Church name/type: New Hope Ministries South Campus- based on something the pastor said during the sermon, I believe this church is either Pentecostal or following a Pentecostal tradition.
9/22/13 Update: This church is a part of a Pentecostal denomination called The Assemblies of God.
Tag team of pastor/elders includes:
Style of worship: Jam band style worship followed by sermon
Overall Impression: Mixed
I’ve had a long break from the new places, and surprisingly this doesn’t get much easier. I was nervous. The church is small; several rooms together including worship space and childcare but apparently little or nothing more. As a ‘south campus’ it’s clearly part of another church which may be bigger. Walking inside I was greeted cheerfully by several youngish people. The entire demographic was rather on the young side. I tend to like that, as it gives exuberance and life to a place. I also noticed that I’m suddenly part of a Caucasian minority inside a church full of Latinos and African Americans. It was kind of nice to see such variety. It’s not like anyone there made me feel out of place. I had a couple of the leaders wander over to greet me, having seen that I was new. They welcomed me and asked a question or two then left me alone. If you follow my blog then you know I’m a big fan of an appropriately short welcome. I like to be noticed, talked to briefly, then let alone. This way I know the church pays attention to its members and recognizes newcomers, but doesn’t become clingy and desperate after meeting you. So the welcome was right on target.
I don’t normally comment about the jam style music anymore because it’s so similar from place to place. In this case I liked what the keyboardist was doing. He had the keyboard set to a very convincing synthetic ‘string section’ and was using it to fill out the sound a bit. Other than this, it was your standard praise session. There were lots of claps and shouts, but no speaking in tongues that I detected. I’ve never been entirely comfortable with all that shoutiness, but I know it works for some people, so I guess that’s good.
After singing and praying for a while, we got to the sermon. It was also somewhat shouty. It was an examination of Genesis 20. Abraham and Sarah meet a king named Abimelech. Abraham claims he and Sarah are just siblings and as a result Abimelech decides to marry Sarah. Before he can consummate the marriage, God shows up in his dreams and tells him to back off. Abimelech says, ‘But God, I didn’t know she was married.’ And God says, ‘Yeah, I know. You still have integrity in your heart. But didn’t you wonder why you hesitated having intimate relations with her? I stopped you. Now go hand her back to Abraham.’ And he does.
So the pastor had several takes on various parts of this story. Integrity was a major theme. It was often equated with honesty. Integrity is important but hard to keep. You have to get everything right and build up a great reputation. There was also a focus on taking responsibility for sins we didn’t intend. Some of the laws in Leviticus also support this. Actually the idea of unintended sins or mistakes was one I touched on a while back in my post on repentance. I think it’s hard to admit mistakes, and perhaps more so if we are aware that we only meant for good. But we still should try to fix things when they are bad. Dunno what Abraham’s deal is in this story- lying and whatnot. Or God’s deal. He didn’t just use his supernatural powers to protect Sarah. For some reason he also made all Abimelech’s household barren for the duration of the sham marriage. Seems a bit jerk-like.
Early in the sermon before the stuff from Genesis, something else strange happened. The pastor spoke about God being ill-pleased with our worship. Something about exalting God with only half a heart was the problem. This criticism confused me. We weren’t exalting hard enough? To reiterate the importance of exalting, the pastor gave us instructions on when to exalt God. (Hint: it’s all the time) Exalt God when we are sad. Exalt God when we are lonely and heavy. Exalt God when we aren’t sure he even exists…ok so this one seemed odd to me, more and more as I thought about it yesterday. On one level it sounds stupid to exalt someone who might not be there. But what else does this instruction imply? Was it how the pastor himself was feeling on Sunday? And is it sanctioned as allowable for church members to feel this way? I would think yes, if its worked into a sermon. This church is saying it’s ok if you aren’t sure. It’s ok to have less than 100% certainty God is out there. It may even be the case that salvation is extended to those who don’t know if they can believe. Because who can believe this stuff all the time? Some of it is pretty wild after all.
The last thing I noticed was a lack of after-service fellowship time. They seem to have weekly activities which perhaps take the place of this custom, however, I still feel it’s lack whenever I find it missing. I might have stayed longer to chat if there had been food, somewhere to stand, something to do with my hands, something to compliment, etc.
What are you doing for the community?: Several things actually. They are trying to set up a men’s home- presumably for men who might otherwise be homeless. There is a women’s program providing emotional support and skills training. They also have teen and kid programs that include activities and food. It sounds like they try to involve themselves where the need is.