Monday, June 1, 2009

Church Experiment #22: First Christian Assembly

After three weeks of intense exploration (Mormon Church, Muslim Mosque, and the LGBTQ church), I was craving something more familiar. I do love experiencing new cultures, but this experiment is also about experiencing God in significant ways, and because of my background, that’s probably less likely to happen in an unfamiliar context.

There is a church near the University of Cincinnati’s campus I have always wanted to visit. I met their lead pastor years ago, and he seemed like a good guy. The church is located off William Howard Taft Road (near UC), so I am constantly passing their building. And recently, a friend mentioned that First Christian Assembly of God (www.peopleschurch.co) played a major role in the lives of a few people I respect. [Quick note that First Christian Assembly of God was renamed Peoples Church in 2012, but I’ll be referring to it as First Christian throughout this chapter.] It was a perfect storm that led me to their front door Sunday morning.

To finish reading about this experience or any of the reflections from my 52 visits, please purchase the full book here.

24 comments:

David said...

I know what you are talking about with worship, and getting into it. I play guitar for my churches worship team almost every week, and some weeks like you said I'm just not "feeling it" For a while it was happening almost every week. I would just go through the motions and not feel anything. Then I read this on the blog raggamuffin soul

"the only measuring tool to measure “worship” on Sunday mornings is the level of surrender in your heart. Not experience & feeling."

This really spoke to me, because the whole time I was looking for some cool feeling or for some neat experience, but its not about that, its about surrendering my heart and myself to God.

Just a little food for thought for ya.
God Bless

Liz said...

That is one of my favorite songs (and versions) of all time.

Be Thou My Vision said...

Listening to music is about feeling the rhythm and connecting with the message.

j steg said...

Steve,

Concerning worship, I think that you are onto something with what you wrote (your b/a lyrics). Maybe instead of musical worship, you can worship through writing (since you are a b/a writer). You basically have started writing your own Psalm in that section of this post. Words written to or about your Heavenly Father is worship. You could be a worship leader through writing. It is one of your gifts.

j-steg

Christine said...

I have a suggestion for when you go to publish The Church Experiment, based on what I did when I published the emails I sent home during my deployment to Kuwait. There were certain things I just could not say (due to security reasons) while I was gone, but I could comment on them post-event. Also, there was background information and the gift of 20-20 hindsight a year after I'd written the posts. So I added information that was never in the emails, making it a new and improved version.

You could do the same with The Church Experiment, by adding some of the comments you received, how you felt about the church (mosque, synagogue, whatever) months after you visited, whether any of them resonated weeks or months after you visited, and any trends you noticed for yourself or others in what you visited. It's just food for thought...

I have to say, I can't worship with bad music, either. I have trouble in more contemporary settings with reaching God. I often find him when I'm doing other things, or when I'm listening to secular music, reading a good book, or watching a moving movie than I do in church. I'm trying to reconcile that fact with what I know about myself. Sounds like you are, too.

jcs said...

Steve,

Just ran across your blog and read several of the visits and find them interesting. I am a pastor and have been for over 15 years. Prior to that I traveled extensively preaching in virtually every type of church (size & denomination) that you can imagine. I did that out of a commitment to God...that I would go and preach wherever He opened the door. It has been a journey including joy and pain.
My concern in reading your experiment isn't that you visit and critique churches but the lasting effect it will have on you. On the negative, church is full of dysfunctional people at every level and the "system" of worship can cover every spectrum be it contemporary or traditional. But the truth is that God has ordained the gathering of His people. The reason for this is 1) the need for other people to be instruments of healing & development in our life (this really goes against the concept of "me & God" only) 2) To allow us to hear the scriptures without our on biased interpretations. We love to cut & paste those "pat" verses in our minds that justify our stance. Sometimes God needs us to get over ourselves to see a different view.
In working with many different people through the years, I do know that the root of being critical and cynical is doubt & unbelief. The good news is that Christ knows how to bring healing and restoration in that area of your life.
Really hope you find what you are looking for:)

Have a great day!
jcs

bshawise said...

i like it when you make garth brooks jokes.

Steve Fuller said...

jcs,

Entering the experiment, I'm not sure I could have been any more "negative" about church. I had basically gotten to the point where I had decided church was a waste of time.

I understand your point, and it is well-received, but this experiment has actually been helping me appreciate various denominations and people. I know I sound critical (which is partly my nature and partly honest reflections of what I am experiencing), but if anything, I am looking forward to reconnecting with a church body when this is all over.

