It’s Sunday – Does that mean I have to sing “Oceans” Again?

Over the last 3 months, I have visited at least 9 churches in the Medford, OR area. As a new resident, I have been checking out the local stores, coffee spots and cuisine as well as local congregations. Going to a new church is probably the toughest! Visiting churches can be enjoyable, as I am able to see what’s happening and what’s being done on Sunday morning in regard to music and preaching but on the other hand it is difficult as an introvert and a male 60 years old to walk into a new building, alone. I struggle with being overly self-conscious of my status as a visitor and stranger who wants to be welcomed and feel a part but not interrogated as to my business being there, job status, and spiritual condition. I recognize it’s a tough job for anyone greeting or meeting me! Yet, I persist, in my curiosity and desire to see what God’s up to and find a place I might belong. Ages ago, I worked for STAPLES, the office supply company. They were part of a program called “Mystery Shopper” that sent people into stores to see how the staff did, i.e. helpfulness, courteousness, knowledge and how long it took for staff to greet & offer help. Since one of my pastimes is writing amateur reviews for places I visit, I thought I would come up with my own rating system for churches as a “Mystery Worshipper.” The following are the categories I chose to rate on a scale of 1-10 (1=poor / 10= excellent).
Music and singing:
Message / Preaching:

Order of service / Liturgy (Prayer – Offering – Lord’s Table). I define liturgy in part as a predictable pattern of spiritual actions repeated each week in a gathered worship service. By that definition, all churches are liturgical, in that they have a set pattern of what happens when every Sunday or meeting time from songs, announcements, offering, prayer and message. Of course, you can test this by changing the order and see how people react! “Standard” refers to the current custom of music / message / offering.
Welcome & hospitality:
Coffee:
Mission to the area:
Theological spectrum:
Best moment:
Worst moment:

Did they sing that song? (Oceans by Hillsong – the over played, song that won’t end, the song leader’s back-up when there’s no energy to find something newer, better or more profound – like “Just as I am” for the previous generation).
Likelihood I’d come back:

 

Bethel Church at Vista Point – (5) 4245 Vista Pointe, Medford, OR

Music and singing: Praise band, enthusiastic, played around 20 minutes, no familiar songs sung. 

Message / Preaching: Associate pastor spoke on unity. Mentioned the Bible but did not explore any particular text.

Order of service – Standard.

Welcome & hospitality:  A lady asked if I needed help when I looked at the book’s in the foyer, shook a few hands.

Coffee: Available, did not try.

Mission to the area: Summer camp for area children was mentioned

Theological spectrum: Independent, charismatic (not part of Bethel in Redding, CA as far as I know).

Best moment: Allowing a woman to share what she felt was a word from God.

Worst moment: Speaker’s references to his accomplishments.

Did they sing that song?  Yes

Likelihood I’d come back: Perhaps

 

St. Andrews Anglican – (5)  305 North 5th Street, Jacksonville, OR

Music and singing: Organ accompaniment, traditional hymns (1940 Hymnal).

Message / Preaching: Lectionary based, quoted C.S. Lewis (of course!).

Order of service / Liturgy / Prayer / Offering / Lord’s Table: 1928 Prayer book.

Welcome & hospitality: Shook hands and spoke with pastor briefly.

Coffee: Available, didn’t try it. 

Mission to the area: Not sure

Theological spectrum: Conservative Anglican; break off from Episcopal Church / USA

Best moment: Familiar liturgy and words learned as a child.

Worst moment: Feeling like a relic in a museum.

Did they sing that song? No way!

Likelihood I’d come back: Maybe, if I want some old-time religion!

 

Living Waters – (4)    360 E Jackson, Medford, Oregon

Music and singing: Praise band, started with brief, instrumental “set-the- mood” music, current popular praise hits. 

Message / Preaching: Woman on staff spoke from letter to the Hebrews; To be clear, I enjoy women using their gifts as pastors in teaching and preaching but she didn’t really explore the text, nor highlight the key points of chapters 4 & 5, application did not seem connected to the text. 

Order of service – Standard: Worship leader said he was our “host” for the morning (!). Communion (crackers and juice) was announced but not explained, if I was a child, I would have thought it was snack time for adults!

Welcome & hospitality: Not greeted

 Coffee: Good!

Mission to the area: Not mentioned

Theological spectrum: Charismatic – (Four Square)

Best moment: Stand-up acoustic bass used in band.

Worst moment:  Not being able to find a free rest room.

Did they sing that song?  Afraid so!

