Our family has now visited 3 churches in 5 weeks. My new role at work held me up one Sunday so that we couldn’t make a visit and we made a second visit to one of the churches that was in our neighborhood so the math works out correct when I say 3 churches in 5 weeks.
I am learning through this experience that it can be difficult to understand where it is we are ‘supposed’ to be.
In many cases I feel like I stand alone or, at the very least, in the middle of divergent desires. What do I mean by that? Back when we started this process I made this post, Jim-N-Caspar, hoping to level set what it was we wanted to accomplish with our search. I am learning that change is difficult when status quo is so much more comfortable. I have had several discussions in the past week with friends and with my own family concerning why we need to make a change. Convictions are tested when we face questions from those that love us and fear the change that those convictions will bring.
In our situation change comes at a cost. We have to leave what was familiar and replace it with the unfamiliar. We have to experience a period of being uncomfortable. We will see friends from our previous church less and may even lose some because we won’t see them any more. The point is that there is a cost in change.
So how do we avoid the bumps and bruises that change can bring? We don’t. Like a cowboy on the back of a bull, we have to understand that a drastic change in position is going to bring some bumps and bruises.
But like that cowboy, we have to stay true to the convictions that brought us to the change if we hope to see the rewards that come from staying focused on the prize. Our prize is in Christ Jesus. We want to honor Him. And maybe that means we have to do things that other people don’t understand. To tell you the truth, I don’t understand why a grown man would want to hop on the back of a really heavy, angry bull.
Or why another person would spend hours and hours of running in order to compete in a marathon that covers 26.2 miles.
Or why another would go through years of a starving artist lifestyle in order to get that one-in-a-million-chance at making it big.
I can respect them for the focus that allows them to face adversity in order to attain a goal that drives their life.
I am faced with the question, “Am I willing to stay focused on the prize before me even in the face of adversity?”
Am I willing to pay the cost?
And that becomes a bigger question when we visit a church like the one we did this past Sunday. I will save that discussion for a post later this week. I hope I have you intrigued because it’s the first church that has caused me to ponder “Is this the place where we are supposed to be?” and “Has God been shaping us for this moment?”
Where does it go? I have been crunched for it lately, but I need to get my thoughts down before I forget everything.
Week 3 found us returning to the Xenos ‘Sphere’ (which is what I found recently is how they refer to these meetings) with the entire family in tow. It had been quite snowy here in Ohio and many churches and organizations had closed services because of the conditions. Following my first visit the gentleman who had taken my email information had been good about sending me contact information and an invitation to his home church. This gave me the opportunity to call him that morning to verify that they were still having service.
I had expected that the weather would have a dramatic impact on the number of people who would show up but that was not the case. In fact, there may have been more people in attendance on this visit than the first one.
We were all greeted as we entered and Brianna (my youngest) and I were recognized by some of the people we had met the week before. Lauren and Brianna headed off to the youth area which was held in the gym while Heather and I found our way to a table towards the front of the cafeteria that served as the adult teaching room. I mentioned in my last post that they didn’t have a time of worship music that one would normally see in a typical ‘church’. Instead they had some music playing over some speakers while people were milling around and finding their places. One song that stuck in my memory was “I’m a soul man”.
This week’s teacher was an older gentleman who provided instruction on James chapter 3 verses 1 through 12. If you are not aware of that section of scripture it addresses the problems of controlling one’s tongue – always a convicting set of scripture. One thing he brought up that I hadn’t really put a lot of thought into was with verse 1 which speaks to the judgment or accountability that teachers of the Word fall under. I have always thought about the accountability before God that teacher’s face but he pointed out that there is also the human element. People who teach God’s Word will be scrutinized by people to see if the lifestyle aligns with the message. I am more inclined to be concerned with what God has to say about how we as teachers have presented His Word, but it is important to take note of how people receive the message that we are espousing based on how well we are aligned with it. I like it when I can walk away from a lesson with some thoughts to mull over.
The teaching style from week to week was different but both lessons came straight from the bible and were fundamentally sound. Each week the lessons ended with a wrap of how the scripture applied to the Christian’s life and a time was given for questions or comments from those who had gathered. One thing that I noticed from both weeks was no one really raised a question. There were several comments along the line of “hey, I really appreciated how you brought this out in your lesson” or “this passage made me consider this” but no real questions. I don’t know if the people were afraid to ask questions or if there really wasn’t a question in the house. It would have been interesting to see how the teachers handled queries about their lessons.
Following the lesson I took some time to introduce my family to a couple of people that I had met the week before and there were other people that approached us on their own and struck up conversations. I mentioned this in my last post, but it’s worth reiterating – this ‘sphere’ really has a Sunday School vibe to it. It does not have the western church service paradigm which may be a detraction for those who enjoy the conventional structure for a Sunday morning get together. I don’t know how the home groups function which leaves me at a loss to see how the pieces fit together. If God leads us to this church body we may get to know more about that aspect.
