Tag Archives: Josh Davis

ChurchSurfer @ Scott Memorial Church of God: In Need of Fathers

Church Visit #25 – June 19, 2011

Scott Memorial Church of God – East Ridge, TN

Added Pressure

In the week leading up to this week’s church visit, I received an interesting phone call.  Clint  Cooper from the Chattanooga Times Free Press called me to inquire about doing a newspaper profile on the ChurchSurfer project.  Clint and I had met a few months earlier at a weekend event called the Walk to Emmaus, at which he had heard me mention the ChurchSurfer blog, and since then he had read it and apparently felt like it would be a good story to share in the “Life” section of the Times Free Press.  I was all for it, of course…my thought all along has been that the stories from these churches would be a valuable resource for people in Chattanooga…and hopefully uplifting and entertaining as well.  After making arrangements for a photographer to come out and meet me at the church I was visiting (but still had not chosen) I realized that having a photographer taking pictures of me may complicate the “average-Joe-first-time-visitor” experience that I’m always looking to write about.  I immediately began deliberating about the various churches I had been considering, and questioning to myself whether they would feel intruded upon or exposed, or maybe feel like I was reporting or investigating their church rather than just writing an experiential blog article about it.  I became somewhat troubled about this decision and thought about calling the pastor of a church beforehand to alert them to what would be going on, but then I reasoned that I would be making a bigger deal out of this thing than it really was.  On the morning that I was supposed to call Clint back to let him know which church I would be attending, I still had not made a decision.  I was looking at the calendar and it suddenly dawned upon me that this Sunday was Father’s Day.  My dad, Mark Davis, recently became the Interim Pastor at Scott Memorial Church of God in East Ridge.  How could I possibly choose any other church in the city of Chattanooga to attend on Father’s Day over my dad’s church?  Problem solved!  Not to mention that if having a photographer around caused a stir I probably wouldn’t get kicked out of a church where my dad is preaching, haha!  Thank you Lord!  So here we go…

A Father’s Day Surprise

Scott Memorial Church of God
Scott Memorial Church of God

Laura and I pulled into the gravel parking lot outside of Scott Memorial Church of God (of the Church of God Anderson, Indiana denomination, notChurch of God Cleveland, Tennessee), gathered our Bibles and journals, and exited our vehicle.  We immediately saw a shaggy-haired man with a smile approach us, introducing himself as John Rawlston from the Times Free Press.  We chatted a few moments about the ChurchSurfer blog and he then snapped some photos of us in the church parking lot and then a few more of us walking up to the entrance.  At first I had been a little unsure about having John come inside the church with us, but after meeting him, I was put at ease about that decision and invited him to come inside.  As we headed toward the entrance, we were greeted enthusiastically by an older gentleman who opened the door for us and handed us a bulletin with an eager smile and a firm handshake.  We were stopped a couple of times on our way down the hallway by people who recognized we were visitors and wanted to welcome us, and after a few quick introductions we proceeded on down to the lobby outside of the sanctuary where we saw my step-mom Jean and our good friend Rhonda seated on a bench.  Just like any other week we did not reveal our church visit intentions, and we especially wanted this week’s visit to be a Father’s Day surprise for my dad anyway, so we just showed up completely unannounced.  Jean and Rhonda hopped up from their seats with excitement and hugged us both and began introducing us to the people around them.  After a few minutes of conversation we headed on in to the sanctuary where I saw my dad (I’ll refer to him as pastor Mark through the rest of the article) seated in a pew making some last minute sermon notes.  We gave him hugs and wished him a happy Father’s Day and then all stood around fellowshipping for a few more minutes until the piano music that had started in the background reminded us that church service was ready to begin.  All the while John Rawlston had perched himself at various vantage points, snapping photos unobtrusively in between introductions and explanations about who he was and what he was doing.  As service was about to begin he came up and thanked me, letting me know that he was finished and was making his exit.