While First Christian isn't what I'm looking for, I think they are genuine in their worship of God and do great things in the community. Before, I would have just written them off as different and, therefore, "wrong."

It's a journey, but I believe this journey has been leading me in the right direction.

wendymhall said...

Steve,

Your comments about worship remind me of how much I hate shopping for greeting cards. It frustrates me that they are so cheesey. I usually end up with something comical, or a blank card in which I can write my own message.

All that to say, artistic expression is important to me and things that don't ring true really bug me. The same holds for expression in worship because the two are so closely tied.

But, being often ashamed of my lack of musical skill (as a worship leader) I have found that not everybody feels the same way. They are just happy to be lead.

Great observations! I enjoy reading every week.

ylmurph said...

if Russell isn't a match, I'd consider renting you one of my kidneys.

if the book sells, that'll set up my 53 church experiment perfectly. It's sort of like your experiment, just one better...

Ruth said...

Steve,

Thanks for being so real and open with all of us out here ~ a vulnerable position to put yourself in, even to the point of your "confession": "I apologize to every church I have mocked because of your worship style. It is clearly my issue, not yours." This really touched me on a couple of levels. Threw me immediately into prayer and worship.

While doing this experiment on churchES, what has drawn me in this venture with you is a heart cry to God (which I believe He has put there) to see Him hook all of us up, beyond all those things, to BE The Church.

Sharing among us strangers/ friends, brothers, sisters / other "body parts" as you did in that moment, genuinely from your heart, right where you are in relationship with the Father is, I believe, in a word: church.

Relationship with each other (ideally in person, and using even our on-line world at present) real, current, from the heart in a way that when one shares, all have the opportunity to go with you to that deep place of examination before God, where we all need to go (and even stay in the way of "prayer without ceasing" communion with God) where we are continually changed in His presence, recognizing who He is and what where our need is for Him in the moment. To me that is a picture of acting on His kingdom come, responding to the call for His will be done here, opening to receive His daily filling, confessing and forgiving, so that we can be and accomplish what He put us here to be and do...deep stuff!

Beyond you sharing what you said is "your issue" (without sharing "my story", I'll just say I would guess also many of ours in the area of "corporate worship" experiences) and I am guessing also may be something coming from the heart of God. He doesn't want worship from the lips where our heart is far from Him. I feel for worship leaders ~ what an opportunity they / we all have to push past the pressure of the routine and the "expected" programming week to week to bare our heart reaching out to His, as we walk with Him individually, and come together in His presence to present ourselves GENUINELY in love for Him to do something with us that is so much bigger than any one of us alone with Him.

Also, sharing your heart re: the "secular" songs, to me, is true worship. What could be better than redeeming all of that for Himself?! Responding to the presence of God in the moment and transparently letting others in.

THAT, I am coming to believe beyond the walls of buildings and styles of gatherings is the power of being the Church.

Not saying to completely throw out "church as we've known it", but I am still looking for Him to make us, the church, to have more of what we read about in Acts in the way of the relationship and power recorded there. I am going to say that I think (HOPE) some of what we are experiencing together with you in this journey may be the sense of a "shaking" going on that HE is up to, in which we need to be willing to let go of anything that is not adequate for His powerful current to flow through - among us - be it our own preferences or whatever, to be free in the moment for Him to do with us something much more powerful and bigger than ourselves.

So, thanks for being (and becoming even more in front of us) who He made you to be.

Tina said...

I really enjoy your experiment. I was raised catholic, but enjoyed attending churches of friends. I completely agree about the music. I cried tears of joy at a Unitarian church when the pianist simply played Louis Armstrong's "What a Wonderful World" after the sermon!

Michael Joseph Sharp said...

Did you really say adopt a kid? You might need to wake up before 10:30 on weekdays to get him/her to school if you adopted a kid. Or you could home-school. But this would mean that you would be teaching for more than 9 hours a week, which would mean that you really needed your sleep.

Booooooooooooooooooooom.

Steve Fuller said...

Sharp,

Saaaaaaaaaaaaa-weeeeeeeeeeet!

meMonica said...

Ok Steve, I'm going to sound like a brat here but ... I guess I am one (my best friend bought me a t-shirt that says "Danger, mouth often engages before brain!") ...

