Sunday, May 20, 2007

Church Stuff & an Opinion Requested

Part One : Another church visit

This morning Amy and I visited another church, North Metro Church in Kennesaw, GA.

We know quite a few people who attend North Metro and we've heard good things (to me the one downfall being a completely contemporary style). So Amy got off work this morning and we had breakfast and went to visit. We saw two couples we know who are also adopting as we arrived and we sat with Tim and Laura. Amy and I have an uncanny ability to pick Sundays to visit when either there is a special program or the pastor is out of town or both. Today was no different.

Aside from 2-3 worship songs (all completely foreign to us) at the beginning, they had an announcement or two about volunteering for ministries. It appears there is a LOT of money at this church because the ministry volunteer packet is four-color glossy and multiple-pages bound. The focus of the service today was baptism, not the subject, the action. The entire hour was 15 or so people, I think 12 of them under age 14, being baptized. Again about the money, and the contemporary thing, it was like watching the Olympics on TV with all the back-stories. Every person receiving the sacrament had a professionally-produced video that ran as their entourage came to stand near and their "special celebrity" dunker came up to administer the dunking. It was stuff like, Hi, my name is Johnny and I'm 8 years old. I like to play hockey and football and basketball and I go to __________ school, and I decided I want Jesus in my heart because ____________.

It made me think a lot about the scene in which John the Baptist is baptizing people in the river and Jesus comes to the scene. There was no video package introducing him or any of the others John baptized that day. It was a simple gathering. It made me remember the classic film depictions of baptisms in the South, with a choir on the shore of a river or lake and people wading in, fully clothed, and being baptized. I was not entirely comfortable with the multi-media event I witnessed this morning.

We'll go back to visit this church again next week or the week after, hopefully to hear a sermon. BTW one of the ministry volunteer positions was people to prepare treats for and to serve the worship band during the services. Would this be done in the green room? Is it in the contract rider that they get only Evian and no orange M&M's in the candy jar?

Part Two: A question I was asked...

While Amy slept this afternoon I went to Winston's to play cards. Cheryl, the lady who runs the card games asked how I was doing and I explained a bit about the experience this morning. She asked me if I could give her some advice, and this is the story she told me.

Cheryl has a long-time friend who is working with a church in the mid-west and is pursuing a degree in ministry. This friend has a son who is married and the son and daughter-in-law are Atheists. The son and his wife had a baby girl recently and Cheryl's friend told her that he planned to baptize (christen) his granddaughter contrary to his son and daughter-in-law's wishes. Cheryl's response was asking if he was crazy? He did not take it well, and the conversation ended abruptly after that. I think she said they have spoken once since then, but she still is concerned as to the right thing to tell her friend and the right thing for him to do.

My advice:

It sounds like a bad situation to have to advise people on, but I think I have a good neutral angle and suggestion. I think Cheryl should call her friend and propose he do this.
It is the prerogative of the parents to raise their child as they see fit so long as they are not abusing or otherwise endangering the child. The grandfather should not secretly or overtly christen the baby against the wishes of her parents. It is very likely that the grandfather will have the opportunity to witness to the baby as she grows up, and Cheryl told me the son does not mind his father telling the baby about God and Jesus. As she ages into mental maturity, she will be able to make a decision for herself as to what she believes and the grandfather can guide her as she grows.

Until then, and especially now, the grandfather can do this... if he is a growing leader in his church and wants the support of the congregation regarding his granddaughter, I suggest he have a prayer of dedication for the baby (most likely in her absence). As the christening/baptism of a baby is about the parents announcing their desire and intent to raise the child to know and follow Christ, and for the congregation to affirm that choice and promise to support the child's walk, it would be perfect to do that in the absence of the baby and even perhaps set a weekly time to pray for the baby and it's parents. The congregation would be doing the same thing they normally would, simply without having the baby there and seeing it symbolically cleansed with water.

Thoughts and opinions? Cheryl thought I had given some great advice.


Bubba's Sis said...

I think your advice was just right. Baptizing the baby behind the parents' backs (or against their will) is not a good idea. Everything you said was exactly what you should have. I, too, will pray for that baby, and that she has the opportunity to hear about Jesus in her life, from her grandfather and others.

