Visiting Churches

A Normal Service: Church #66, Part 2

Several months later we have a chance for a return visit to this same church. Again, we’ll attend church with our friends and spend the afternoon together sharing our lives and faith. I expect the service will be led by the Holy Spirit.

I look forward to both, though the time with friends outshines the chance to revisit this church. Still, the opportunity to experience a normal service with their regular pastor and new worship leader stands as a nice bonus. 

Not only do we have a chance to experience one of their services with a different speaker and song leader, but they also moved since our first visit.

Instead of meeting in a public-school facility, they now rent office space in a reclaimed school building in another town, about nine miles from their prior location.

In most respects it will be like visiting a different church. Therefore, I view it as such.

A Holiday Weekend

Then I realize that it’s a holiday weekend, the Sunday before Memorial Day. Many churches scale back their service and simplify their approach on holiday Sundays, especially during the summer.

I wonder if we’ll experience one of their typical services. Oh well. The main point of the day is a time of community with our dear friends.

Candy and I have our typical discussion about when we should leave, how long the drive will take, and when we expect to arrive. With bad weather behind us, at least we won’t have road conditions to contend with. 

To make our deliberations more complicated, she asks to stop at the coffee shop along the way to pick up a brew.

This should add ten minutes to our trip, so we make the needed time adjustment, but when I pull into the coffee shop’s parking lot I groan. There are a dozen or so cars lined up at the drive-through window. 

Candy tells me not to worry. She’ll go inside. That will be much faster. I want to believe her, but I don’t think it will be fast enough. As it turns out, it’s not.

By the time we’re back on the road our GPS tells us we’ll arrive four minutes early and not the extra ten to fifteen minutes we’d planned on.

Preparing for the Service

With the hour drive, we have a lot of time to talk, and we cover a variety of topics. This might be more time than we spent talking all week. That’s something to ponder.

Candy prays for the time with our friends, but I’m not sure if her prayer included church. I don’t bother to ask or to tack on my own prayer for the service.

The main reason for our trip is to see our friends. Going to church is a secondary goal—at least for me.

The last few minutes of our drive grow a bit harried when I realize my GPS isn’t taking us to the correct location.

I don’t have the exact address of the church and we’ve forgotten its name, but Candy conducts a creative internet search to find the needed information.

Ignoring the misdirection of our GPS, we drive straight to the correct place and get there four minutes early, just as our adjusted ETA predicted.

Again, an exterior sign tells us we’re in the right place and indicates which entrance to use. However, once inside there are no more signs. We walk down a long corridor and eventually find an open door with the church’s name on it.

We exchange nervous glances and stifle our apprehension. Candy scowls at me as I graciously gesture for her to enter first. Inside is a small space, converted from a former classroom, which serves as both lobby and office. 

First Impressions

A handful of people scurry about, each one exchanging a friendly greeting with us but nothing more. One man, however, gives me a quizzical look. We both remember each other from our prior visit, though neither can recall names.

We have a brief conversation to reconnect, but, knowing that the service is about to start, Candy and I move on into a connected classroom, which serves as their worship space.

The room is square, about 30’ by 30’, a small fraction of the space they used to occupy.

It still has fifty chairs—five rows of ten with a center aisle—but they’re packed in, closer together and with little margin on the sides. Along the back wall sits the A/V equipment.

On the opposite side, and on our level, is the cramped space for the worship team and minister. In the corner stand the same three banners: Grace, Kingdom, and Power.

We slide into the back row, expecting to meet our friends in that general area, even though there’s little room for them to wave their worship flags.

The service starts a few minutes late with a dozen or so people present. We’re well into the first song when our friends arrive. We exchange hugs, and they sit in the row in front of us.

Others trickle in and eventually our numbers swell to about thirty.

I could count, but I’m tired of counting the number of church attendees and merely make an educated estimate. The crowd is mostly female, skewing older, as are all the couples. I see no men by themselves.

The Worship Set

The worship leader is the same one we had last time, which I later learn was his first time leading worship at this church. Again, he plays guitar as he leads. An idle keyboard sits next to him, and he serves as our only musician and singer.

He has an easy, smooth style, without being slickly polished. It’s hard to tell how much he rehearsed and how much happens as he feels led by the Holy Spirit.

The singing goes on longer than I would like, and I know Candy must be fidgeting on the inside. I’m not sure how many songs we sing because they’re interwoven with each other, and we keep looping back to repeat choruses.

She later tells me there were only four songs, which filled up most of an hour. Through it all, I try to worship God, but we don’t really connect. I guess I should’ve made a better effort at praying for this service beforehand.

