Thursday, January 31, 2008

Ninja Warrior vs. American Gladiator

While in Michigan last month, we were introduced to the show, Ninja Warrior. (Funny, because we were introduced to Man vs. Wild when we visited Michigan last summer.) Ninja Warrior is the bomb. It is a little like Most Extreme Elimination Challenge (MXC), but the athletic level of the challenges on Ninja Warrior is simply unbelievable - you have to see it to believe it. 100 contestants begin the obstacle courses on Ninja Warrior and by the end, only one person - if they're lucky - will be left to tackle the final challenge.

Here is the bad news. Ninja Warrior is hosted by the Gaming Channel, G4. I have Basic Cable and I do not get that channel. I was really bummed. If you have G4, you should feel lucky because that means that you can watch Ninja Warrior.

But I have found a solution. Ninja Warrior actually podcasts the video for their show. Happy, happy, joy, joy.

Which brings me to American Gladiator - what a humongous waste of time. Sure, you get to see the Hulkster, but really, compared to Ninja Warrior, American Gladiator really is a joke.

Here's the really interesting thing about Ninja Warrior. During almost every other show on television - Nascar (bring on the crashes), MXC (bring on the crashes), just about every reality show - I find myself rooting for someone to fail, fall apart, crash, or otherwise make a fool of themselves. But not during Ninja Warrior. While watching this show, I find myself rooting for someone, anyone to actually make it through the course successfully. Mainly this is because, almost everyone on this show fails and you find yourself pining to see that one person who will overcome the harsh obstacles of the courses.

In conclusion: American Gladiator - dumb. Ninja Warrior - the bomb.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

If at first you don't succeed....

I don't do much ranting, but I do enjoy the occasional rant from others. This one is from Todd at MMI:

Pastor Resigns Amid Allegations

The subtitle of this newspaper story tells it all: “The man who led Shiloh for 14 years was also accused at his last church”. Why, oh why, does this happen over and over in churches all across the country? Why, if a man, who also calls himself a pastor, is accused of sexual misconduct and the evidence is strong, is he allowed to lead another church in another part of the country? Who would hire him, and why? In my past work with, I know that there are literally hundreds of pastors applying for some of the same jobs at any given time. Why would (if you were looking for a pastor) you give a pastor accused of sexual sin a shot at being your pastor? I’m convinced that many churches are unaware of the pastoral candidate’s past (either because of clever hiding of the candidate, the turning of the backs of denominational leaders, or the laziness of not running a background check). But some hire these guys willingly, and then are surprised when the behavior returns. I don’t get it. End of rant.

Friday, January 25, 2008

What is church?

Having covered the fundamental question, What do you believe about the Bible, we decided to follow up that discussion with another equally important question, What is church? What does it look like? What is its purpose?

We began by having everyone share some of their life experiences concerning church. It was quite interesting to hear about the wide variety of church experiences that we've had collectively, and to see how that has brought us to where we are today. We then went through a list of distinctives that are found in scripture concerning the nature and function of the church. While we went through that list, we discussed whether we had seen these distinctives carried out, rightly or in error, or not at all.

Here are some of those distinctives that we discussed:
  • The early church included small house churches as well as large assemblies.

  • Jesus is the founder and head of the church.

  • Worship together in Spirit (anywhere) and in Truth (genuine).

  • Teaching of the Word, with primacy given to the Gospel.

  • Praying together (especially over the sick.)

  • Singing together. (Not just in a "church service", but anywhere.)

  • Giving of resources voluntarily, cheerfully, proportionally, and liberally even in poverty.

  • Care for widows and orphans (those without family), and the poor.

  • Has appointed elders who are qualified.

  • Helps those in the church who had financial troubles.

  • Disciplines those in the church who are openly sinning (with witnesses).

  • Carries out ordinances of baptism and communion.

