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Thursday, September 17, 2009

Church Shopping: Guts Church/Victory Christian Center

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.


Anonymous said...

ahh, the modern, edgy, mega-church. always so enticing yet somehow so impersonal. i spent the last 4 years attending one such megachurch. had loadsa friends, enjoyed the rock n roll worship, generally liked the funky, humor-laden sermons. then i went through a phase where i didn't show up for months; nobody noticed. eventually i returned and after a few more months realized i was spiritually malnourished. i needed to be in a church where they preached Christ crucified, had an emphasis on solid Bible teaching over visual gimmickery; doctrine over dance routine; praise and worship over pop concert. so my wife and i moved.

the only reason i was there in the first place was because my wife attended (this was when i met her online, before we got married). i can't say it was an altogether bad experience; we certainly learned stuff and to this day have treasured relationships from the church. the leadership in the church truly love the Lord. but i've always been convinced that a church doesn't need to be gimmicky or super-edgy to be relevant. if you're a custodian of the living Word - and all true Christians are - then what we have is relevant, no matter the age.

i commend your "church shopping" - at least you're looking around and exercising discernment. i looked at the GUTS church website and yeah, it looks cool and "in touch" with this generation. but i couldn't find the gospel on the site. there was a reference to Jesus on the About page. but that's about it. what do you make of this?

i don't mean to ramble here! God bless your search bro. i believe all that matters is a Bible-believing, Christ-centered church where the gospel is high on the agenda. it doesn't hurt to be modern and dynamic - who doesn't enjoy cream cakes and icing? as long as the main course is truly fulfilling.

TulsaMJ said...

Seems like many churches don't see there being much of a need to share their basic Theological stand on their Web sites any more. Of course, most of then have streams of messages up there already, which I supposed fills that void to some extent, but it doesn't really give you the full picture.

Something I alluded to but didn't really say outright above is that Guts has an overall feel to me of "left a little bit unfinished". The Web site, the buildings, the literature, even the stage setup. Different churches have different personalities, and this one kind of has a guy feel to it to me... and guys don't need things to be decorated with flowers on the podium. :)

Or maybe churches find that most people aren't that interested in their stand on the Cross. Or maybe they feel (probably rightfully) that most people go to a church they are invited to by someone they know anyway, so any questions can be answered by that person.

Anonymous said...

enjoying reading about your journey on finding a church. i will believe with you that you will find your place in the body and a place to call home.

anon addictive blog reader (or something like that)

Anonymous said...

As a member of Guts Church, I enjoyed reading your blog... it is helpful to see your church through other's eyes sometimes... We came to Guts 5 years ago and I can tell you we have never been planted in a church with such a loving, family atmosphere... you mentioned World Outreach Church and one thing I know Pastor Janet says is to attend 3 times because each service is different... I love that ... in fact, that's what we did at Guts... the first time we went, I was freezing cold and the music was too loud... the 3rd time, we knew it was where we were suppose to be... and now my daughter is a part of that "loud" music! So... wherever you go, go 3 times! Regarding doctrine... I am sure you can call the church and ask for our "statement" ... we are people who love God and want to change the world by introducing them to a real covenant relationship with the Father through His Son, Jesus! Oh, and a guy's church?! Your wife needs to come to one of our Guts Girls events!! We blow the guys out of the water! :)

TulsaMJ said...

Definitely don't get me wrong... we LOVED Guts. In fact, if things somehow don't work out with the church we're looking at now, Guts will be our next choice. And in fact, the church we think may be our final choice doesn't currently meet on Wednesdays anyway... my wife wants to go to Guts on Wednesdays. ;) I would highly recommend Guts to anyone (OK, anyone who isn't afraid of rock & roll!) And as far as the "guyish" thing is concerned, my wife probably is more enthusiastic about Guts than I am!

Thanks for the comment! And thanks for not seeing these blog posts as sniping at churches, because that's not the intention at all. In fact, you know what? I may blog something in the next few days... several years ago I ran across a school paper/project by a guy who does not consider himself a believer, but he visited several large churches in Tulsa and wrote the paper based on his experiences. One of the churches he visited was the one we were attending at the time, and it was eye-opening to see what he wrote. Although I never thought about it until now, that was probably part of the inspiration for blogging our church-searching experience.

Anonymous said...

I think your heart totally comes through in your blog and that's great! I'm believing you will find the best place for you and your family! And YAY for your wife! And YAY for great music! And YAY for the nice guys at the info booth! Hope you don't mind, but since a new person was just placed over the little kid's areas, I forwarded your blog to her... ;)

TulsaMJ said...

Hey, if I was going to say anything I didn't want someone to see, I wouldn't post it on a public blog! Ooo... I just hope nursery workers don't memorize my avatar and then recognize me when they see me coming and get nervous. For the record, anyone at Guts children's ministry who reads this: I'm not going to blog it if you, say, forget to give an unused diaper back or something. I don't want anyone to feel uptight when they see us! :)

Anonymous said...

i enjoy reading your posts, finding for a church with a good atmosphere. Hope you find your perfect home with your family.

Church supplies

Jessica said...

I went to Guts when I started turning back to the Lord, but I always knew it as a temporary place for me -a "beginner's church"(for lack of a better term.)World Outreach is under good people too, but I've never been there. Victory may seem too big, but it's so much smaller once you get involved. They have small groups that meet during the week and it doesn't take long to get to know people. I just love it. Pastor Sharon is a champ. I've been working in the nursery off & on for 10 yrs and I can't imagine any of the nursery workers acting as you described. Definitely not the norm. But sometimes God let's us see things others don't because we are part of the solution. My 10 year old loves "Fusion" kids church and my 2 year old sings the Sunday school songs at home. The leadership is grounded & the people are exactly that- people. All kinds of people from all around the world. There is a constant effort to reach out to Tulsa and the World. Many ministries have gone out from there and are doing great work today. God will lead you to the right place, but that doesn't necessarily mean it will be comfortable at first. It may not be VCC, but it will be where you walk away feeling that you just heard a word that's what you need right now.