What you are about to read is NOT, under any circumstances, a slam against non-denominational churches or those reaching out to the “seekers” around us! I’m a part of that church and movement, so please read to the very end to hear my heart. Thanks!
I grew up in the Christian Church. I don’t mean that in general terms; my church was 1st Christian Church from the denomination of Disciples of Christ. My man was raised in the Catholic Church. So, when we got married, we decided that we didn’t want to raise our kids going to “Mommy’s church” or “Daddy’s church”; we wanted to start fresh, somewhere that we both felt comfortable and that could be “our church”. The search for a place took a year.
We ended up in what was very new at the time: a non-denominational Bible church. Not tied to any one denomination, it was seemingly free of the trappings of denominational doctrine and legalism that so many were siting as the very reason they were leaving the churches of their youth in search of something different. The following 26 years of marriage found us involved in four non-denom churches (in 3 different states), one of which we helped plant.
Over the last few years of being part of a non-denom body, I’ve begun to notice a few things. We have become almost exclusively “seeker-driven”; in other words, we have made those seeking a different life our sole focus, aiming to show them that Christ is what they’re missing. We’ve determined to show them that church doesn’t have to be über-strict or “hell-fire and brimstone”; it doesn’t have to be too stuffy or too dressy or too boring. And, more than anything, we want to show them a merciful, loving God to contrast that “holy score-keeper in the sky” who might be ready to drive the gavel of judgment down on their heads at any moment. Certainly, these are all good things. However, over the last year or two, I’ve found myself with an unsettling in my spirit about them. Like, for all that “good,” we were missing something…something important.
A couple of weeks ago, my husband was called upon by one of his agents to make a presentation to her church during their Sunday services. It was a local African-American Baptist congregation, and we were honored to be included. Here are the main points about the service that struck me in great contrast to our usual Sunday morning worship experience:
- Greeting was not left to the official greeter. Once we were in the door, people came up to us in droves, OF THEIR OWN ACCORD (some from well across the room), to welcome us warmly and sincerely.
- Everyone in the place was dressed in their Sunday finest. It was obvious that some were not of great financial means, yet they still wore their very best in God’s house.
- Their praise and worship was Spirit-led. It was not 3-4 songs, with 2 upbeat and 1 or 2 a slower tempo to lead us into the message. While they had a plan and order of music, extra verses or chorus repeats were brought into play as the Spirit led.
- Though they were a denominational congregation, they didn’t seem bound by stereotypical Baptist “rules.” They had a marvelous praise dance team that moved me to tears with their interpretation.
- The message their pastor brought represented a complete picture of God and wasn’t written in order not to offend. While God was presented as a loving, merciful, forgiving and compassionate God, He was also presented as powerful and just…a God to be respected and revered.
- They treated Sunday as the sabbath it is. The service was twice as long as any we’ve ever attended, but no one seemed in any hurry to get home. They were settled in for a day with their Father and their “family.”
As I walked out to the car, I felt more “churched-up” than I’ve felt in a really long time. Over these last couple of weeks I’ve thought about it and realized that in our non-denom quest to be seeker-friendly, we have (along with more than a few denominational churches I know of) turned our Sunday mornings into a “formula.” While determining the exact length the services need to be to keep everyone’s attention, or what exact number of song verses will provide the desired emotional response to properly set up the message, or how casual our “dress code” can go before it’s indecent, or how watered down we need to make our messages so they don’t offend or scare people away (and on and on…), I fear we’ve begun to lose sight of bringing our best as an offering, and in reverence, to a mighty and just God. We’re so caught up in the formula of a church service, that we forget we’re going to meet Him there…we forget to relax and quit looking at our watches long enough to feel His movement and follow Him in it.
I love the non-denominational church. I believe that it’s needed in today’s society for a lot of reasons, perhaps none more important than the seeker. But, I have to wonder…if we started catering exclusively to God, as opposed to the seeker, wouldn’t He be absolutely faithful to show those seeking that they needn’t look any further? I think that if we dared to step outside the formula into the sabbath celebration of our Father, we would ALL find just what we’re looking for.
OH my, Melinda. this is soooo awesome. You have scribed the feelings of your heart so vividly here, that I wish I had been at that church service too!
I hear every word! I feel your heart and I agree with the things behind your question. Amen!! this is worth much pondering.
Being raised as a pastors kid, I lived inthe church. Much is missing in churches today MUCH!! But I was raised in a small town church setting. That did make a BIG difference.
But I yearn for the CHURCH to go back to – going to church to meeet God – to WORSHIP God -to HEAR God speak to my heart – to feel that stirring in my heart – of the Holy Spirit's CONVICTION. And to FELLOWSIP with MANKIND…not just christians…
I don't even get to go to church right now – caring for my 83 year old father – So much of my yearning may come from that one point.
My daughter and son-in-law are planting a church right now – I moved here to help them. It is a non-denoninational – with an emphasis on muti-cultural. It is hard! My son-in-law is a pastor with an emphasis on Apologetics. So TRUTH of the WORD won't be an issue. They are very discerning and big on loving people where they are – I just pray that the Holy Spirit is in front of everything they do. That the Holy Spirit goes before them and leads the way.