  • Use of spiritual gifts:exhortation, giving, teaching, mercy, faith, evangelism, kindness, service, prophecy, healing, tongues, interpretation, discernment, pastor/shepherding, administration/leadership, wisdom.
We discussed how some of these elements seem to be purposefully left out by the emerging church movement (to their error), and we discussed how some of these elements have fallen by the wayside by the traditional churches. Surprisingly, our group is pretty orthodox in that we all believed that each of these distinctives were equally important in the nature and function of the church.
We spent a lot of time talking about money and caring for those in need. We agreed that "giving to a building fund" is uninspiring, even if necessary to carry out ministry. We also agreed that if churches were to give more emphasis to the humanitarian uses of monies, people might not have such a sour taste in their mouth when it comes to giving resources.

Our next gathering will take place on Friday, Feb. 1 at 7:30 pm. The question/topic will be: Masturbation and Porn. (Yea, chew on that.)

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Independence Church

Church Field Trip #26

I caught wind of this new church plant through the grapevine. Once each month during October, November, and December, Independence Church (Weston, FL) held a preview service. Each of these services was intended not only to build momentum with the community but also to give the church itself a chance to "practice" having a worship service. I should note that this is a popular way to go about planting a new church, as opposed to the more organic approach taken by churches such as Epic Remix. We attended the "launch" service for Independence - they've made a big marketing push this month advertising in the Herald, Sun-Sentinel, on Y100, and sending out mailers to just about every resident in the area.

The bi-vocational pastor, Nathan Griffis, moved to Weston from Orlando with the express purpose of starting Independence Church. Personally, I believe that it is absolutely necessary for a pastor to actually move into the community they are trying to reach with the message of Jesus. A pastor who is unwilling to become a member of the community that they claim to be ministering to isn't really trying to reach the community at all. I speak from personal experience, because that is exactly what my wife and I did almost 3 years ago. We picked up and moved directly into the heart of the community in which we were ministering. And we are still here - inviting the neighbors over for dinners/parties and building relationships and trust. Nathan recently invited his entire neighborhood to a party and was then scolded by his homeowners' association for "spamming" the neighborhood. Gotta love South Florida.

I usually do not have much to say about a church's website, but in this case I will divulge a bit about it. Mostly, I report on the experience of attending a church's worship service, but I do believe that the website experience for a church is supremely important as it serves as the first impression that one gets from a church. With that in mind, I could not find a map or driving directions on the website for Independence Church. With no map or driving directions, it was a little tricky finding the service, but we did manage it. Despite not including a way to actually find their service, the website did dedicate a couple of pages of interest: The Three-Month Money-back Guarantee Tithing Challenge and a page of Frequently Asked Questions concerning Tithing. Curious.

As we arrived at Sagemont School, we received two standard greetings. There were probably about 50 people in attendance for this "launch" service. Nathan explained that they still have not found a worship leader for their church. The band that lead worship, Asa, is out of Homestead and on loan for the next couple weeks only. If you are out there and you'd like to be a worship leader, you might want to contact Nathan about it.

After worship, there was a 10 minute intermission which gave everyone a chance to mingle, meet new people, and grab some coffee or pastries. In the coming weeks, Nathan is going to teach through the book of Ephesians, one chapter each week. Obviously, this week dealt with Ephesians 1. Here are a few notable excerpts from the sermon:

"God doesn't need us, He chooses us."

"At some point, we all test the water and ask God, 'Are you real?'"

"What God wills, He makes happen, in spite of us."

"We have a rule around here at Independence: Ask someone how they're doing and actually care about their response."

Nathan weaved the message of the Gospel in throughout the sermon. I suppose I could note that this was the shortest sermon I've ever heard. I'd swear it only lasted 20 minutes (I could be wrong.) Maybe it just seemed that way because the sermon at Mosaic clocked in at almost an hour and a half.

In the past 8 months, I've become more aware of the incorporation of prayer into a worship service without any real preference on my own part. I did notice, though, that we didn't pray corporately until the end of the service when we "prayed over the offering." Up until that point, I was starting to wonder if we were going to pray corporately at all.