You began this experiment because you feel like you've lost God or have been separated from God? Maybe, or something along those lines. You don't feel like you connect to God in worship and so you're seeking a worship experience that will draw you back to God? Maybe, or something like that. Here's my two cents which you didn't ask for but which I'm giving you anyways - how can you enter into a worshipful state of mind or being, how can you sit in the presence of God at all, if you are going to be attending different styles of worship with the intent to judge and analyze them? If you are entering a space fully engaged in your mind then it's often very hard to jump to your heart or your spirit. My own opinion and nobody else.

I think that (offering an unbidden opinion again) you should stop analyzing worship and just be in worship. I truly am a thinker and stay in my head most of the time, I'm extremely prone to asking questions about the most mundane and worthless stuff in the world and I don't experience God at all when I stay in my head. Get out of your head Steve and let your heart guide you. I think that you'll find God.

Steve Fuller said...

Monica,

I may not have been clear in the post, but that was my goal going into Sunday. As I said, I really tried to worship, but I just couldn't.

I realized that visiting new places is fun, but I really wanted a week where I just experienced God. So, I tried, and it just didn't happen, so that's what I wrote about - the experience of it not happening.

Make Them Hear You said...

I think it's tough when you've been working in the church kind of crafting the worship experience because you know that stuff that feels raw and spontaneous is sometimes planned. It's kind of like the first time you watch a great sports team do their thing and it's like magic, then you break down what they're doing and although you understand it more the mystery is gone. You know how they established their set, how they developed their themes, how they selected transitions and crafted language to put at just the right point in the set.
I would contend that the big C church misdefines "worship."
Is it possible what you mean is you're just not wild about singing trite crap which forms a too large percentage of our "worship" sets?

Jackie said...

Steve, your blog has made my bookmark bar. It took me a few days but I have read all the entries, and I will look forward to each weeks' post.

Ruth said...

Steve ~

I noticed that this is the first church you have observed being so diverse that you described it as a "healthy mix of old and young, white and black". You didn't comment much further on that, but it seems significant in that most / all other places you observed, if I'm not mistaken, have been almost exclusively either white or black, with a very obvious few that stood out of other color in the mix?

You mentioned that they even made a point of saying that this church was "racially reconciled". That stands out to me as significant that this fellowship must place a high priority on this issue, and may have a unique history and perspective to share in this (unfortunately) unusual accomplishment of diversity / reconciliation that has not yet been found in many other fellowships. I'm thinking there may be some wisdom to glean from their experience of getting to that place of what they called "racial reconciliation" that may not have been given much priority (or at least not successfully shown by the mix in the gatherings) at many/ most churches.

That, in itself, seems worth noting.

ROY said...

I was taught that worship isn't for us--that it is for God. The thought was along the lines of "We don't have to get anything out of it--we just have to put our hearts IN to it." To that end, our American culture has taught us differently--that we need to get something out of it, that we need to be somehow entertained, and that we need to feel God.

I'm not sure what is right, but I appreciate your journey. I too am searching. I would like to hear your thoughts on this as well if you get the opportunity.

I grew up in the Church of Christ, and I would like to hear about your experience in our denomination. Unless I missed it, you have not mentioned plans to attend a CofC.

Thank you for your words each week; they have been a huge encouragement to me and many other people. blessings and peace to you!

Anonymous said...

I definitely feel you on the worship issue. It sometimes speaks to me, but I have always felt like I connect to God far better listening to the blues.

Anonymous said...

It takes me a while to catch up on your blog, but I get there.
It's nice to hear I'm not the only one who finds God in places other than Church. I can't remember if we've discussed this or not but some of the most monumental moments where I felt His presence were 1) when I wasn't looking 2) singing religious songs through Choir though not in Church and 3) when simply being outside and calm, enjoying what He created. There are also moments in secular music that I've heard Him stronger than most sermons I've attended. I'm not sure I'll find that same connection in a church setting but am glad at least one of us is looking.
~Nicole R.

1MoreDay said...

Thanks for the shout-out, Steve. Just started doing 'Love Song' by the cure in church. Neat. I agree with a lot of what you wrote here. I was listening to a Christian station yesterday and really disappointed at the saccharine the industry is putting out there. Just doesn't seem fitting for the God we worship. Keep searching. Love ya. Miss ya.

bethany said...

So I just found this blog while googling about church attendance in Cincinnati. (I am in San Francisco for co-op and have noticed that not a lot of people attend church out here). I clicked on this one because my friend attends FCA and I just thought I would share that the church I am attending out here played "Use Somebody" from Kings of Leon last Sunday. Not even kidding.