My friend turns around and whispers that they have open communion, and we can go up anytime we want—if we wish to—during the singing. I nod, even though I’ve already decided not to. I share this information with Candy, and she agrees.

I may have missed it, but I only see four or five people go forward for communion. Curious.

About half an hour into the music set, several people ease their way forward and surround a young man sitting alone in the front row, who I guess is the pastor.

They place their hands on him and their lips move in quiet prayer. Then they sit down. I assume the message is about to begin, but it doesn’t. We have more singing to do.

By the time he finally moves to the front, we’ve been singing for over an hour. He gives several announcements. Then he shares some news. The worship leader guiding us in song this service is no longer their backup, fill-in musician.

Effective today he’s their new worship pastor. The minister explains what the worship pastor’s role will entail and confirms they didn’t force out the prior worship leaders.

They’ll still help lead worship when their busy schedules allow. This meets everyone’s approval.

Then we have the offering.

The Sermon

Before the sermon the pastor has a time of prayer, which includes prophecies, words of encouragement, and prayers for healing as the Holy Spirit directs him.

He feels led to pray for the needs of a woman in the congregation and invites other women to gather around her in support, if they wish. This subtle distinction keeps men at a distance, a wise action to foster a safe environment.

Then he moves into his sermon, starting with a lengthy review of last week’s message based on Luke 5:17–26. It’s hard to know where the review ends and today’s sermon begins, especially since he says he interjected new material into last week’s review.

By my reckoning, he spent more time on the review than on today’s lesson. 

Today’s starting text is Mark 5:24–34. His style is fluid as he jumps from one passage to the next. After a while I stop noting the Scripture references, but I do write down two thought-provoking one-liners. 

First, “Don’t preach against other religions. Preach Jesus and the Gospel.”

Over the years, I’ve heard too many preachers who didn’t follow this advice. They were so quick to condemn the practices and ideas of others that they forgot about the good news of Jesus.

This might be a contributing factor as to why the public has such a negative view of Christians: we rant about what we’re against and don’t celebrate what we’re for.

In the other one he states, “The Law was given to the Jews, not the Gentiles.” This one merits serious contemplation. It could change how I understand and apply the Old Testament.

He says he spends most of his week in prayer and Bible study, admitting he prefers that over meeting with people and attending to congregational needs.

Our friends later confirmed his deep dedication to his relationship with God and God’s Word. 

Indeed, his teaching flows as one who spends much time with God and immerses himself in the Bible. When he shares a verse, I never see him glancing at his notes first. The text and the reference gush forth as regular speech.

I wonder how many of his words are something he planned to say and how many come to him from the Holy Spirit just before they leave his mouth. I suspect the latter.

Unfortunately, I’m tired and stifle yawns throughout the sermon. It’s not that I’m bored. I just didn’t sleep well last night. Had I been more alert, I would have gotten much more out of his message.

At 12:30, two hours after the service began, he stops preaching. He’s not at a stopping point that I can tell, and he has no conclusion or call to action. He merely says he’ll pick up next week.

As he’s doing this, the worship leader slides up to the front. He picks up his guitar and begins playing softly. We sing a song, and the pastor prays.

As he wraps up his prayer, he turns his attention to Candy. He perceives she has a physical need for healing or restoration, a need she may not even know exists. He prays for her as the Holy Spirit leads him.

Then he wraps up the service, and we leave. Anticipated time with friends around a delicious meal beckons us.

Our Impressions

It’s several hours before Candy and I can discuss our experience at this church. In all our many church visits, few, if any, have been this spirit-led.

Though, unlike our other Pentecostal and charismatic experiences, I feel the Holy Spirit powerfully directed our time together through both the teaching pastor and the worship leader.

As for Candy, she’s upset over the prophetic words of healing the pastor directed to her. She doesn’t know of any physical issue. I point out that this was a draining week for her, emotionally and mentally.

I suggest he was just a bit off when he said she had a physical need. She doesn’t buy this.

Then I share the concept of performance anxiety. It could be he so wanted to hear a word from God to give to the visitors that he overstretched, that he perceived something that wasn’t there. I get this.

Sometimes people who follow the Holy Spirit’s leading don’t bat 1,000. Sometimes they hit a home run, sometimes they get a single, and other times they strike out. I’m okay with this, but it’s hard for Candy to accept.

Regardless, going to church with our friends was a great experience. It showed us a way to worship God and function in community that I don’t see at many churches.

[See the discussion questions for Church 66, part 2, read more about about Church 66. part 1, or start at the beginning of our journey.]

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Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices.

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