After the service, Nathan caught us as we were heading out the door and we were able to speak to him for about 5 minutes about the hardships of planting a church, and about his search for a worship leader.

Follow-up: We received a hand-written note from Nathan that also included a $10 gift card to Border's.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

My Favorite Preachers

I spend all day listening to mp3s. I listen to music, talk shows, audio books, conference speakers, and preachers. At first, I tried to limit the number of sermons I'd listen to in a given day, because I was under the delusion that fewer sermons equaled more time for meditation on those sermons. I've since given up on that concept, and I listen to whatever I darn well please on any given day.

(in no particular order)

Mark Driscoll - Mars Hill Church, Seattle, WA

Tony Evans - Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship, Dallas, TX

Rick McKinley - Imago Dei, Portland, OR

Erwin McManus - Mosaic, Chino, CA

Matt Chandler - The Village Church, Dallas, TX

Craig Groschel -, Oklahoma City, OK

Dave Hughes - Church by the Glades, Coral Springs, FL

Greg Laurie - Harvest Christian Fellowship, Riverside, CA

James Macdonald - Harvest Bible Chapel, Wheaton, IL

John Macarthur - Grace Community Church, Sun Valley, CA

Darrin Patrick - The Journey, St. Louis, MS

Michael Lukaszewski - Oak Leaf Church, Cartersville, GA

Gary Lamb - Revolution Church, Canton, GA

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Alcohol 101 - Part 4 - Beer

"Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy." - Ben Franklin

There are two kinds of beer. Yellow, flavorless, watered-down American lager, and everything else. Sure, there are times when yellow, beer-flavored water comes in handy: fishing, working on the car, golfing, mowing the lawn. But that is no excuse to go making a habit of drinking that crap.

If you find that you are one of the many consumers of yellow beer, let me give you a suggestion. Stop drinking it. Let your taste buds grow back. And drink some beer with flavor.
Ok. I'll admit it. I am an amateur beer connoisseur. I haven't yet taken that all important step of brewing my own beer, but I will admit that I've been tempted of late. The beer selection in south Florida sucks compared to what we were presented up in Michigan. But I make do with what I have.
I try to keep a variety of beers on hand, including something from each genre that I enjoy. I call this my Noah's Ark of Beer - two of every kind.
I've been know to enjoy:

Black Apples - a mixture of Guinness and hard cider - preferably Woodchuck

Sam Adams - especially the Cranberry Lambic

Leinenkugels - Sunset Wheat and Berryweiss are my two favorite beers

Rogue - their mocha porter is awesome, though expensive

Youngs - the chocolate stout is killer

Any stout, cream stout, bock, porter, or otherwise dark beer

Just about any wheat beer, ale, amber, or lambic.

And yes, I even enjoy the so-called Malternatives:

Bacardi Mojito

Smirnoff Green Apple

Mike's Hard Cranberry Lemonade

Lest you confuse my appreciation of beer with my actual consumption, I'd say that I probably consume about 4 or 5 beers a week. That is by no means excessive. Typically, I like to have a nice heavy beer shortly before bedtime.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Alcohol 101 - Part 3

Liquor, aka Hard Liquor

First of all, there is a world of difference between Apple Pucker (20% alcohol) and Everclear (90% alcohol). There is a science to this, you know. They do actually measure out how much alcohol is contained in each of these liquors and then they neatly display those values on the bottle.

That said, liquor demands much more caution than its weaker cousins, beer and wine. Conveniently, mixed drinks have recipes which aid one in figuring out how "strong" that drink might be. Of course, every bartender makes every drink to their own particular taste, but that just adds another level of caution which must be taken before entering the realm of mixed drink consumption.