As for the church visit, I think I would have had the same reaction you did. Seems awfully....commercial or something. I know a lot of churches are into that these days, but sometimes it's a turn-off. Especially when they talk so much about money. I am a regular giver at my church; I give from my heart because it's what God wants us to do. But I certainly don't want to be pressured about it every week! Hubby and I left a church that had a lot of money in it because it seemed like a "country club church" - we are much happier now where we are. Our church actually tells visitors NOT to give money because the members have already committed to upholding the church. You sure don't hear that very often!

Steven M. Russell said...

Alrighty. I am going to attack the last question first since it is the easiest for me to answer.

The answer. I agree with you.

The grandparents shoukd not go behind the parents back and do this. It is up to the parents. And over time, the granparents will have plenty of time to introduce the gospel to the child. Because you see, the great thing about Christianity is that it is a choice. We might not always like when people don't choose the way we want them to...but that is the way it is designed.

As for the worship question...

I go to a rather contemporary church. No choir. A band. Worship songs. Videos before baptism, etc.

You ask why Jesus didn't have these things? Well. They weren't invented yet.

I see no problem with showing someone's life story before a baptism. It makes what is about to happen even better. We should be celebrating the decision of this man/woman/child. They chose eternity for Pete's sake.

Worship songs are today's hymns. Awesome God by Rich Mullins was an edgy song when it first came out. Now it is accepted. I love hymns as much as the next person but am just as moved by worship songs as I am by an old hymn.

I think if you look back through the Bible, you'd find God was a pretty edgy guy.

As long as you are woshipping God, I am not exactly sure he cares how we are doing it.

The church is evolving. It is not a bad thing. Some people just don't like change. Familiarity is their comfort. And when it isn't comfortable it is wrong.

It's like people looking down on me because I like to read from "The Message" version of the Bible. What makes it any less relevant if God is speaking to me through it?

amy said...

I loved the service. I loved seeing family and friends witness this event. This was a special day for all of them. I do wonder why churches have to be so contemporary and elaborate but as Steven said, times are a changin. We have a radio station here (which I listen to ) that promotes Food for the Hungry one day and raises a lot of money and then the next week gives away a $10,000 Macys gift card. I do have a problem with that but I am not sure why.
I agree that GOd wants us to worship Him. He doesn't have a certain way, He just wants us closer to Him..

Oh hubby of mine, we will be talking later. I guess if today was that uncomfortable for you, we may not go back.

HomeSchool Mommy said...

I guess everyone has a different view on church...different preferences. I grew up in the Church of Christ and I now worship with Life Church. is DEFINITELY a multi-media church, as were your words.

When people talk badly about a church because of its practices or how they deliver a certain message or whatever, I tend to wonder who's speaking to them...the Holy Spirit or Satan.

Does it matter HOW its delivered if its drawing people to Him? How big is your God? Mine is BIG! My God can do anything and He IS working in churches...big and and no money.

As far as the video for the people being big is the church? I would guess that their intent was to introduce these new believers to the church because not everyone would have a chance to know them.

And, for the volunteer opportunity...the praise and worship band works really hard. If its anything like a lot of big churches these days (including ours), there are multiple services offered. I can't imagine why anyone would scoff at the opportunity to help out our brothers and sisters. Its just a nice thing to do.

For me, it all boils down to this: Is the thought that I'm thinking right now a good one or a bad one? Is it something that will bless others or is it belittling their efforts? Is the thing that I'm upset about something that is adding to a Godly experience for someone or is it something that will turn them away from God? I think the answers to those questions will tell you whether or not your thoughts are from God or Satan. Satan is always trying to give us thoughts that what God is doing is not good...for whatever's too new/'s too's too's too's too whatever. I say God can, will, and does use many methods to bring His people back to Him.

Let's quit worrying about the little things and just celebrate that these people are finding God...and if it weren't for this place (wherever it is that you happen to see them coming to Christ), they may never have found Him.