I'm been in churches – many – where going to church is like a game people play. I don't want to play church (like we did when we were childen 🙂 -I was always the pastor, by the way 🙂 I want to be involved with God's work in and outside of the building. I want to share my heart for Jesus with anyone who will listen. I want to find a community without walls.
In fact, we are talking about having church at a local park this summer – how cool is this. For a season, I think it's good for a church to think outside the box. But lets's not lose the meaning of church – the bride of Christ. Weddings, typical (used to be 🙂 totally dressed to the max! I think we laid dressiing for church aside, with a generation that refused "the keeping up with the Jones" thing. They saw this as coveting, maybe. I've been in churches where it was an important part of church – to see what everyone was wearing. This is a turn off! But we have went far too much the other way. Everyone has their own opinion – thus the many denoninations – but me must not forget the command to keep the Sabbath HOLY!. I guess the question would be "What does Holy mean?"
I guess….I could go on and on – its's a subject very close to my heart… thanks for sharing.
His watchman on the wall
You know I could go on and on about the church because of the last year of my life…actually the last 5 years when I began working within it.
I will simply say here that I think our attention should be full force God, full force who is within our walls, and full force reaching out to the world that we live in.
Period. Difficult? Maybe. Not really. I don't know.
Just do it with intention and excellence and God will lead the way if we are in tune to His voice in every single thing.
Love you so much. I miss you!
AMEN!!! We were just discussing this very thing the other day!!! It brought about a rather lively discussion.
Love this — and would love to worship in this church.
While I like to say I'm a rebel, I still have certain expectations of church…. like don't go too long, don't sing too much (nah, I love the singing part), and I often forget that I'm just as responsible for greeting as anyone else… in fact, it is my responsibility.
Thanks for speaking a tough word.
I often wonder — if we all TRULY believed Jesus is the most amazing, incredible thing that has ever happened to us would we really feel the need to beg people to come to church? Would we need to sell Jesus like a cheap infomercial product.
Loved your thoughts.
I remember your telling about this experience when we had lunch. It's so "right on", and something we all need to be praying about. Churches have a way of becoming institutionalized, which often translates to a country club atmosphere or rigidity.
May we never quench God's spirit, and may that always result in our being inviting & warm. After-all, shouldn't believers have the market on enthusiasm & joy?
"But, I have to wonder if we started catering exclusively to God, as opposed to the seeker, if He wouldn't be absolutely faithful to show those seeking that they needn't look any further."
your heart is lovely
annnnnnd i'm back cause i just saw this on my friend's facebook page:
"Do you see what we've got? An unshakable kingdom! And do u see how thankful we must be? Not only thankful, but brimming with worship, deeply reverent before God." Hebrews 12:28 the message
I can so relate to this post. I am a member of a traditional Baptist church with a very non-traditional and awesome pastor. Our music needs some help but the preaching is incredible. Our church does the welcoming and greeting thing incredibly well. We are a mix of the good and less-good.
Do I like everything about the Baptist church that I am part of? No, but it is where God has me at this point.
I want to be part of the solution to making our church a place where insiders and outsiders can feel at home…can feel like they have come to visit with God and hear from Him. (I've picked up on the terminology from the book that I am reading and blogging about, in case you did not notice.)
Ok, does any of that relate to what you wrote? Not sure. It is 8:30pm and you know that it is almost my bedtime. I'll re-visit you after I've had a snooze.
Night, my friend.
Melinda – this was a powerful and amazing post. Too often, we put God in our little box and try to make Him fit into our perception of what church is supposed to be.
It's time that we give the Holy Spirit the freedom to fall and to anoint us with the power given to Him by God the Father! Oh, what we could do as a church body if we just embraced that truth!
Oh Melinda – I love your heart. I love this post, and I love my church!
Once again I am reminded what a blessed church I am proud to serve and attend. We are Baptist in doctrine, and I love that because the Word of God is preached and we are truly more biblical than Baptist.
Our people are friendly, we baptize folks every service, our pastor preaches the Word without compromise, we don't have a bulletin – nope – sure don't! Our music is amazing (my husband is the worship pastor), and we have white, black, Asian, Hispanic, and bi-racial folks all faithfully worshipping together. We are so blessed and I'm so thankful.
When am I going to get to see you?
A great post and one for much thought…For the past 30 years we have always attended a non denominational church…..even when it was not popular….But something is missing and maybe you just defined it….Love you….
I've always been a member of a Southern Baptist church. I love knowing the biblical foundations on which we stand.
We are currently members of a more traditional church…which means, as one of our members puts it–we sing from the book not the wall.
For myself, I love praise music, dancing…so many other things. But, what is most necessary for me to believe is that I am the church. When I walk out the doors of the church building…the church is still with me.
Melinda, thanks so much for sharing what you have been thinking about and this wonderful church you visited. Oh that we would all be the church God wants us to be.
Some of the churches in our association have adopted the motto: Don't go to church…Be the church.