As a general rule, doing shots should pretty much be off limits, unless you enjoy vomiting. There are a couple exceptions to this rule, but they are few. You can probably do a single shot of apple pucker without any feelings of guilt or remorse. Usually, bartenders use the following equation to compare beer, wine, and liquor and their respective alcohol contents:

12 oz of beer = 5 oz of wine = 1.5 oz of liquor

Personally, I keep a small wet bar stashed in the pantry, but I rarely use it. Occasionally, we'll feel the urge to make mojitos, pina coladas, gin&tonics, or rum&cokes. Also, we've been known to nip from the bottle of Butterscotch Schnapps while sitting around a bonfire.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Alcohol 101 - Part 2 - Wine

Ah wine, the Biblical choice for the casual drinker. Too bad I don't actually like wine. I've tried it again and again, but I just can't seem to develop a palate for it. The only wine I've ever had that I almost enjoyed was a fruit wine - Thomasello.

Wine may be the "Biblical choice", but it usually has a higher alcohol content than beer and therein lies the caution. A typical serving of wine is usually almost half that of beer - a 12-16 oz. glass of beer to a 6 or 8 oz. glass of wine. This is because of that higher alcohol content. Contrary to popular conception, public establishments are not supposed to be in the business of getting people drunk. If they do, they can actually be held liable for their contribution.

Also, one should consider the popular notion that once a bottle of wine has been opened, it should also be finished, lest it spoil. My wife, who usually drinks white zinfandel, does not prescribe to this notion. She'll easily let a bottle sit, once opened, for months. Still, this notion can often be used as an excuse to "finish the bottle".

The celebration of Passover is always an interesting step out of my comfort zone, as it calls for the consumption of four glasses of wine. That's right, Baptists, let me repeat that. We celebrate the Messianic Passover each spring with four glasses of wine. I haven't seen anyone get drunk, so calm down. Now, of course, I pour small glasses for myself because I don't like wine.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Alcohol 101 - Part 1

As someone who has seen the ups and downs and in and outs of drinking alcohol, I am going to impart as much of the knowledge that I have gained upon you in four short posts. First, a little background on my pedigree and qualifications.

Growing up, I rarely saw my parents drink. I might've seen my father have a whiskey sour once or twice, as well as the occasional red wine because it was supposedly good for the heart. My mother would keep a pint of Seagram's whiskey hidden in the kitchen that would make an appearance once or twice a year for a 7 & 7.

I dabbled a bit in drinking when I was 19 or 20, frequenting a bar that was known to serve minors - I think the draw was 2 dollar margaritas if I'm not mistaken. I didn't really drink a whole lot though, until I turned 21 years old. On my 21st birthday, I went from 0 to 60 and began partying on an ever-increasing basis. I was the oldest of my friends, so it was up to me to supply them all with libations.

Between the ages of 21 and 24, I basically turned into Van Wilder and corrupted as many people as I could get my hands on. We threw house parties on a regular basis - BIG house parties. We taught people how to do shots, shotgun beers, make flaming Dr. Peppers and car bombs, keg stands, beer bongs (funnels) and pretty much anything else that might get you tanked quickly. At the same time, my wife was a bartender for 8 years with an extensive knowledge of mixed drink recipes - hence, we didn't need any mixology posters on the wall. Of course, there are the obvious downsides to this lifestyle. Blackouts became a regular occurrence as well as a fair share of vomiting. Not to mention the plethora of poor moral choices that go along with being drunk.

When I was 24, I found Jesus, or rather I submitted and gave control of my life over to Jesus. I stopped partying cold turkey, went to AA everyday for a month (though I hated it because they were depressing and defeatist and prayed to a faceless "higher power"), and stayed completely "dry" for about six months. One day, while sitting at the bar where my fiance' worked, a fellow offered to buy me a beer and one of the bartenders declined the offer on my behalf, remarking, "Lew can't drink." I was bothered by the fact that she said that I was unable to drink rather than "He chooses not to drink." As a Christ-follower, I was perfectly able to have a drink and remain sober, and I didn't like being made to look like a weakling. Jesus had given me strength, power, self-control and if I couldn't exemplify that, then what was the difference between my relationship with Him and an alcoholic's commitment to the "12 steps." Well, in my mind, there was a big difference.

