Monday, February 22, 2010

Sunday Flashback

So what does a pastor do on Sundays when he's away from home and his home church? I'll confess - visiting churches unknown to me isn't my favorite crap shoot. But I try to find a church that is at least attempting to think out of the box and not be content with the status quo, whatever that might be.

I'm all about learning from others. If someone has been where I'm trying to get to they've got something to teach me. I'm also about having a kingdom mindset - we're all part of the same family and we ought to share. At NHC we've adopted the role that God has given us as a teaching church. With so many (thousands each year due to our resort location) out of town guests worshipping with us, God has placed us in the position of at least planting seeds in their minds of different ways of "doing church".

On this trip we've passed through 3 different churches in three different cultures. All three are at different points on their journey. The first is in the early stages of transitioning from traditional and irrelevant to the current generation to contemporary and relevant. It was my second visit with them in 14 months and the changes were evident. The biggest differences were in the worship style and in the average age of the congregants in the service. With baby steps they're getting there!

The second church was already miles ahead of the first church. We attended the middle of three Sunday morning gatherings and the house was jammed full of young adult types. (That's where I want to be!) Their staff is young and their creative juices obviously flow. What particularly impressed me is that this church is also in transition. Last Spring their Lead Pastor left for another church in another state. Often when that happens there is a void in leadership and pulpit presentation resulting in sheep searching for another pasture. But not so here! Their Student Pastor has stepped up to the plate, handling the Sunday sermons and doing so with excellence. They brought on a new Worship Pastor who clearly has a passion for not only leading the church to God's throne, but doing so with exelllence. Whoever gets called to serve with this team better have his running shoes on already. This church hasn't slowed down a step.

The third church perhaps surprised me the most. Founded over 50 years ago and for most of that time in a very traditional, conservative brand of fundamentalism, they are reaching their city in a refreshing way. The founding pastor was there for his entire "career". They've had some challenges since his retirement with charismatic "senior pastors" giving them a bump then falling morally. And not just once. But they've overcome that and in doing so changed their leadership structure to one that is far more biblical than what they had in the past. A new building that features cutting edge technology and relevant teaching and outreach into the community has resulted in having a church with 3 Sunday morning gatherings with room to grow. This church reminded Gail and I very much of Nags Head Church in many ways.

I'm taking mental notes about what works well and what doesn't. I get to see church as a first time guest, and that helps me think through what our first time guests experience. It's not so much about the sermon or the music that is so vital that first time, although they matter in a big way. But simple things like how you're greeted; signage that shows you where to enter and where to take the kids; friendliness, not by those paid to be so, but by the congregants; and a good web site!

So just so you know, I'm on a mission these three months that I'm away. And hopefully God will stretch me and give me some fresh ideas to introduce when I get back in the saddle.

6 comments:

CFHusband said...

sweet!

Betsy said...

I'm pondering what you've written here. I think it's fabulous that you are finding churches that are seeking new ways to reach people with God's love and who are willing (or at least trying!) to step outside their comfort zone to do so.

However, I'm bothered by the implication that traditional = irrelevant and only contemporary can be relevant. Irrelevant to whom? Today (admittedly 5 days late!) I visited two older members of our congregation, with the specific purpose of sharing with them the Ash Wed. service and imposition of ashes. One is nearing the end of her days; the other is in the early stages of dementia. That traditional service, one they remember from their earliest childhood, was highly relevant to them, and they are just as much in need of ministering as any young adult.

I truly and honestly give thanks for the ministry of churches like NHC and those you visited, which are reaching out in new ways to new generations. But the old generations (and more than you might expect of younger generations) are still here and very much alive, with longing in their hearts, so I also rejoice in churches like my own that strive to keep the traditional relevant through prayerful, intentional, well-planned and Spirit-filled worship. I think there is room for both to be respected--varieties of gifts!--without either being ranked as better than the other.

Rick Lawrenson said...

Betsy,
You said something that I totally agree with. "Keeping the traditional relevant". Problem is most traditional churches have totally lost the younger generations because they haven't done that. And for those irrelevant churches, whether they are "traditional" or "contemporary", if they lose the next generation they become extinct.

So the traditions that are based in truth and not man-made need to continue, consdering that perhaps they can be presented in new ways while holding on to the ancient purposes.

But when I speak of "contemporary" and "relevance" it doesn't mean the meaningful and spiritually potent beliefs are discarded.

Our vision statement says we will be contemporary in our methods while remaining unchanging in our message.

Betsy said...

Thanks for the response; I appreciate hearing more of your thinking on this.

Enjoy California; the forecast is for some rain this weekend, but with any luck you'll have a gorgeous drive both ways!

Rick Lawrenson said...

More thoughts...
When I speak of relevance I'm especially concerned about those who don't know Christ.

Questions that should help churches evaluate what they're doing would be these:
1. How many non-believers have come into a relationship with Jesus as a result of the outreach of my church in the last year?
2. How many of the above have started on the journey of discipleship by following their faith with baptism (excluding children of those already in the faith) in the last year?
3. How many non-believers darken the doors of my church on a Sunday because they're seeking God and have heard our church knows Him and cares about them?

The answwers to those questions will say mountains about relevance, whether it's in a traditional or contemporary context.

Isn't that why we're here...to spread the Gospel to the lost? I love the saying (to the church): "Church isn't FOR you - you are the church. Church is FOR them."

BeachNerd said...

I think its a great idea to visit churches and see what its like to be a "newbie".
We met your son today...first person to walk up and introduce themselves to us when we hung around for coffee. :)