“Love God, Love Others, Get Equipped, Serve the World.”
March 1, 2020, 1030 AM
The website indicated this is an independent church, seemingly without any ties to other churches or denominations. Their central focus, culture, values and core beliefs were spelled out. The staff is comprised of one main pastor and about twenty-seven other full or part time employees. They have a pastor of ministries, a family pastor, a worship pastor and a student ministry pastor–all men. They also have a director of operations, a finance director, a women’s ministry director, a children’s ministry director, an organist and several other roles, held by women. It’s always interesting when the women are “directors,” while the men are “pastors.” But hey, that’s my issue.
I arrived at the large campus-like worship center and parked in one of the visitor’s parking space. I walked past some smartly dressed folks who were leaving the early, traditional worship–with hymns, choir and orchestra–according to the website. A woman standing at the main entrance opened the door for me. I recognized her from the website as the “First Impressions Director,” and realized this might be part of her job description.
I sat in a pew toward the back of the large, modern looking sanctuary. I was pleased to see that a huge cross hung at the center of the stage area. Two large screens flanked the side walls and the worship band was getting ready to play. A countdown clock above their heads displayed how much longer until “go time.” And right on cue, they started playing the opening song.
Without asking us to stand and sing along, I stood and sang along with the band. However, it felt like another concert experience as most were not singing. The congregation clapped after each song, which added to the entertainment vibe. After two opening songs, a woman gave announcements about the “Missions March” emphasis and on ways to get involved. She mentioned something about visitors stopping by the hospitality desk for a gift. Then, the worship pastor (who was the lead singer in the band) said a prayer. He also called for the ushers to take up the offering. The children were then dismissed with, “Kids, you can go now.” It sounded like we had been holding them against their will.
Next, the pastor stood to deliver his message. So far, everything seemed fairly standard for these types of churches. A couple songs, prayer, offering, kick out the kids, then the pastor speaks for almost an hour. So, I wasn’t expecting anything out of the ordinary. However, this pastor gave an outstanding sermon. His message provoked a deeper understanding of God in me, which rollicked around my heart and brain all week. He started by asking us, “what matters most to God?” I answered in my own mind, as I imagine many did. What matters most to God? It must be His creation, which God declared good. But especially humanity, which God said was VERY good. Surely, it’s humankind that is most precious to God. Because Jesus died on the cross to save us, surely the most important thing to God is the salvation of every soul.
This pastor went on to lay out, in a very concise, Biblical and provoking way, that what matters most to God is: HIS GLORY. I can’t possibly restate the sermon here, but suffice it to say that he made this troubling argument, convincingly. He cited not only many biblical texts which show this truth, but also words from Jonathan Edwards: “The chief end of God is to glorify God.” And C.S. Lewis, “Put first things first and second things are thrown in. Put second things first and you lose both first and second things.” God’s main priority is not fixing us or making us content, but in revealing His glory and magnifying His Name. God will accomplish His will in the world, not primarily for us (though we benefit) but because God will GLORIFY HIS OWN NAME. We can participate or not. But God’s WILL–WILL BE DONE, on earth as it is in HEAVEN. This reality should inform all that we do, all that we are. Because it prioritizes everything. Therefore, whatever we do, in word and deed, we ought to do for the glory of God.
I wish I could do it justice. I’m just glad I heard this sermon. It’s already changed my heart and mind in ways I couldn’t have foreseen. The pastor served communion next, and although it was similarly simplified like other churches, it felt more alive and real than ever. When we stood to sing the response song, Is He Worthy, I was practically overwhelmed with emotion, and even raised my hands in praise. It was the perfect song after that sermon.
Sadly, the pastor had us all sit down again for another five minutes of announcements from the missions director (a woman, of course.) This really deflated the spiritual awakening that seemed to be happening in the worship time. In fact, it cut the worship off cold.
This pastor’s sermon showed what good preaching can do. His message took this church service from good, to great. I only wish he could have capitalized on the moment after the communion time by letting us keep singing or praying or responding with a public or private commitment. The time was ripe, I felt it in myself and in those around me. We stood again for the benediction and I walked out of the church. Although I loved the sermon, no one spoke to me and there wasn’t even a greeting time. Therefore, this church FAILED the WELCOME TEST.