So after being "dry" for six months, I began to slowly integrate alcohol back into my diet. Fortunately, I discovered that I had new-found taste buds and a new appreciation for beer that actually had taste, flavor, and weight. In my next post, I will continue to tell you a little of what I've learned about alcohol - differentiating between beer, wine and hard liquor.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

What do you believe about the Bible, and why?

In our discussion group on Jan. 4th , we tackled the question, “What do you believe about the Bible, and why?”

I asked the group to give, not the textbook answer, but their own personal answers, including any struggles they might have with scripture, citing any source they'd like.

During the course of our discussion, we discovered that this is a supremely important question which affects many other questions we might have concerning spirituality and scripture.

Interestingly enough, none of us really struggled with the transmission or translation of the scriptures from ancient times to modern times. Rather, our struggle was with the actual inspiration of the original texts themselves – more specifically, Paul’s epistles. There was some confusion between the inspiration of the writings themselves and our present-day interpretation of those writings, some of which was left unresolved for a later date.

Some of us concluded that we were big fans of Jesus and His anti-establishment shirking of the legalism of the Pharisees, while at the same time, not being too keen on the way Paul seems to institute still more “rules” on Christian living. There was also some unresolved confusion about the historical context of some scriptures and how that affects our interpretation and implication of those scriptures.

Though somewhat unresolved, we decided to let the question rest for now.

Here was an interesting link I found relating to our discussion about Biblical interpretation:

Our next group meeting will be on Saturday, Jan. 19 at 7 pm. Our question/topic is: What is the church? What does it look like? What is its purpose?

Q&A: Oral Sex Virgins, Masturbation, and Pregnant Rape Victims

After giving his sermon on Birth Control, Mark Driscoll opened the floor to Questions from the audience. And they hit him with some difficult, graphic questions. Here is the video of that Q&A session (Rated R):

Or if you want to download the audio or watch it in full-screen hi-def, go here.

Birth Control

This week, Mark Driscoll began his nine-week series where he answers the top nine questions that were asked at last year. I'm not going to make a habit of posting his answers, but this sermon was one the most practical, applicable, "real" sermons I've ever heard. I'm so tired of hearing preachers teach on subjects in such a way that they have no real application to my life - especially sex. Warning: this sermon is rated R and if you are easily offended, you will be offended.

If you'd rather download the sermon audio, go here. Sidenote: If you go to Mars Hill's site, you can watch their videos in full screen high definition - quite nice.

Here's the accompanying written notes and resources.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Mosaic Miami

Church Field Trip # 25

Erwin Mcmanus is the pastor of Mosaic in Los Angeles, one of the original, more prominent "emerging" churches (circa early 90's). So it goes without saying that we had high expectations for our experience at Mosaic Miami. I remember first reading about Mosaic years ago in Newsweek magazine, in an article about new kinds of churches trying to reach younger generations in new ways. I do believe that that article was also the first time I was introduced to

This was our first visit to an inner-city church. Mosaic is located in the heart of downtown Miami. They meet in a secondary building that belongs to Christ Fellowship's new downtown campus. Mosaic has been meeting in that building for four years, but Christ Fellowship, a growing Southern Baptist church with five Miami campuses, is presently threatening to muscle them out. Much like our visit to Metro South last month, Mosaic has completely transformed the space that they use for worship. This was a small room filled with about 50 people, couches, comfy chairs, tons of candles, paintings, art, bistro tables, and Bibles laying around everywhere. The communion elements were also made available on a back table near the lone offering box. The attenders were very diverse in both age and ethnicity, further dispelling the myth that emerging churches are for young, white trendy college students.

Upon entry, we were immediately engaged in conversation with the bi-vocational pastor, Kevin Sutherland and his wife, Shari. (When I called last week to simply ask for directions, Shari engaged me in a half hour conversation about their vision.) The setting was about as informal and comfortable as a worship setting could possibly be. As a matter of fact, everyone sat in their couches through the first half of the worship set. They pointed out, at the close of the worship set, that their drummer had just started playing the drums this past week. What a great illustration of God equipping his church to have a worship service. BTW, the drummer did a great job.