The Church Experience

Scott Memorial COG sanctuary
Scott Memorial COG sanctuary

The Scott Memorial COG sanctuary was mostly off-white with pastel stained glass windows and traditional wooden church pews.  The pulpit was decorated with ferns and there was an altar table with two burning candles and a vase of fresh flowers positioned in front of a clear plexiglass podium at the front of the stage and a recessed baptismal in the wall behind the stage with a wooden cross above it.  There was a screen projection on the wall just to the right of the baptismal with an animated “Happy Father’s Day” screen saver soon giving way to a humorous montage of video clips, after which the congregation sang Happy Father’s Day to the tune of the happy birthday song.  All the men in the congregation were then given “Man of God” ink pens with an eagle on them as a gift (very thoughtful) and the church members with visitors in attendance were then asked to introduce their guests (Laura and I were introduced by Jean).  After the guest introductions, we all stood for the worship time and proceeded through a series of classic hymns, including “I Love to Tell the Story” and “Because He Lives”, that were accompanied by a lady on the keyboard, a backing audio track played over the sound system, and a praise group of six women who sang from the stage.  In between worship songs the collection plates were passed around while we were treated to a beautiful piano solo, and as worship time finished, pastor Mark led the congregation in a prayer followed by the Lord’s Prayer which was recited by all.  This made me wonder why all churches do not recite the Lord’s Prayer each week.  It is very obvious that these are powerful words which were used as an example by Jesus Himself when asked by the disciples to teach them how to pray.  I know we all have individual and church prayer requests, and I don’t think churches should discontinue the personal prayer time, but why not add the Lord’s Prayer on to the end so that everyone can participate?  It just seems to me that if we are given specific instruction on how to do a few things such as prayer and communion, it is probably a good idea to do them…just sayin’.

The Plight of Fatherlessness

Laura, Jean, and Rhonda
Laura, Jean, and Rhonda

After praying, pastor Mark began his sermon by referring to a long list of alarming statistics from the First Things First website in a subsection called “the plight of fatherlessness”.  I highly recommend reading through these statistics, because the more awareness we all have about the problem of fatherlessness that is crippling our country right now, the better chance we have of changing it.  Pastor Mark transitioned the mood from troubling to lighthearted by going into his weekly top ten list, which this week was a list of first-grader’s responses to well know proverbs.  This provided some much needed laughter after such depressing statistics, and he then referenced the Scripture of Ephesians 6: 1-4 to begin his message.  He outlined four things that dads need to give their children, which he explained were unconditional love, focused attention, discipline, and the blessing.  As he went into detail and used examples from real life and from Scripture to explain each one, he appeared to be emotionally invested as he delivered the sermon with passion.  Pastor Mark never set foot on the stage to address the congregation from the podium, but instead started at the altar table in front of the first row of pews, and paced up and down the center aisle and back and forth in the front row.  He carried an open Bible with notes stuck in it in his left hand and used his right hand to wave around and motion, adding emphasis to the various points of his sermon.  At the end he explained that the blessing that fathers are supposed to give their children is the moment in which they look them in eyes and verbally recognize their adulthood…for sons that they are now their “own man” and for daughters their “own woman”.  Pastor Mark closed the service by inviting anyone who had never received the blessing from their own parents to come to the front and receive it now…a moving gesture.

Being a “PK”

Mark Davis, Interim Pastor at Scott Memorial COG
Mark Davis, Interim Pastor at Scott Memorial COG

After service ended, Laura and I spent another thirty minutes talking and parting ways with all the new friends we had made.  It was a warm and friendly experience with the people of Scott Memorial Church of God, and although much of that had to do with the fact that I am the son of the pastor, I felt like I still would have received a loving welcome had that not been the case.  As for the service and the sermon, I always consider it a blessing to hear my dad preach, and unless you are a preacher’s kid (PK for short) it is hard to explain what it is like to see your parent preaching the Word of God to a congregation of believers.  I’m not sure if other PK’s feel this way, but for me no matter how good a sermon is, if it is not delivered by my dad it always feels like a little something is missing.  Maybe that is because I have seen the time, energy, and effort that he has put into his ministry.  Maybe it is because I feel his love for me as father and son, rather than just on a separate level of a regular pastor and church member.  And on this Sunday maybe it was because I had been able to look back through my life and see how my dad had done his best to give me unconditional love, focused attention, discipline, and the blessing.  Was he perfect at it?  No.  Only our heavenly Father is the perfect father.  But he always did what he thought was best and that is all any of us can ask for.  I will end this week’s article with a call to action for the men who are reading this.  If you are aware of children in your church or somewhere else in your life who you know do not have a father who provides these four important gifts, why not be that person for them?  Why not become a father figure to a fatherless child.  It might just change their life…and maybe yours as well.

