Home > Commentary, World Changers > Northern Church done Southern Style

Northern Church done Southern Style

This is another installment of my thoughts from World Changers  in upstate New York.

On Sunday, the 5th of July, the crews that I would be working with were blessed with visiting the church who would be sponsoring our lunches all week.  I really enjoy visiting other churches because it gives me a chance to see how others conduct themselves when gathered together as a body of believers.  I was really interested in experiencing the upstate New York Baptist church that we were going to visit.

We arrived at service time for the small church that sat next to a muddy river in the foothills of the Appalachians.  I was immediately taken back to the small churches that I had visited down in the south (Kentucky and Tennessee).  Our 17 World Changer members did two things to that church that morning: doubled their attendance and lowered the average age drastically.  I wasn’t surprised to learn that the pastor was a transplant from Kentucky because the little church and its members could have been picked up from the south and dropped right there in New York such was its make-up and conduct.

I wondered if that was an underlying reason for the small size of the congregation.  The church conducted themselves like a southern church while being surrounded by northern people.  They had been able to attract congregants that had grown up in the south and now found themselves in the north because that was the demographic to which they had made themselves relevant.

Now the gospel is relevant to all, so don’t get me wrong, but the way that we practice community can be very different from one demographic to the next.  Most of us would find ourselves in an uncomfortable situation if we were dropped off in a Christ-believing church in a small African village for no more reason than we may not be able to understand their language – though that is an important reason.  The interesting thing about language is that its not limited to just the spoken or written word.  We communicate through our actions as well and the church that we visited acted like a southern church though they were surrounded by northern people.

Let me mention one weird thing… we pledged allegiance that morning to the United States flag, the Christian flag, and the bible.  I understand that this is common practice in some schools and even in some churches.  To me, it was just weird.  We followed that up with a bunch of patriotic hymns – most likely because it was Independence weekend.  For some reason, that just carried over the weirdness of all the pledging to the music part of the worship.

The pastor got up and preached a message that was fantastic.  He geared the message that morning to those of us there from World Changers AND to his congregation.  In short, his message to us was ‘make sure you are here for the right reasons’ and to his congregation he challenged them to follow-up on the work that we would start in their neighborhoods.  I really appreciated what God had led him to speak that morning.

Following service, they invited us to a meal that they had prepared and, boy, were we blessed.  That is where the southern community can speak the universal language – food.  There were at least 7 different potato salads on display that day and I had my first home-made whoopee pie.  Being an extrovert, I enjoyed getting to know those that sat around me during lunch, and truth be told, some that were not so directly around me.  We laughed and cut up like we were old acquaintances.  I can’t say how much I enjoyed lunch with that body of believers.  Its interesting how eating together can have that type of impact… no wonder the bible records that as one of the many things that the early church did.

As I sit here and reflect on them today, I pray that God blesses them and hope that they accepted the pastor’s challenge to follow up on the work we had started.  I met several people in their neighborhoods that were touched by the love on display that week…people who needed the ultimate touch of love that only knowing Christ can bring.

  1. July 21, 2009 at 4:31 am

    I don’t want this to sound like a negative comment since i am impressed with what you were doing with your life and your reporting of that.

    Your thoughts though reinforce something i often ‘wonder’ about concerning the large varietiy of Churches all claiming to be ‘Christian’.

    Is a Christian church more of a place of one ‘type’ of people, of a particular human nature, or one of Christ’s Nature?

    Does a church say more about the people or about Christ?

    Why do people ‘shop’ around to find a church they like – or more specifically not feel like the church is for ‘them’ when it should surely be ALL about Him, not our own human ego’s and taste’s?

    Would you worship with those folk if you lived in the area – or would you seek a ‘better’ one? One that was more in alignment with your personality; your likes and dislikes?

    Do churches ever ‘over-cater’ to our humanness; our unique form of personality disorder, rather than demonstrating and expressing the humanity of Christ so that we become more like Him and not more fixed in our own idiosyncrasies and imperfections?

    Each one of us may be a different part of the One Body, but it seems to me each ‘type’ of Church tries to make their own form of a new body and focusses on one or two aspects of how THEY see Christ rather than being a necessary part of the One original ‘form’.

    To me a church should be where anyone can feel welcome, but that it is because of Christ – not because we think we ‘fit’ or ‘belong’ the way we are to a group who shares our human feelings and makes us feel comfortable with who we are.