During worship, three different women read from scripture. After the worship was finished, they broke for a ten minute intermission so that everyone could mingle and conversate. (What a great idea. This beats the typical 10 second "turn around and shake hands"). They also announced that one of their members has a brain tumor, is unable to work, is a single mother, and needs help paying her bills. They asked everyone to prayerfully consider how they might help this woman. I like this, because it puts a face on where a person's money is going.

Kevin is one of the best preachers that we have seen in these 7 months. He is informal, practical, and fun. I also thought it was unique that he taught with his laptop at his side, rather than written notes. When writing these reports, if I think that a preacher is boring or long-winded, I keep it to myself. Normally, I like to dwell on the content of their sermons more than the delivery. In Kevin's case, though, I thought it would be worth mentioning that his preaching style is very enjoyable - or maybe it was just because we were hanging out on some comfy couches.

He began the teaching by reading an excerpt from Irresistible Revolution, by Shane Claiborne. He then proceeded to preach for almost and hour and a half, referencing more than a dozen verses, including: Jer. 29:4-13, 1 Cor. 9:16-17, Gal. 5:7-8, Heb. 12:1, Ex. 34:5-7, Lev. 26:39-43, 2 Cor. 1:20-21, 2 Peter 1:3-4, John 4:2-5.

Here are some notable excerpts:

"90% of people who claim to be born-again Christians have not read the entire Bible. They've read bits and pieces, and even memorized smaller pieces, but how can they have a holistic view of the Bible without reading the whole thing?"

"Community is everything. If you don't have community, you don't have anything. Jesus didn't come to start individual faiths, He came to start faith communities."

"In community, we have an opportunity to show the love of Christ in a dramatic way."

"Everyone ends up somewhere, but few of us end up there on purpose."

"I don't expect you all to agree with everything that I have to say. That's ok. Questions are ok."

"God is calling the world back to Himself."

"God tells us to 'go forth', not 'huddle up'."

"You and I are called to join ourselves to community. Period."

"Your gifts, talents, and abilities are not given to you to be used for yourself, but for community."
After the service, we talked with Kevin and Shari for another 15 minutes. They told us that Calvary Chapel Fort Lauderdale (their former church home) helped them in the planning process for the church plant, but McManus asked them to become a part of the Mosaic family. "We just felt like we didn't fit in with the typical church crowd, so we started this church." They invited us to come over to their house for lunch, but we had to regrettably decline. It was a great gesture though. Also, most of the congregants gathered outside after the service to hang out and eat lunch together. I always appreciate when a church manages to break bread together during a worship service.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Good Shepard Methodist Church, Charlotte NC

Church Field Trip # 24

I love it when people who are not regular church attenders volunteer to attend a worship service with us. Their viewpoint on the service is invaluable to me. So imagine my elated surprise when my good friend told me that he visited a church while on vacation and had written a report on the experience.

Victor Mayoli (author of My Living Mind) is our first guest reporter. While visting his grandmother and mother in North Carolina, Victor decided to do a Church Field Trip Report of his own, unsolicited. Here's a little background on Victor's spiritual upbringing. He grew up attending a Catholic school and usually attended church with his family on holidays. He says that he probably has not been to church at all in the past couple years.

Here is Victor's report:

Before I start I have to warn you that I am not a consistent church goer and I do not have a deep understanding of the mechanics of the christian church. I'm just a guy trying to learn more about religion and I think that by visiting at least one church every once in a while I will be able to slowly grow my understanding of what kind of worship services I enjoy and maybe someday become a fixture at a local church.

We visited Good Shepherd Methodist Church in Charlotte,NC for their Sunday 11:30 service. There were about 400 people in attendance . I'm no expert, but that seems like a pretty good turnout. We arrived about 15 minutes early and received the general hello from several people but the only official welcome was from Talbot Davis, the pastor, as we waited inside the sanctuary, reading their materials and absorbing the atmosphere. He was very pleasant and energetic without being pushy. He even attempted to say a word or two in Spanish for my grandmother which impressed me, especially being in Charlotte. I also noted that he made it his job to greet everyone before the service started.