This is 2007. Not everyone wants to worship in a contemporary church and that's fine. It's a great thing that there are still traditional churches around. BUT, this generation LIVES on the media. Our kids play video games, computer games, watch MTV, carry around IPODS, etc. As a church, would we not be stupid NOT to use those tools to bring in this new generation? If it's not relevant, you will not reach people...if we're not reaching people, what are we doing? Jesus said, "GO! Into the world" He did NOT say, "Build a building and hope they will come to you."

Michael - Lover of Amy said...

I would like to respond here to Home School Mommy's comments.

I will start by saying I fully respect her opinion, and I invite her and everyone else to participate in this discussion knowing that some people hold their worship very close to their hearts and some may not like what others love.

When I started this post, I forgot about the argument HSM made, but in retrospect I would have known it was coming. Here is my counter argument. (again, not a personal attack, but responding to the argument in favor of multi-media contemporary worship services).

HSM stated that, "Our kids play video games, computer games, watch MTV, carry around IPODS, etc. As a church, would we not be stupid NOT to use those tools to bring in this new generation?"

I ask, what percentage of material produced for the gaming consoles, computers, programming airing on MTV, and being recorded by the music industry (as a whiole) is Godly? A lot of people will argue that the forms of media listed above are tools of Satan themselves. If that is the case, how is it right to incorporate them in worship and use them to attract (lure) people to our worship.

I also personally wonder at what point it transitions from worship to entertainment. Is a worship song less effective if it is sung acoustically than if it is blared through an amplifier with multi-colored lights swirling around the sanctuary? Are people being attracted to this style of worship for a worship experience or for a rock concert? Where does the line get drawn? Or is there a line to be drawn?

In yesterday's experience, the room fully celebrated the fact they had 45 baptisms! would it have been less exciting of there were 5 or more exciting if there were 450? A soul saved is a soul saved, but the gragging of numbers also gets in the way of the glorification of God.

I need to get back to work, but I will respond to more on this thread as responses come in.

Michael - Lover of Amy

HomeSchool Mommy said...

I actually came back over to apologize if I sounded like 1) I was attacking you and/or 2) Like I felt offended by your post. When I came over, I saw that you had responded to my comment.

Anyway...the point of my second visit was to clarify that I didn't mean to be harsh. I wasn't offended at all and I wouldn't want to offend you, either. Everyone has their own preferences for worship and I think that's AWESOME.

The Church of Christ (where I grew up), does not use musical instruments. Their worship is VERY traditional! My husband grew up in a Baptist church, so it was very close to my childhood experience (I think they only had a piano). We often talk about how much we miss our youth experiences/devos because we would sing a capella youth songs...the harmony was awesome. It was great to hear everyone's voices so well without the interruption of instruments.

I can see how some would feel like the multimedia is from the devil...although, I whole-heartedly disagree. Everything good comes from God. He tells us this over and over. If something good is being heard/seen/etc. via multimedia, then it IS from God.

A lot of my extended family is still worshipping with the Church of Christ and I often hear some of them say that they're appalled that churches are changing so much these days. I say, reach the people. However you can...REACH the people.

I know a woman who worships with the Church of Christ who said that the only reason she started going to church was because her neighbor would take her to eat pizza every Sunday after church. She said for two years, that was the ONLY reason she went. Over time, her motive was no longer pizza, but instead, God. No matter how sad, the fact is...a LOT of people will never step foot into a church building...they will never hear the story of Jesus...they will never experience His salvation. WHY? Because they don't want the "church" experience. I'm glad there are traditional churches (as I said in my last comment) because many people WANT that type of community. But, I'm also glad that there are churches reaching out in a different way (like mine) because we need to do whatever it takes to bring people in...then, they can experience the love of God. If it takes a worship band, lights, free coffee and donuts, a moon bounce for the kids, etc...we'll do it...because you wouldn't believe how many HUNDREDS of people have come to know Christ BECAUSE we got them in the door by offering those things.

Anyway...I can really ramble. I just want you to know that I completely respect your preferences and I would never ask anyone to go against their comfort level. I just don't want anyone to think something is bad just because it's not their preference. God can, will, and does work in many ways...He is MUCH bigger than we will ever know.

Scott said...

Good discussion so far...