So, how did the family react to the Xenos Sphere?
Heather – I can’t remember any direct quotes, but I think she missed some of the aspects of the conventional church service.
Lauren and Brianna – They were both in the same group because of the small number of youth that attend the sphere. There were some aspects that they enjoyed like decorating pieces of a quilt that would be given to the Linus Project but I think they felt like they weren’t being engaged fully by the group of kids around them. To be fair, it looks like there are specific nights that are geared to youth programs and we don’t know what these entail.
- Size (appeared to be about 100 people)
- Denomination (Non-Denominational)
- Worship Style (None)
- Sermon style (None)
- Teaching (Exegetical from the bible with specific application time)
- Small group structure (Home groups that meet every other week with off weeks being set aside for men’s and women’s studies)
- Activities centered on families with children (small youth group with limited impact at the Sphere level. Unknown at the home church level. The Sphere is part of a greater organization that may do more that we are unaware of.)
- Missiology (Equip the saints to disciple where they live. Website presents opportunities for community outreach. Sphere presented opportunity to impact missions.)
- Statement of faith (Grace by Faith in Christ. Very similar to Baptist theology)
My thoughts – I really enjoy the teaching style presented in this church body. The people are very welcoming and I like that this gathering is in my neighborhood. I believe my family will have a hard time with switching paradigms of the conventional service for one that doesn’t have a time of worship through music. Additionally, I am concerned that the kids may not connect without purposeful intervention from someone who is gifted in this area.
We had a rare sunny day for winter in Central Ohio which may have had an impact on my spirits as my youngest daughter and I drove to a Xenos gathering this morning. The gathering takes place in a school which is in our neighborhood. I love the idea of going to doing church where one lives because, ultimately, the hope is to be Christian Community with the people who are part of your physical community.
My wife and oldest daughter stayed home this morning because we had guests coming over for lunch and Heather still had some preparations to tend. (Don’t worry, we are going to attend again next week as an entire family so this installment will come in two parts.)
As I said, the sun may have had an impact on my spirits because as we pulled into the parking lot of the school, I was pleasantly surprised to see that there were several dozen cars already parked which added to my hopes of having a good experience. I had expected the gathering to be quite small from the reading I had done on the internet about the Xenos small groups. Brianna and I walked inside and were immediately recognized to be visitors and made to feel welcome.
One of the greeters helped me find the right place to take Brianna for her age group and I walked around the lobby where they had some books and refreshments set up. One thing I noticed was that they had NLT (New Living Translation) bibles on display so I asked the person manning the table if that was their translation of choice and she was very cordial in her explanation that there are several translations used and it mostly depended on who was teaching that day. She asked me which one I preferred and my response was that there were several I trusted but I mostly relied on the NASB (New American Standard Bible). She said that was her favorite as well. I decided to like her .. 🙂 (Don’t worry, I don’t always decide who I like based on biblical translations.. I also decide who I don’t like by that method)… just kidding… just kidding!! Let me have some fun with my post, will ya?! 🙂
From there I entered the auditorium and found my way to a metal folding chair (if you are counting, that is two weeks in a row for the first seat being a metal folding chair .. I kinda like that). There were varying ages of people in attendance and I would guess that there were probably 60 -80 people in attendance. ‘Dressy blue jean’ was probably the predominant attire. Everyone looked quite comfortable in their metal chairs. ( I should mention that I did accidentally kick the empty one in front of me twice during the lesson. They are noisy when met with a size 13 shoe.)
The teacher stepped to the front and proceeded to give an awesome exegetical presentation on Chapter 2 of the book of James. He did so humbly and with care AND from the NASB translation (I decided to like him as well). His lecture/presentation was conducted with the help of a PowerPoint presentation and lasted around an hour in length. With the teaching of the passage, the leader also took time toward the end to go over application. They opened the last half hour for questions from the audience and for a time of prayer.
It was during that time that they also passed the offering plate and the leader was careful to instruct visitors to please let it pass by.
This is not a typical church ‘structure’ for a worship service. There was no time of music or altar call. The best way to imagine it would be a Bible Fellowship class or Sunday School class. I felt welcomed and encouraged by this group’s dedication to the word.
I spoke with an older gentleman after the class and he filled me in that this gathering was made up of 5 or 6 home churches that met in the area during the week but came together as one body on Sunday. He took my email address and invited me to be part of a home church experience and a men’s bible study.
I am going to leave it there for now because I want to bring in my family’s responses next week to complete this post. So come back for week 3.