There was a full band with a drummer, guitarist and lead singer on a grand piano at the center of the stage. We started with 4 songs. The music seemed pretty normal; nothing too exciting but the vibe was light and upbeat. As a side note l noticed that there were translators for the deaf (I don't know if this is standard in churches but it was a nice touch). Once we were finished with the singing (the 4 songs were a little too similar to each other and didn't show enough variety for my own personal tastes) Pastor Davis came up and presented the theme of the month: Remedy. His presentation reminded me of Steve Jobs and his mannerisms.

His main point was Labels and how people put them on us and we put them on ourselves. He stated that we need to break away from the labels of society and rise above them. He mentioned that he likes to go out and not tell people that he is a pastor (avoiding the labels) so he can be with average people and talk to them in a normal way without them freaking out and thinking they have to act a certain way or become extremely religious all of a sudden. The focus of the sermon was "don't live the negative label, but let the Lord give you a label of love and peace." The main scripture he referenced during the sermon was: Luke 1:46-55 - The Magnificat: Mary's Song of Praise. "No matter the labels that people put on Mary when she was pregnant with Jesus. She knew in her heart that she was blessed with the best gift of all." He finished the service with a communion-like handing out of labels: relabeling all of us as BELOVED by God.

As we walked out, the atmosphere was calm and comfortable with a very friendly feeling of people that were really happy that we were there. And the thing I was most skeptical about - "the offering", surprisingly never came up. Only as we were leaving did I notice some people collecting away from the door allowing you to go to them in a non-confrontational manner (this was significant to me). I have been to quite a few churches in my search for something that sparked my religious interest. In those experiences I would have to say that the majority of the churches have pressed for money before, during, and after the worship.

Well, I had a great time at this church and look forward to going to more worship services, learning a little bit more along the way.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Metro South Church - Trenton, Michigan

Church Field Trip # 23

For the benefit of my brother and a few of my friends who live in Southeastern Michigan, I've been digging on the web for a modern, relevant church in their area for the past few years. Metro South Church (MSC) was the one and only church that I could find online that seemed as if it might meet my criteria for "relevancy." Michigan is by no means a part of the Southern Bible Belt, but the religious culture is, for the most part, too traditional for my own personal tastes. This, all the more, makes Metro South stand out on my radar. For the record, I grew up in a church in Southgate, MI called Bethel Baptist, and during my latter teen years, I attended the First Baptist Church of Temperance, MI. (My little brother actually attended Metro South a couple years ago at my suggestion and he complained that it was too loud. I refrained from punching him in the face for such a blasphemous statement.)

I had a great time at this church despite the fact that it was freezing cold outside and I was sick to my stomach from eating White Castle Sliders at 1 am the night before. Metro South started only 7 years ago in the home of Pastor J - a moniker of his own choosing - (Jeremy Schossau) with 25 people. They've now grown to over 800 people each weekend in two services. In March of 2007, they moved into an old FoodTown at the corner of Van Horn and Fort St. and overhauled the space in 90 days, at a cost of $300,000 with the help of only volunteers from the church.

Aesthetically, this was the most comfortable, modern, and coolest use of church space that I've ever experienced. This church proves that it is not about how much money you have, but how you choose to creatively use that money. According to Pastor J, their financial giving averages $9 per person, compared to the national average of $25 per person - though, admittedly, these figures are probably only significant to the pastoral readers of this site. Want some more numbers? How about the fact that their fourth annual Trunk or Treat this past Halloween drew more than 4000 people in attendance. Or the fact that this church of 800 has more than 300 teenagers in its youth ministry.

