actually felt welcome and want to come back for more…not to mention it’s really easy!

Give Honor Where Honor Is Due

The sanctuary was spacious, with rows of individual cushioned chairs rather than traditional pews, and a large stage lined with all the instruments you would expect from a contemporary worship service…keyboard, electric and acoustic guitars, bass, and drums, plus a trumpet which added a unique element to the worship music.  We sang two songs (taking a total of about 15 minutes), with the main chorus sections being repeated numerous times, building with emphasis each time through.  I enjoyed the worship experience and felt free to lose myself in the moment, lifting my hands, clapping, and swaying around to the different segments, seeking a truly focused and connected worship time with God.  At the close of the second song, pastor Michael Lindon led the congregation in a prayer, and then transitioned into some announcements.  He asked all first-time visitors to raise their hands, and then welcomed them to Living Faith Church as “honored guests” (which really made a strong impression on me).  Pastor Michael also recognized the recent high school and college graduates, as well as all the mothers (it was Mother’s Day), and asked for applause from the congregation, encouraging them to “give honor where honor is due”.  How often do you think we, as Christians, miss the opportunity to make someone feel special by honoring them in front of others?  Jesus taught us to not seek or expect the place of honor, because then you may be embarrassed when others are honored above you and you are “bumped down” a notch, but how awesome is it to see someone receive honor and recognition when they totally did not expect it.  What a great chance for us to share God’s love with the people who quietly serve and expect nothing in return.

Not a Lovey-Dovey Mother’s Day Message

Pastor Michael, who is young, clean cut (military style), and energetic, began his sermon by stating that it was part six of the current series with the objective to “Scripturally introduce the child of God to who they are in Christ” (which he repeated three times).   Despite oozing with positivity and somehow never losing an enormous smile, pastor Michael methodically proceeded point by point through Luke chapter 15 using Scripture cross-references and real life illustrations (parables) to teach about being made righteous through Christ.  The sanctuary became like a classroom, as pastor Michael taught masterfully from the Spirit, speaking calmly and plainly, making sure not to leave anyone behind by moving too fast or by trying to cram in too many points or too much information.  I was impressed not only by the excellent teaching, but by what this service wasn’t…it wasn’t a pep rally, it wasn’t a manipulation of emotion, it wasn’t a stage production, it was just plain and simple teaching of the Word like a shepherd feeding the flock to sustain growth and life.  He made references to baseball, BBQ sauce, shoes, and a speeding ticket he had received that very morning (you’ll have to ask him about all that), to effectively engage and relate to the congregation as one of them, not as someone who wished to exalt or lord himself over everyone else.  He closed the sermon by encouraging the people to be aware of who we are in Christ, because without this awareness we lose the authority, tools, and resources we have available to us to go about God’s business in this world.  Yet, if we are aware of who we are in Christ, we have all of heaven backing us.  We are ambassadors going out into a foreign land by the authority of the King of heaven, with the Great Commission of inviting those who do not know our King to accept His gift of salvation and join us as heirs to His Kingdom.  Praise God from Whom all blessings flow!

Final Thoughts

On the way out of church, I met the Associate and Youth Pastor, Allen Lindon (pastor Michael’s older brother), and we scheduled a lunch meeting for Thursday of that week.  We met up and talked about the beginnings of Living Faith Fellowship, their growth, their move from the original location to the current building, and their ongoing goal throughout their existence, which is to get out into the community and reach the unreached.  Like his brother, Allen is clean-cut, positive, constantly smiling, and passionate about serving God.  We talked about the ChurchSurfer blog, and he was visibly excited to get detailed feedback about what my experience was like at Living Faith Church.  He asked questions about their church as well as experiences I’d had at other churches, obviously looking for anything I could offer that may help them improve or make changes.  How refreshing is it to know that the pastors of this church value that type of feedback and upon learning that I had been to so many churches, earnestly sought any information that they might use to help them make a difference in their church.  I’m sure many churches don’t care, or worse yet, think they don’t need it.  Once again, God sent me to the right place at the right time, and I was blessed by Him through Living Faith Church and the Lindon brothers.  They have a heart and desire to serve the Lord and I have a feeling they will be a big part of the coming revival in Chattanooga that many (including myself) are feeling.  May His kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.

