Last week we re-visited the first church to get a better sense of what a usual service is like since most of their staff was back from vacation. Last night we visited a different church, the biggest church in Bolivar, opting for their contemporary worship service at 6:30pm (fearing what we'd heard about the traditional service).
This church also amazingly posts the words to the songs on the wall (with nice powerpoint graphics) and has a talented praise band. I bet some of them are music students at the university. There sure wasn't much hand raising, everyone was pretty stoic. It was nice to hear some modern songs that I didn't know the words to. I'm told the church has a bi-monthly ultra-contemp. service mostly for college kids.
We met some people who teach a Honeymooners/Homebuilders SS class. One of the classes has several couples with infants and home groups that meet during the week (and possibly form/reform spontaneously). So, that's a plus.
The pastor preached a sermon on the prayers of the upright from Proverbs 15 but was all over the Scripture. To my surprise, he opened up the floor for "questions, discussion, debate." There were probably 100 or so people there, so a pretty risky situation. But, the discussion was pretty mild, and the points well-taken. One man made a point about imputed righteousness that I felt was very necessary, although the pastor seemed to want to avoid such terminology (is "imputed righteousness" a Calvinistic codeword?).
So, we'll likely visit it again.
My thoughts on church shopping have changed from the overly-spiritual ideal to merely practical.
Here's sort of a checklist of what I look for in a church:
1. What's the attitude of the congregation toward praise/worship? Do I feel free to raise my hands?
2. Is the preaching expository?
3. Is the doctrine Reformed?
4. Are there home groups? Real discipleship?
5. Are the missions merely denomination-driven or is there support for local-church activity?
6. What makes it unique in the community (like the unpaid staff of the previous church)?
This checklist has been modified for the practical:
1. Is there a "cry room" where Joni (or myself) can feed Elias?
2. Is the preaching good by someone well-prepared?
3. Are there home groups?
4. Does the music take me back to middle school?
5. Are the people outgoing during "meet & greet"?
6. What makes it unique? What economies of scale does it leverage? (a big church has more ministry options).
The previous church had expository preaching but the co-preacher we heard preach was a retired football coach and that's how I would have described his exegesis of the chapter. People were excited about praising God, but the music was... lacking a certain quality we've been spoiledby at other churches.
Yesterday's church didn't have expository preaching but the quality and interactiveness were good. People didn't seem excited about praising God, but the music was taken seriously enough that a worshipful environment was created.
So, there are no perfect churches. "Ideally" becomes "realistically." And that's okay.