If you would like to read the article by Clint Cooper in the Chattanooga Times Free Pressclick here.

Josh & Laura weekly self-portrait
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

 

 

 

 

Times Free Press article
ChurchSurfer in Chattanooga Times Free Press

 

Advertisements

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 @ St. Jude Catholic Church: The Experience Was The Experience

Church Experience #16 – April 24, 2011 – Easter Sunday

St. Jude Catholic Church

A Personal Challenge

First of all, let me take a moment and acknowledge and thank my Lord God for how much He has blessed me this year.  I’m amazed at how much increase God gives to your faith, wisdom, and love, when you find new ways to serve Him and dedicate more of your time and focus to His Word.  The ChurchSurfer project has already brought major blessings to my spiritual walk, and whether or not people read or like this blog, the benefits of holding myself to the commitment of visiting 50 different churches this year are mind-blowing.  God is good, all the time, amen.  So for Easter this year I decided to challenge myself a little bit by skipping (or should I say hopping?) the Easter church service that is so meaningful to us as (Protestant) Christians, and instead opt for a Catholic church service.  Why is this challenging?  Because going into the experience, I already know that as a non-Catholic I am not welcome to take Holy Communion at a Catholic church, nor do I agree with most of their doctrinal beliefs, which makes it particularly hard on such a significant day as Easter.  So why even go to a Catholic church?  Because I also know that like all Christian sects and denominations, there are true believers with a heart for Jesus inside the Catholic faith.  What will be the big challenge?  Trying to remain focused on the point of my blog, which is “Experiencing God through People”, and not falling into a rant session on the differences in doctrinal beliefs, which is so tempting with a subject matter that is at the core of your very being.  What will be the outcome?  Let’s find out (and I’m more than a little nervous)…

The Atmosphere

St Jude Catholic Church Chattanooga
St Jude Catholic Church Chattanooga

Laura and I pulled in to St. Jude Catholic Church about 30 minutes before the scheduled start time of the 10:30 AM mass service.  We knew it would be crowded on Easter, so we wanted to make sure we could get a seat close enough to the front where we could easily see all that was going on.  I snapped a couple of photos on the walk up to the building, which was a little longer than normal, considering I strategically parked close to the exit lane so that we could hopefully avoid the traffic leaving the service.  As we approached the entrance, we were enthusiastically greeted by an eccentric grey-haired man who was doing his best to say “hello’s” and “good morning’s” to each one of the increasing volume of people headed in to the building.  Upon entering the lobby area, we passed by the holy water bowl without taking part in whatever ritual it is used for, and headed on down the aisle of the sanctuary and into a pew, again without taking part in the Catholic ritual of bowing toward the altar (or crucifix?).  I scanned the ornate room, taking in all the various decorations and symbols.  There was a large crucifix on the front wall facing the congregation, bordered by floor-to-ceiling stained glass depictions of Jesus.  There were candles burning all around the room, fresh flowers all about the altar and stage area, and off to the left of the pulpit was a statue of Mary with the baby Jesus in her arms.  There were various tapestries and murals adorning the walls of the sanctuary, some appearing to be quite old, and most in the European Renaissance style.  My mind wandered in and out of focus on various internal tug-of-war issues I was having about bringing my wife to a Catholic Easter service rather than one where we could actually partake in the communion.