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

P.S.  Sorry for the lack of pictures this week…taking photos is something I’m obviously not good at without my wife around 🙂

ChurchSurfer @ Trinity Lutheran Church: Seeking The Next Generation

Church Experience #17 – May 1, 2011

Trinity Lutheran Church, Hixson, TN

Unnecessary Reminder

Laura and I had planned on visiting a different church this week, but due to the loss of power at that church from the storms that passed through the area, we had to find an alternative.  I live in Hixson, and drive by the intersection of Hixson Pike and Highway 153 pretty much on a daily basis.  Elevated just above this intersection sits Trinity Lutheran Church, calmly peering down on the flurry of activity that consumes the surrounding roads, restaurants, and stores.  I had never attended a Lutheran service before, so I thought this would be an ideal time to experience a new denomination without having to wander too far from home.  We pulled up the church driveway and parked, noticing a large tree laying on its side with its massive root ball facing the parking lot…as if we needed another reminder of the recent weather related devastation that had hit our area in the previous days.  Walking by the downed tree, I squeezed Laura’s hand and refused the urge to go over and get a closer look, doing my best to  refocus my attention to this week’s church experience. (I have included some additional post-storm thoughts after the end of this blog article)

The Coffee Room Incident

Trinity Lutheran Church

Trinity Lutheran Church

As we approached the entrance, the door was pushed open from the inside by a spunky old man who welcomed us in with a handshake and a warm greeting.  We walked down the hallway and were greeted by several people, including a man who I recognized from some Chamber of Commerce meetings we had both attended, and were asked for our first and last names several times.  We passed through the hallway into the lobby area outside the sanctuary, where we saw a small room off to the side with a coffee sign above it.  Laura and I had been running late this morning and did not have the chance to get our morning coffee, which is a very big deal, so we headed straight for the small coffee room to grab a quick cup before the service.  On the way through the door, I noticed that all the people inside the small room had on long white and gold robes and were seated in chairs around the perimeter of the room.  I quickly got the feeling that this domain might only be intended for people in the choir or ministry, but rather than turning back for fear of interrupting something, the desire to drink coffee drove us onward to our destination.  As we filled our cups, I awkwardly asked if it was OK for us to be in there, to which one of the robed men replied that we would now be required to sing in the choir.  We exchanged a few jokes about how they really did not want me or Laura singing in their choir, and even though we were obviously out of place, the robed people simply made light of it and welcomed us in.  They even went so far as asking Laura and I to join hands with them as they prayed for the service that was about to take place, that God’s message would be spoken through the pastor, and that the Holy Spirit would fill the place with His presence.  I was thoroughly impressed that they did not just ask us to step out while they prepared for the service (and I would not have been offended at all had they gone that route), but the fact that they included us without making us feel embarrassed was pretty cool.  These Lutherans are alright.

A Unique Sanctuary

Trinity Lutheran sanctuary
Trinity Lutheran sanctuary

We only managed a few quick sips of coffee before we hurried on into the sanctuary, doing our best not to be late.  We slid into a front row wooden pew to the left side of the pulpit area, and settled in while glancing over the bulletin.  Upon first glance I did not really grasp the functional layout of the sanctuary.  It was an octagonal room with a stained glass ceiling trimmed in wood.  A large white cross descended from the ceiling in the center and hung just above a smaller octagonal platform enclosed by wooden rails with kneeling pads around the outside.  The pews wrapped around three sides of the middle platform, with the back of the room containing the choir area, an altar with an open Bible and smaller cross suspended above it, and the large pipes from the pipe organ off to the side.  In the middle of the center platform was a wooden stand with a glass bowl full of water and large white candle with gold caps adorning it.  The pipe organ trumpeted to life with a processional as the choir somberly walked in and took their seats.  The pastor, Gary Schimmer, whom we had met in the hallway (and who did not introduce himself as the pastor, but only by name), walked into the center platform area to begin the service, and it wasn’t until this moment that I realized it was the pulpit, which surprisingly did not have a podium for the speaker.  Instead, pastor Schimmer just strolled around freely as he addressed the congregation, facing different angles to engage everyone directly at least some of the time.  Pastor Schimmer held up a tattered piece of paper that he had found on his property while cleaning up from the storm, which he explained was a cancelled check from someone in Alabama.  He took a moment to greet everyone who had been affected by the storm, and offered the church for shelter, hot showers, or laundry facilities for all who were without power or had severe damage to their homes…a gesture I’m sure many churches have been making during these tragic circumstances.

An Aging Congregation

Trinity Lutheran stained glass ceiling and cross
Trinity Lutheran stained glass ceiling and cross

I craned around to survey the congregation from my front row seat, and noticed that the room was only sparsely dotted with attendees and was way below capacity.  The majority of the congregation was made up of the elderly, with far fewer middle-aged people, even less (only a couple of other people) who were in my age bracket (mid-30’s) or young adults, and a handful of young children.  I took all of this in while a church member, after being invited up by the pastor, entered the pulpit area to share his “vision speech”.  Apparently various members of the congregation had been coming up each Sunday to share their vision for Trinity Lutheran Church.  This week it was Mike, a beefy middle-aged man who spoke with nervous conviction about how much of an impact he felt the church could make on people, but openly acknowledged the lack of attendance they were currently experiencing, even calling it a problem.  This thought about an aging congregation struggling to attract new and younger church-goers held my attention for the rest of the service.  All throughout the hymns and responsive readings, the children’s church segment, and even during pastor Schimmer’s moving sermon about the breath of God giving life in Genesis and the resurrected Christ breathing the new life on His disciples, I could not help but examine this experience as it was happening, wondering how or why the format of their service might contribute to the attendance problem.  Pastor Schimmer began to talk about how the first business of the Church is forgiveness, and the second business of the Church is to give life as we were given life.  We sang the hymn “Breathe On Me Breath of God”, and then all baptized Christians were invited to come up and kneel at the pulpit to receive communion.  Laura and I quietly went up and knelt and received the communion wafer representing Christ’s body that was broken to pay for our sins, and dipped it in the wine representing Christ’s blood that washes our spirit clean.

