It's Thursday. Last night we didn't go to church... but I'm getting ahead of myself. Rewind a week to the previous Wednesday.
Despite the fact that we really kind of prefer to test-drive churches for the first time on Sunday mornings and then take in a Wednesday night afterward, last Wednesday we visited Guts Church for the first time in a long time. Cathy had been to Guts as a teenager when it was brand new; I've been once with her many years ago (it was in their previous building, and I don't even remember if Mikey was born yet). Guts is probably one of the edgiest churches you'll ever experience. The music is loud rock & roll, the pastor is in-your-face. The building has an almost unfinished look to it, not because it's unfinished (because it's clearly finished) but because that's the way it's intentionally set up. They even run a controversial "haunted house" every October called "The Nightmare" as one of their biggest outreaches of the year. It's certainly an exciting place to be, and the people we spoke to were very friendly!
It was a soggy, rainy night when we got there, and since we were right on the very edge of service time when we arrived, we wound up parking quite a distance from the sanctuary. We trudged that way through the gravel parking lot, and a young lady in a golf cart pulled up and offered us a lift! We took her up on it, and she drove us over to the children's building where Mikey would be. She told us she had been attending Guts for something like seven months, and she LOVES it. Mikey went into his service (where they have a cartoon "lounge" which was showing some Tom & Jerry cartoons, a rock wall, and several other fun diversions for the kids for before & after service time), and then we crossed the street into the main building.
The baby area is in the same building as the sanctuary. It's a castle! I mean, really. It's decorated like a castle. Stone walls, flags and tapestries, the whole nine yards. We got checked in (which wasn't too bad, with help from a friendly volunteer) and went over to drop off our baby girl. This was one of the strangest parts: in the 1-year-old classroom they actually had both halves of the split door closed. We had to knock on the door and then wait for them to come open the top so we could drop Hannah off! The nursery workers didn't particularly look enthusiastic about our arrival, either, even though there didn't appear to be very many babies there (maybe I couldn't see them in the other part of the room).
Anyway, we went into the service, which was already in progress. The praise & worship music was REALLY loud... if you're not a rock fan, you would POSITIVELY NOT like it. But we did. :) It was way too short, though... we walked in a minute or two late, and only actually heard two songs (we didn't know either of them, so we did more listening than singing). We hope that on Sunday the music will last a little longer. After that part, we got to hear a little bit about The Nightmare, which is in the preparation stages right now. Last year they hit a milestone with The Nightmare... a five-digit milestone. They had 10,488 decisions for Christ last year! How many churches that you know can even lie about those kinds of numbers and be taken seriously? What an impact on the community! We saw a video from last year, and then they welcomed us and the other visitors (they gave us three candy bars... each!) and took up the offering, and then Pastor got up to share his message.
What a message! The first part of it really hit home for us... he was talking about people having a possessive attitude toward their home church because it's "my house." That's what we're looking for... a church we can call our house! Our old church, for all of the many years we had been there, never quite felt like a place that we could call ours. We want someplace that feels like home to us.
Anyway, Pastor Scheer went on to compare several Scripture passages about building. Jesus indicated that each of us is building a "house" which is really our life. We can build on a foundation of the Word and have a strong house, or we can not and have a house that won't stand up to opposition. But we don't build alone... God builds alongside of us. One day our building will be tested by fire, and only works done for Christ will survive that. We are to bring God's light into all parts of our life (remember, the "house" is our life). And, in fact, all of our "houses" will one day be within God's house (in the ESV the word translated "rooms" is really more often translated "dwellings"; see note in the margin). It was a message that had me thinking for days afterward.
When the service was over with, Cathy wanted to see if we could get some more "information" about the church... any materials about programs going on there. We were directed to an information booth where two young guys spoke with us at some length, even asking our names and chatting about the church, before they finally told us that the lady who was supposed to be manning the booth was actually away for a few minutes, and they were just there scamming for some gum inside the desk! We thought it was pretty funny, but it was also pretty cool that they treated a couple of strangers who were visiting so warmly, even though it wasn't even their duty to talk with us. They could have just said, this isn't our booth, I'm sorry... but they didn't! And eventually the lady showed up, and she was very friendly and got us the pamphlet that they have about the church.
Hannah seemed to have had a good time... Mikey had a GREAT time and really enjoyed rocking out to their praise & worship service in the Guts Kids building! Overall the experience was very positive; they are a church with a vision and compassion for the local area (actually, including some outlying towns as well) and that resonates with us as a family. Guts doesn't appear to be as missions-centric as World Outreach Church, though.
Sunday morning we all got up and ready to go to Guts for the 11am service, and got partway there when Hannah exhaled the hugest booger I've seen in quite some time. With that kind of congestion, there was a good chance the nursery folks wouldn't want her in class, so we turned around and went home (we were kind of tired anyway). Sunday night, though, we went to Victory Christian Center for a special worship service led by a singer we can't help but love: Kari Jobe. Kari is the sweetest lady you'll ever meet; her music reflects that, and everyone who ever gets to hear her sing or speak seems to just fall in love with her. Anyway, we were definitely late getting to Victory. Victory is a HUGE megachurch... certainly one of the biggest churches in Tulsa, if not THE biggest... and we had some trouble figuring out where the children's area is. The check-in lady in the children's area apparently gave Cathy a little bit of trouble getting checked in; there was something about not enough volunteers in the nursery rooms. To me, that's something that a visitor doesn't need to be privy to. First of all, it's sad for a church that large to lack for volunteers anyway, but that kind of wrangling belongs behind the scenes. It's not the visitor's job to supply nursery workers. But we finally got Hannah checked in, got Mikey up to his children's service (turns out he really wanted to see Kari, although he did enjoy the service he was in!), and got on into the main sanctuary.
I'll suffice it to say that the sanctuary is HUGE. It has been used as a venue for a number of concerts and other events. It's big and it's beautiful, and if we were members there, there is no way we would ever meet even one tenth of the people in the room. Several friends of ours were there and we didn't see any of them. My own mother was at the service, and we never knew it until she called my wife's cell phone when we were on the way home! That's too many people. We want a family, not a county. I think we can consider ourselves friendly toward Victory, but it's not our "house".
So that brings us up to yesterday. It was payday, and we were running low on supplies at home, so Cathy opted for us to go to the grocery store instead of a church service. Which says to me that we probably haven't found "home" yet... if we had, then we would be so excited to be there that we wouldn't want to miss! We haven't hit that level yet.
I also want to point out again something that I find disconcerting: at neither of these churches did the workers in the baby's class seem happy to see us! What does it mean when the nursery volunteers look like they consider your baby an inconvenience? Hannah received the warmest welcome so far at World Outreach Church... the teachers there seemed almost overjoyed that another baby had arrived. THAT'S the kind of nursery workers you need! The ladies at Evangelistic Temple were quite friendly as well. But we almost felt like we had to assert ourselves at both Guts and Victory to get our treasure, our precious little girl, checked into her class. Cathy actually emailed Victory that evening after we got home to tell them about what happened to us when we were trying to check in. It was pretty inexcusable.
Cathy had a dream shortly before we left our old church. A friend of ours who is passionate about hearing from God and who knows a thing or two about dream interpretation, not knowing at all that we were thinking about leaving the church, told us that she thought the dream sounded like it meant that our ministry was trying to go somewhere but we weren't getting any help from the people around us, but that I, Michael, had the determination to find the help that we needed. The support that our ministry needs is a supportive local church to form our base of operations. And my wife and I are determined to find that exact place that God has in store for us.