I sympathize with your desire for the simplicity that Jesus brought with him to baptism. I fear that churches these days work very hard to re-order worship so that it appeals to an Mtv generation.

However, I am not willing to go so far as to say that God is not behind some of this. If God is glorified and people are brought into the fold through contemporary worship methods, then I applaud the effort.

My fear is more along the lines of having witnessed churches who are more interested in entertaining their congregation than in worship.

A second fear that I have is that contemporary churches all too often disconnect themselves from the historical tradition of the Church. Unfortunately, "traditional" Protestant churches do the same thing too often. We just pretend that we can reconnect with the Bible without any awareness of the history of the Church that has led us to where we are today. And we suffer for that disconnect.

Anyway, so I am careful not to criticize a church for its pre-packaged video presentations before baptism. I would just want to know if God was glorified in the practice, and that the person being baptized is not unintentionally glorified instead.

I guess that is why I sympathize with you about the desire for the simple. When churches come up with new innovations, I want to be assured that they are not saying something new theologically. We still want everything in our worship to point towards Christ, and not towards ourselves.

One final disclaimer: I speak these things out of my own experience of having attended churches in Nashville, where the worship was often led by people from the music industry. I found that too often the focus was on the entertainment of the congregation, and not on Christ. Because of my background, I often project my own experience onto that of others, and I may have done that once again here. If I have projected incorrectly, then I apologize in advance.


kelly said...

Hey Michael, Good discussion that you have aroused. I agree with you entirely (surprise) but however the church can witness to unbelievers, let them go at it. If you aren't comfortable there, as I probably would not be either, try another one. I pray that you and Amy find an awesome church that you both love soon!

annb said...

What a great discussion! HomeSchoolMommy is my daughter and she is very passionate about her beliefs and I'm very proud of her! I, too, attend LifeChurch with HSM and her husband. I, too, was brought up in the Church of Christ. I loved my church experience all through my life and shared a closeness with church family that you don't get any place but a place where God is present!
I love traditional hymns sung a capella and do miss that at LifeChurch because they have a band - a very loud band, but the truth is I find that my worship is not diminished by the difference. I am there to praise God and worship Him and to have fellowship with others who are there for the same reason.
I have found, at least in my own experience, that sometimes people are too ready to judge others by appearance, lifestyle or any number of things that may be different from what "they" believe to be the right way to worship and the right way to life.
The truth is - we are not here to judge others. God is our judge and for that, I am truly thankful! He is a merciful and a just God - two traits that man does not always possess or show to others!
"Anyone who speaks against his brother or judges him speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it. There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you—who are you to judge your neighbor?" James 4:11,12

Discussions like this are a great way to learn more about each other and a way to express our own beliefs with others. Thanks Michael for giving us such a great topic!

Anonymous said...

I would be willing to bet that no matter what you experienced that day at that church you visited that you would have made some snap judgement about it - and snap judgement it was being that you visited once (on a baptism ceremony day at that!) and then ran home to blog about how you disliked the experience.

Out of interest, I read through your other blogs - you are a Christian that does not attend church (by your own admission). I think we all could get a little something out of Matthew 7:4-6 (regardless of the translation) - and stop trying to pass judgement on those around us.

If this church did not give you what you seek in corporate worship (and I am not sure you even know what that is since you do not attend curch) than you should definitely not attend there and keep seeking because there will be a place you will feel more comfortable (though I am doubting you will find a place you are 100% satisifed with).

But by no means should you belittle the church because it doesn't fit the standards you deem appropriate. In doing so, you belittle the people who make up that church and in a round-about-way are belittling Christ since His church makes up the body of Christ.

Do you read C.S. Lewis? I would imagine you do - you seem as if you would. If so, have you read the "Screwtape Letters"? I am reminded of some of the letters where Screwtape would tell Wormwood of how excited Satan gets when people at Church do exactly what you have done - attack the church for all it's perceived "faults" instead of raising it up for all its contributions.

I do hope you find a place that works for you - because my concern is that you are going to such a public place as the Internet to attack a place of worship and to even cite biblical examples of what makes it wrong, when you as a Christian are not doing what the bible tells you to do in regards to church.