    If Christ is not THE focus and central over-riding point of convergence of everything else in the church and services/actions – and that is the same in all of ‘His’ Churches – then it seems to me that it is more about us than about Him – and that just does not seem right somehow?

    Such ‘segregated’ Churches should be known as the Church of Man – not a church of Christ.

    As a thought: what would a (Christian) visitor from another country feel at saying a pledge of allegiance to the American Flag in the (Northern) Baptist Christian Church – Was Christ an American??

    This is an ‘extreme’ observation but the concept seems to be deeply ingrained in church-builders and Church-goers all over the world.

    It is one of the main reasons i do not attend church to come to know Christ.


    • July 21, 2009 at 12:00 pm

      Your points aren’t negative at all.

      I think that we should always be careful to make Christ the center of what we are doing. I do believe that God gave us personalities that impact how we respond to him and while I found some of the things odd that the little church did as part of their service, the main part of hearing the word and fellowship with the body (which was the majority of the service) were areas that I was very comfortable even though it was a little different from my usual gathering.

      When it comes to where people should ‘go to church’, a term that doesn’t make sense with correct understanding of ecclesiology, we have to separate believers from non-believers. As a believer, I should seek the body of believers that the Holy Spirit is guiding me to be part of because they have a need for the spiritual gift that He has given me. We are commanded to gather together for the edification of the church body. We can’t escape that. However, I think most of us seek a church that is comfortable for us in stead of where God wants us to be…one of the reasons that I think we such a disparity in styles of worship.

      For non-believers, I think they will ultimately be attracted by how the church presents Christ. That presentation, as I mentioned in my post, comes more than in just the spoken word. Just as a foreign missionary has to learn the indigenous language of the people that they are reaching out to, each church should seek the best way to speak to the people they are surrounded by. Paul used the tomb of the unknown god to preach to the people from Mars hill. He made the message relevant without changing the gospel.

      I would also point out that some churches may be better suited to meet the spiritual or physical needs of individuals than others. For example, a handicapped person would have to be cognizant of attending a church where they would have access. Not all buildings are wheelchair friendly. Someone struggling with an addiction may want to attend a church where they offer a celebrate recovery program. Personally, I enjoy being able to take part of programs from multiple churches and our church reaches out to congregations of other churches that can’t supply some of the programs that we offer.

      Ultimately, it would be nice if we could celebrate the differences that we see in our different church bodies as long as the differences don’t go against sound doctrine. I pointed out the pledge part of the service because it was one area that I thought was exclusionary instead of inclusive.

      Great points.

  2. July 22, 2009 at 3:45 am

    Thank you for your informative and thoughtful views. I find i am in agreement with much of what has been said.

    I agree that, just as communities within the same country can have individual ‘styles’ that reflect a particular ‘flavour’ of that community not found elsewhere (necessarily) that so to some churches may have their own ‘personality’ of perhaps the leadership team or the community they are involved with.

    I don’t see any problem with that, as you say, as long as there are no real doctrinal disagreements in Christ or God or Scripture.

    I do think though that, again as you say, Christ has to be ‘central’ to all churches and while it may be ‘human’ to be patriotic to your Country above all others, that is not a Christian doctrine – it is a divisive one not a ‘common’, uniting one.

    I wonder about any church that cannot see that and the community that believes that such divisiveness (of mankind – if perhaps not their community, although these days more and more diversity of nations exists within all communities) belongs to a Church dedicated to the Body of Christ?

    Apologies for the term ‘goes to church’ rather than belonging to/being part of the (a) church. But i was considering those people who ‘church shop’ and go to one to see if they feel like it ‘fits’ them (whereas i believe that such activity is setting us up to fail Christ in that those who only attend a church that meets our human fleshy nature where we feel ‘comfortable’ in ourselves, or as a family group, is NOT what Christ came to show us was ‘the Way’.

    His Church requires rejection of our comfort in this world – of giving in to what makes us only feel good physically and mentally – in favour of doing what is Right for our Spiritual Growth, which for the vast majority of us, is grossly underdeveloped.

    I believe Christ demonstrated that it was important for people to hear His Word where they lived but not necessarily where they were ‘comfortable’ and that they were to leave their comfort or world behind them and follow Him, not stay where they were (physically and spiritually) where they felt like they belonged to move out of their ‘comfort zones’ and visit those who had not yet heard His Gospel.

    If we are going to cling to the things of this world that tie us to it – to one fixed place/way of feeling – it is going to be so much harder, if not impossible to follow Christ to His Father in our Spirit.

    We need to recognise that our flesh is mostly at war with our Spirit.


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