Final Thoughts

After the service, a couple of the women, Eleanor and Shiel (sp?), came up to us to thank us for attending and invited us to come back the next Sunday.  We explained that we went to a different church service each week for the ChurchSurfer blog (which I don’t think they completely understood), but we thanked them numerous times for their hospitality and then stuck around for a little while just enjoying the conversation.  As we were leaving I began contemplating scenarios in the different churches that I have attended this year, comparing the number of people in attendance with the type of welcome we received.  Is it possible that the churches that are experiencing growth do not feel the same sense of urgency to identify and reach out to visitors?  Would it make sense that churches that have long maintained strong attendance levels somehow become more concerned with creating new programs to offer to their existing members rather than programs designed to welcome in potential new members?  Do these same churches assume that visitors will see the crowds of people in attendance and automatically want to join in also, thinking that if so many other people like it here so will I?  What if every church actively sought out visitors to honor them as esteemed guests and desired to make them feel welcome and special out of love rather than a sense of obligation?  The people of Trinity Lutheran Church were focused on doing these things for us, but I wonder if they got to that point after poor attendance had become a problem, only realizing their mistakes when it was too late, or if they’ve always been this way and younger Christians are just looking for a more contemporary service.  I’m not sure of the answer, but I’m glad to have experienced their kindness and pray that God provides the increase in attendance they seek.

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

Thoughts After the Storm

Trinity Lutheran outside
Trinity Lutheran outside

If you ever need a reminder of just how little of what happens in this life is under our control, just ask someone who has been through a tornado, hurricane, tsunami, or other natural disaster what their experience was like.  Everything changes in the blink of an eye, and there’s absolutely nothing you can do about it.  Plans, commitments, activities, possessions, and responsibilities get ripped from our lives like a 200-year-old oak tree in a 175-mile-per-hour vortex of wind, and all that is left is pure devastation that washes over you along with a tidal wave of emotional responses.  Fear, the will to survive, pain, sorrow, grief, thanksgiving, love, shock, compassion, charity…depending on your circumstance, you may experience one or all of these emotions within yourself and from others.  For those of us in the Chattanooga area and around much of the Southeastern United States, April 27, 2011 is a day that will not soon be forgotten, specifically for those reasons.  As some of the worst tornados in the recorded history of the U.S. swept through our lives, we were all either directly or indirectly affected and forced to deal with the realization from my opening statement…we are in control of very little in this life.  But along with that realization comes a very important addendum.  We are in total control of what happens after this life.  With all the various forces at work in the world that have the potential to create endless scenarios and situations in our lives that could produce limitless numbers of outcomes based on how we respond, it can be simply mind boggling.  How great is our God, however, that He gave us one single choice to make about where we want to spend eternity after this life, and the complete free will to do so.

Not Your Mama’s Baptist Church

Church Experience #8 – February 20, 2011

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


So here I am, almost two months into ChurchSurfer and I haven’t been to a “megachurch” yet.  Shame on me.  Having just moved right next to Hixson, TN, I located the closest (there are 50 in Tennessee) mega church, Abba’s House, and decided to visit.  Laura and I showed up about 20 minutes early, as I always like to do, to give us time to explore and hopefully meet a few people to talk to and gain a little insider’s perspective into this church.  As we approached the building we were warmly welcomed by a door greeter, and I was glad to see that there was someone at each of the six or eight doors, not just one or two for the entire entrance.  We walked around the hallway, which seemed shockingly barren for a church of this size…I fully expected to be weaving and bumping shoulders through a massive crowd.  I had skipped my regular Sunday morning coffee stop, anticipating a lavish coffee and refreshment station in a church of this size, and was only slightly disappointed to find out that coffee is served in the small group Bible studies (Lifegroups) in another building.  Had I been faced with a completely caffeine-free church visit, I might have been recognizably fretful, but alas…there was a cafe/bookstore in the lobby where I was able to make a coffee purchase.  Laura and I sipped on our coffee and wandered around the lobby in search of conversation.  I’m not sure how, after being able to engage a few people in pre-church conversation almost every week, this week’s attempt was unfruitful…could be a side effect of a megachurch, or maybe just bad timing.  So I went outside and snapped a couple of photos of the front of the enormously impressive sanctuary building, and then went to the folks at the guest services desk to dig for some information.  It turns out this should have been my initial destination.

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…

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