Two weeks ago, MSC opened their new full-time cafe, Baxters. It is inspired by Panera Bread and Starbucks, and the church opened the cafe as an effort to build community. Let me be clear in explaining that this is not some coffee bar that the churched propped up in the corner. It is a full-functioning cafe that could indeed compete with the likes of Panera Bread. Part of the church's entry lobby is their store, Journey. I've never seen a church sell merchandise like this. They had at least 5 racks of clothing - hoodies, beanies, t-shirts, kids' clothes, even infant clothes - that were all emblazoned with graphics reminiscent of brands such as Affliction, Hollister, and NOTW. More importantly, almost none of the merchandise carried the actual name of the church, though a small number of them had the church website located near the bottom in small print. I like the fact that they are giving preference to creating merchandise that you might actually want to wear rather than a blatant form of advertising.

We weren't there long before we ran into Pastor Jeremy and he proceeded to give us a 15 minute tour of the place. This personal tour hosted by the pastor was great, but I did think it was a bit out of place. We soon found out that Pastor J had preached for the previous 51 weeks, and he had decided to hand the teaching duties over to someone else that day. He also informed us that the band would be stripped down and acoustic for the morning. As I said about the G12 church we attended a few weeks ago, when the second string preaching and worship are out of this world, it just makes you want to come back for the full experience - and this was the case with MSC.

The worship was great. Though stripped down and acoustic, it was still very loud and engaging, a good thing in my book, despite what my brother may think about it. I think they played almost 6 songs, including about 10 minutes of announcements by Jeremy (on his day off).

The guest teacher was Terry Flint - he's the assistant principal at Grosse Ile High School. (Interesting factoid: One of my mentors, Mr. Gregory Loselle, is a teacher at that very same school.) He concluded their current series: Metro at the Movies. He taught on The Miserable Life, using 4 separate 4 minute video clips from the movie Les Miserables. It was a great approach to teaching. As a matter of fact, we've only seen a preacher "chop up" his sermon with video in this fashion one other time - at with Craig Groeschel. Pastor Jeremy confirmed this, stating afterwards that he often uses this "" approach to teaching by breaking up his sermon with video clips of himself teaching certain points in different locales.

The four clips that Terry showed us from Les Miserables:

  1. Jean Valjean is shown hospitality by the priest and then proceeds to jack him up and rob him blind.

  2. The priest, in turn, ransoms Jean Valjean's soul for God by forgiving him of his sin and giving him a chance to "become a new man".

  3. Jean Valjean shows grace to a street prostitute, showing that he obviously learned his lesson from the priest. He tells the street prostitute that, in God's eyes, she is a beautiful woman.

  4. The nemesis of Jean Valjean, Javert, finally learns his own lesson: try as he might to uphold the law, he can never be perfect. The only thing that can overcome this dismal state is grace.

Flint clearly delivered the Gospel in a compelling manner, referencing such verses as:

Here are a couple notable excerpts from the sermon:

"The grace of God never makes any sense. It defies logic."

"Every saint has a past and every sinner has a future."

"Even in our redemption, our past seldom dies easily."

"You have to commit fully in order to get the benefit from having a relationship with God. You have to surrender your life completely to Him."

"Is life change really possible? Is it really possible to be like Jesus? What does it really take to change?"

After the service, we peeked around and found the indoor skate park that Jeremy had mentioned during his tour. Another church first, to be sure. They had a half pipe, a handful of rails, and also a handful of ramps as well as a bunch of helmets and extra skateboards laying around. I know that it sounds too good to be true; too suspicious - that we should write it off as an exception because this church was in another state and in another culture. But I am serious when I say that this church was awesome.

As a matter of fact, there may have only been one noticeable drawback, and even that would be debatable. We brought along a friend of ours who is not a regular church attender. She really enjoyed herself, but she did admit that she felt a little uncomfortable when the offering bucket passed by. I, myself, though not uncomfortable, was surprised to see that this "postmodern" church had not opted for "stationary offering boxes" that are less intrusive upon visitors. This isn't a criticism, just an observation.
Follow-up: We received a personally written email from Jeremy.

Template Designed by Douglas Bowman - Updated to Beta by: Blogger Team
Modified for 3-Column Layout by Hoctro