Easter Mass 

Josh & Laura weekly self-portrait

The low hum of all the muted conversations around the room lulled me into deeper contemplations, which were then interrupted by the sight of kids in white robes passing by in the aisle on their way to the front to light more candles.  They circled back to the rear of the room and joined a procession to the altar with the priests, who were holding a crucifer and a large gold-bound Bible.  The musicians, which surprisingly (probably just because of my ignorance of Catholic services) included a 12 string guitar player, bass player, and two keyboard players, started the worship music, which had to be one of the oddest (using what I would consider “normal” contemporary praise or traditional hymns as the basis for comparison) and most unique sounding church music I’ve ever heard.  We sang two songs, which I can only describe as “medieval synthpop hymn music” (you’d have to hear it to understand), and the priest then led the congregation in an opening prayer.  The service continued through a series of Scripture readings, responsive readings, and songs, and then on to a baptism ceremony for some young children, which consisted of the priest gesturing the sign of the cross on the foreheads of the children and their parents, and then pouring holy water from a glass pitcher over the heads of the children and into a small baptismal reservoir.  The children also received white bibs and candles as part of the ritual.  Later in the service, the priests circled up and down the aisles with pitchers of holy water, flinging it onto the congregation with wooden utensils.  As the water landed on each person they would quickly bow and motion the cross with their hand, starting from their forehead, down to their belly, and then side to side across their chest.  The priests seemed visibly delighted to take part in this portion of the ceremony, and many in the congregation grinned as the water splashed them in random points around the head and shoulders.  The service culminated with communion, with the priests either placing on the tongue or handing each member of the congregation a small wafer and then a sip from the chalice containing wine, after which the priest would methodically wipe the rim clean with a white cloth.  After a closing blessing from the priest, the congregation was dismissed and people quickly filed out of the room with some gathering in small groups of conversation.

Final Thoughts

 This church experience makes for a very difficult article to write.  I’m not interested in using this platform to delve into the differences between Catholic and Protestant doctrine, even though I stared some of these issues directly in the eyes this week.  From the standpoint of attempting to stay true to the purpose of this blog, which as stated above, is to write about experiencing God through people…I’m completely at a loss and unable to successfully accomplish that this week.  At no point during this experience (other than being greeted by the man at the front entrance) did I really come into any kind of personal or meaningful contact with another human being (oh, I forgot about the segment of the service where you shake hands with people around you and say “peace be with you”, but that hardly qualifies as personal or meaningful contact in my mind).  So I realized, in the process of writing this article, that this week’s experience was exactly that…an experience.  It was a religious ceremony that simply served as a spectacle for me.  Since I am not Catholic, I was not allowed to partake in communion, the holy water that splashed on me really held no significance, nor did the baptism ceremony, which was obviously a baptism into the Catholic faith, not a baptism of death to self and life to Christ (these children were too young to make that decision with a complete understanding of its impact and requirements).  For the ChurchSurfer project and for my personal spiritual walk, this week served as a reminder to me (by absence, rather than presence) of what church is all about.  Along with all the traditions, rituals, symbols, songs, and atmospherics, I need real worship and fellowship with other believers.  My soul craves the kind of let-it-all-hang-out worship where you lose yourself in that place where nothing else around you enters your conscious thought because you are only focused on the presence of the Lord and offering your praise to Him.  But one thing I know is that people are all absolutely unique and different, and what quenches my spiritual thirst may be foreign and uncomfortable for many others.  To God be the glory.  He created us this way and therefore my only conclusion can be that He is satisfied with the result.  But as I read His Word and see examples of worship, such as the description of the various creatures and angels who worship him in heaven in the book of Revelation, I grow in my desire to worship with more passion and intent.  So although I know that I have brothers and sisters in Christ inside the Catholic church, I yearn for more of a full-contact Christian life that is less defined by rules and exclusivity and more open to freedom and acceptance.  I can’t imagine Jesus ever refusing someone the opportunity to partake of His body and blood, can you?  Everyone is welcome at His table, and if you have not experienced His total acceptance, which is the free gift of salvation and unimaginable love, I invite you to ask Him in to your life right now.  Simply kneel down and verbalize your desire to live for Him and I promise you that your life will never be the same.  Oh and by the way, Laura and I went home and had a communion of our own…

Easter communion 2011

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



%d bloggers like this: