Tuesday, August 24, 2004

I just finished another walking tour of Brooklyn. My family and I went down into DUMBO and Brooklyn Heights. Brooklyn is so diverse! I love it. While Queens and Astoria are historically more diverse Brooklyn is not far behind. It was a beautiful morning and the farmer’s market in downtown Brooklyn was a new discovery for us. Again, I continue my journaling of my experiences I had visiting other churches.

Mosaic Manhattan
My experience at Mosaic wasn’t much different from The Journey. Both churches have Southern Baptist ties, both have ties to Saddleback Church in California and both are big advocates of The Purpose Driven Church. Because Mosaic, located in the financial district of Manhattan, is younger I’ve dubbed it “Journey Junior.” There wasn’t much difference in the two as they are both accommodating themselves to the surrounding culture in order to reach our more effectively. And if numbers are any indication of effectiveness (it usually isn’t in my opinion) then Mosaic is doing well. They have been in existence just over a year and are already going to two services.

I, as I did with The Journey and Brooklyn Tabernacle, went to Mosaic's website.to get the scoop on the when, where, what and how. I got all the information I needed as the website was friendly. Both The Journey and Mosaic have wonderful websites that are easy to navigate.

It was easy to locate Mosaic as they had signs out on every corner telling you exactly where to go. There were greeters at the door, in the lobby and in the entrance to the auditorium. They had a couple of tables out for refreshments but the set up was not near as extensive as The Journey’s. The difference is that Mosaic is making an attempt to attract families. I was told that there was childcare (I had Sophia with me) and told where to go. I was also told that Sophia was welcome in the service as long as she was quiet. (It seemed funny at first but I can understand the need to make that clear.) I didn’t take Sophia to childcare as I knew from the website that service was “about an hour” in length. Again, there would be no surprises in this church. (I’m assuming you’ve read the journal entry on The Journey.)

The service was the same basic format as The Journey’s. Two songs, announcements, a media team video (more on this in a moment), a sermon and a departing song. Of course there were a couple of prayers mixed in but nothing significant and again, no communion. I felt as if the sacredness of worship had tucked it’s tail and run far, far away.

One note: when doing a video to help bring to life the biblical story being told, do so in a manner that honors the text and respects the Word. The theme of the day at Mosaic was the story of David and Bathsheba. It was in the midst of their series “The Wonderful Life of David.” As we all know, the story of David and Bathsheba isn’t all that wonderful. Deceit, lies, murder, and adultery rule this story. However, the media team retold the story with the voice of a ten year old narrator and three finger puppets. When David saw Bathsheba from the top of the roof, Marvin Gaye’s Let’s Get It On started playing the background. Suddenly the power of sin in this story was relegated to nothing important at all. Surprising when you think of this coming from people who have roots in the Southern Baptist tradition. Is this one of the many ways accommodation looks like?

I like the founding pastor of Mosaic, Gregg Farah. I ate breakfast with him and have listened to his interview with the local NPR station and believe he has good ideas about what it means for the church to move beyond past traditions that don’t seem to be effective. They take seriously the gifts of everyone and especially those in the arts. And I believe that Mosaic, like The Journey, is doing a wonderful job at reaching a demographic that many have not. The friendliness at these churches is overwhelming (maybe a little too much so for NYC?) and I love to see people “on fire” for God. In these ways, Mosaic and The Journey are breaking the mold here in NYC. Praise God for them.

Thursday, August 19, 2004

I’m sitting on my stoop watching my car to make sure it doesn’t get towed. You play crazy games in NYC when you have a car. I can park on my street every day except on Mon and Thurs from 8:30-10 a.m. If I’m at home on Mon and Thurs I’ll move my car by 8:30 and then move it back at 9:30. I have to sit with it to make sure the parking police don’t come by unexpected. Don’t you just love it!? This blog is a continuation of the blog below so go there and read if you haven’t yet done so. Today, I will revisit my time at Brooklyn Tabernacle.

Brooklyn Tabernacle
Just as I did with The Journey I went to Brooklyn Tabernacle's website.to find out the essentials: where, what time, how do I get there, etc. I was glad to see that I couldn’t find a “what to expect” link telling me exactly what would happen. Little did I know the ramifications of this.

My in-laws were in town visiting and so we, at the last minute, decided to go. My mother-in-law stayed home with Sophia so Laura’s dad, Laura and myself headed out to make the long three block hike.

As we approached we saw signs much like The Journey telling us exactly where to go. There were also signs telling us that tonight’s service was called “Miracle Night.” We made our way to the entrance and were more than a few minutes late. I was struck by the beauty of the lobby and the magnificent staircase leading us to the balcony. There were ushers (not greeters) around every corner telling us where to go.

I walked in the auditorium and was blown away. This auditorium was more beautiful and ornate than any Broadway theatre I’ve been in…seriously. The trim was gold and the chandeliers were crystal. Everything was brand new and spotless. The ushers were in suits and dresses and had radios to communicate with each other. While I thought it would be fine to wear casual clothes, I was wrong. Three piece suits, dresses and hats adorned each and every person. The 3,500 seat auditorium was packed. We, as whites, were by far the minority. The majority of people were African Americans. (I shouldn’t take for granted that they all were African-Americans. Many could have been from other parts of the world but for sensitivity’s sake, I refer to the majority as African-American in race.) As we sat down I heard Jim Cymbala speaking. He wrote the famous Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire book that inspired so many Christians around the world. I read the book and was also inspired to wake up and pray for the unexpected. Jim prayed that and now stood in front of 3,500 people…and this was the third service of the day.

He was asking the audience for money. Apparently the new auditorium we were sitting in wasn’t quite paid off. He wanted it paid off and was asking people to give freely. Not a bad thing, right? But! But, he told them if they gave, they would be given to in return. In other words, give so that you will be blessed. The motive was all wrong but Jim was preaching it and the crowd was in agreement with it’s choruses of “amens!” It was quickly becoming evident that this church practiced the health and wealth gospel. Ugh! I had no idea. It’s theology gets worse.

But before it got worse, we were blessed to hear the Brooklyn Tab choir. WOW! Yes, I can see why people come to hear the choir. They were simply remarkable and just when you didn’t think they could take it to another volume and level of excellence, they did and did it again and again and again. It was as if a runner walked on the track and set the world record in the 100 meter sprint. Went back to the starting line and did it again. Walked back and shattered his previous world record mark and did it again and again. You would be amazed, huh? This is what the choir kept doing. There were times when I would look over to Laura in jaw dropped amazement. I can see, as Jim says in his book, why music is so important to that church. It certainly ministered to me and the rest of the people there. We weren’t instructed to sing along, just to listen. And so we did and so we were blessed.

The “Miracle Night” was basically a prayer night in which testimonies were given concerning financial, physical and spiritual healings people had received. These testimonies were followed by prayer. Between each portion of testimony and prayer, the choir sang a song. You were asked to stand if you had problems in any of the areas and practically the entire auditorium stood during each segment of prayer. It was asked during the financial portion of the night that people would get raises and job promotions. I guess that isn’t so bad but from the way some of these people dressed, that was the least of their concerns. It was asked over and over again in that prayer that our territory might be expanded (see Prayer of Jabez). It got disgusting after a while.

At one point during the service someone from under the balcony began speaking in tongues. The crowd immediately became hushed and everyone bowed their head. The speaker stopped speaking and bowed as well. He was done and the crowd stayed still and hushed as someone from another part of the audience started to interpret. I have experienced people speaking in tongues but have never heard an interpretation of it. This crowd had been schooled on those scriptures and adhered to them. My poor father-in-law didn’t know what to think of it all and honestly, I was a bit shocked too. No wonder there was no “what to expect” link on their website. :)

It was a long service at around 2 to 2 ½ hours. We never did sing as a congregation nor did we partake in communion, a common theme among these three churches I visited. This place, like The Journey, was not in the least intimate. We were never greeted, never shook hands with anyone and never sought after. People had friendly faces but that was the extent of the outreach.

It’s interesting. My father-in-law was sitting beside a young girl who by the end of the service was visibly upset. She was crying and kept looking to Harvey for some kind of reaction. Harvey, an elder at his home church in St. Louis, picked up on the signs immediately. After the service was over, he introduced the young girl to Laura. Laura talked to her for about 20 minutes. Laura prayed for the girl and we left. Would that girl have been noticed by anyone else? Would anyone else in that place taken the time to talk to her and pray with her? I’m sure members of Brooklyn Tab would have but they were too busy doing other things (getting out ahead of the crowd). I wonder what kind of true community is taking place there and wonder if it is not more than a place where one comes to be ministered to. Again, it seems like it was focused on individualism and the betterment of self. While I left uplifted by the choir I didn’t leave with a sense of being in a community that wanted to make a difference in the world much less Brooklyn. I wonder if Jim notices this because it seems so opposite what he prayed for in Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire.

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Three things that excite me right now are: 1) Yankee baseball. There is nothing like emerging from the underground on the 5 train and seeing Yankee stadium. The last game we attended was amazing as A-Rod hit a two run walk off homer in the bottom of the 11th to win the game. 2) The Olympics. Because we have the luxury of cable, the Olympics play in the background of our daily routines. To watch these athletes finally do what they’ve been training to do for years is simply spectacular. 3) Church planting. We are getting so close to some tangible manifestations of our preparation. In two weekends, Manhattan Church will have a “Church Planting Sunday” in which the Sunday services will be tailored around the theme of church planting. On September 19, we will have our first interest meeting for those interested in the Brooklyn church plant. Wow.

One of the things I’m currently doing to get ready for this church plant is visiting other churches to see what they are doing and not doing in their communities. Thus far I’ve visited three churches: The Journey, Brooklyn Tabernacle and Mosaic Manhattan. What is to follow are the notes I took on my experiences there and my thoughts concerning what they are doing as compared to what I hope to do with our church plant.

The Journey
One of The Journey’s founding pastors (they have two) went to seminary with me. We were in many of the same classes and played intramurals together. I was excited to finally go to his church and see what they were doing as they have numerically grown quickly. While the name “The Journey” might indicate it is a nondenominational church it has ties with the Southern Baptist Convention. This was my experience in going.

I first visited their website.. It was easy and user friendly. Without difficulty I found out what time the church service was, where it was located and what trains/busses I should take to get there. I was even told what to expect during the worship service such as, “the service lasts about an hour.” I was assured through the implication of this information that there would be no surprises. On one hand it was comforting knowing what to expect as I went but on the other hand, I wonder what has happened to the mysterious working of God. If something out of the ordinary happened, would this church be willing to break the service schedule and tend to the need? Have we made God so predictable that we can rest assured that there will be no surprises? Are we so bound to the gospel of comfort that anything slightly uncomfortable and uncontrollable is relegated to another time and another place or simply ignored altogether?

As Laura and I neared the East Village location of this particular service (that have two morning services that are in the Upper West Side) we could see signs on a street corner saying, “The Journey meets here!” There was someone standing by the sign handing out invitations to anyone who walked by. The greeter was friendly and excitedly told us where to go when we asked. The location was an elementary school. When we walked toward the entrance we were greeted once again. (There were more signs posted on the side fence to let you know “The Journey meets here!” I think there were probably signs on every corner and on other parts of the fences that surround the school. You could not walk by and not know that the church meets in that school.) As we walked through the doors of the school, we were greeted again and told where to go, “down the steps, to the left, you’ll find refreshments, water and coffee, have a good time…” I was impressed with how many people had already greeted us and we had just walked through the doors. Granted, their mission was not to make small talk but to direct the crowd. Their friendly faces were a welcomed relief in NYC. I could already imagine why this church was growing so quickly. So we did as we were told and walked down the steps and to our left. And sure enough there were refreshments. In fact, it seemed as if there were two different tables of refreshments: one table had bottled water and fruit while the other table seemed to have coffee (maybe), juice and bagels. People crowded the lobby as there were other tables set up as well. There was a table set up selling past sermon series that were on CDs and The Journey t-shirts in cool print on cool shirts. People were buying these items. It was noticeable from the moment we entered that Laura and I were old compared to the general audience. And we were definitely the only ones with a baby. We quickly made our way through the crowd and into the auditorium. Once again we were greeted as we walked through the doors. We were given a “bulletin” that came with a writing pen. The pen had The Journey’s info printed on it. Again, the design of the pen was not ordinary but cool. (I’m showing my true self by continuing the use of ‘80s terminology such as “cool” to describe things.) The band was playing up on stage and we got ourselves settled in the back row. I was disappointed to see that we were meeting in a traditional auditorium. I would have thought that a church plant would want to do something new but this fell into the same old category of passive worship. If anything was to happen, it was going to be up on stage and not within the congregation. There was no chance of intimate community in that setting. The decent sized auditorium was hardly full when we arrived. About thirty minutes later I looked around the place and realized that it was almost completely full. Like all New Yorkers, being late is being on time. The service started with the praise band leading us in two songs. After which one of the pastors got up and introduced us to the theme of the night: finding true identity. The Journey takes all the summer hit movies and turns them into sermon series. This Sunday was focused around the theme that the movie “Catwoman” attempts to explore: true identity. There was to be a short movie shown that was to help in the introduction but the media team had a hard time getting it going. I could sense the angst of the pastor as the movie stubbornly would not show itself. He dealt with it and moved on but there was an awkward moment. When your service becomes a production, a flaw such as the one we experienced was incredibly apparent. I’m sure the media ministry team were bummed about the film not working. What I didn’t realize when the pastor got up to introduce the theme was that it was the beginning of his sermon. His sermon was interrupted on several occasions in order to use another means of communication. I liked this. It seemed real and spoke on many different levels. For instance, there was a point in which a woman got on the keyboard and started playing a Christina Aguilera song called “I am beautiful” while another person did a monologue while another danced to the song and monologue. It must have taken quite a bit of time getting ready for that! I was amazed how it worked perfectly with the message that was being spoken. The sermon went on as the pastor highlighted several verses in the Bible that talk about how God loves us and we should love ourselves. We ended with one last song and some announcements. And it was over. No surprises, no interruptions, about an hour in length. Just as I was told on their website. We walked out to find that there were two new tables set up in the lobby. If it was your first time visiting, you could sign up and get a free book. People were at the table getting free books. The other table was a ministry table. There was a person at the table to tell you of all the different ministries one could be a part of: media team, dance team, praise band, sports teams, etc. and again what you can expect if you sign up for one of the ministries. As we left, we were greeted at the door and handed a cookie with a postcard with information on the next sermon series.

When talking with others about the experience I refer to The Journey as The Production. It is a well oiled machine that ran smoothly (with the exception of the video that didn’t play). It was impressive that everyone was in their place doing their thing. People were committed and giving of themselves and that is hard to find in NYC. The praise band was talented and the praise leader was gifted. It was a shame we didn’t spend more time worshipping through music. The Journey is definitely a “Purpose Driven” church who knows their mission. They are after the unchurched. Their service was light theologically and not a place for a seasoned Christian. Their response to that critique is their small groups that meet throughout the week. (They pumped up their small groups three different times throughout the service.) They cater to the young and are doing a good job of it as we seemed old compared to the rest. Families would have a hard time fitting in as there were no child care options. Overall, I was impressed with The Journey. They are reaching a very distinct demographic and doing so with effectiveness. My fears are twofold: 1) the lack of depth and 2) the focus on the individual. Will this shallow individualism continue to lead evangelicalism in the wrong direction?