Likelihood I’d come back: Unlikely

 

New Song – (5) 4041 Crater Lk. Ave. Suite E, Medford, OR. 97504

Music and singing:  Older praise band, competent but played in lower key; old praise songs.

Message / Preaching: Youth pastor spoke; used material from Bible study on communication; interesting and helpful but no real Bible text was explored or applied.

Order of service – Standard, crackers & juice.

Welcome & hospitality: Was welcomed by one gentleman and played 20 questions about why I was new to Medford.

Coffee: Yes, didn’t try.

Mission to the area: Pastor does street evangelism.

Theological spectrum: Charismatic; Bethel influence.

Best moment: When people shared word from the Lord.

Worst moment: Getting interrogated; someone touched my shoulder during worship, turned out a woman thought she should pray for me, but it is more polite to ask first!

Did they sing that song? Sadly, yes.

Likelihood I’d come back: Possible.

 

Journey Church – (5)   2399 S Pacific Hwy, Medford, OR

Music and singing: Very competent, praise group, enjoyable to listen to; songs lacked substance, usual clichés.

Message / Preaching: Well-structured and presented message on parable of Jesus, with humor, could tell the speaker had put his work into it as well as his biceps which were on display. However, he left out what was most important – Jesus’ own commentary on the parable!

Order of service: Standard – crackers & juice served.

Welcome & hospitality: One staff member shook my hand.

Coffee: Didn’t try it.

Mission to the area: Not mentioned.

Theological spectrum: Evangelical

Best moment: Listening to the praise group.

Worst moment: A distraught child, not well attended by his parents.

Did they sing that song? No

Likelihood I’d come back: While this church had the most coherent message, probably not.

 

Bear Creek – (3)  816 Black Oak Drive Medford OR 97504

Message / Preaching: Pastor was away, so there was no message but brief comments from a Paul Tripp book were read which was helpful but unclear as to what was his and what was not.

Order of service: Standard with part of a psalm read. Total service was less than 35 minutes, and that included a video for an upcoming visit by blogger Tim Challies, book critic, self-appointed discerner for Big Name Evangelical brands.

Welcome & hospitality: Absolutely zero.

Coffee: Didn’t try it.

Mission to the area: Not sure

Theological spectrum: Conservative, reformed evangelical, ala Gospel Coalition & Philadelphia / Westminster Seminary Magisterium. 

Best moment: 3 signs behind the band – Jesus as my prophet, priest and king – nice to be reminded of that!

Worst moment: We’re done already? 30 minutes? There is no one competent who could deliver a message?

Did they sing that song? Thankfully, no

Likelihood I’d come back: Nope

 

St. Mark’s Episcopal – (6)   140 N. Oakdale, Medford, OR

Music and singing: Organ, piano and hymns.

Message / Preaching: Lectionary, capable & coherent handling of the texts. 

Order of service / Liturgy / Prayer / Offering / Lord’s Table: 1982 Liturgy

Welcome & hospitality: A time for greeting.

Coffee: Not sure

Mission to the area: Food give away mentioned.

Theological spectrum: Old mainstream, liberal.

Best moment: Listening to the piano and gazing at the windows, beauty for my soul.

Worst moment: Arriving late due to special summer event & time change.

Did they sing that song? I don’t think they know it!

Likelihood I’d come back: Probably, not because I am a mainstream liberal but because it is the best compared to the alternatives.

 

Jacksonville Calvary – (3) 520 N. 5th Street, Jacksonville, OR. 97530

Music and singing: Nice & loud, rocking praise tunes.

Message / Preaching: Lengthy message on the church’s values. Straight forward, no frills, PowerPoint, delivered in drill sergeant style. I was ready to shout “Sir, yes sir!”

Order of service: Standard – meeting area was as dark as a movie theatre, no crackers & juice served.

Welcome & hospitality: Time of greeting, shook a few hands.

Coffee: None

Mission to the area: Not mentioned.

Theological spectrum: Pentecostal (Assembly of God).

Best moment: Noticing a mysterious fellow in the back, clad in shepherds garb looking like he wandered in from the hills of Palestine or last year’s nativity scene – seriously!

Worst moment: Came a stranger, left a stranger.

Did they sing that song? Yup.     

Likelihood I’d come back: Not likely

 

Empowered Life Church – (6) 322 S. PACIFIC HWY, TALENT, OR

 Music and singing: High energy, high volume, unfamiliar songs, smoking guitar work. Definitely a cardio work out and not for the faint of heart.

Message / Preaching: PowerPoint message on God as our dwelling place. Speaker seemed to be in a hurry or had too much coffee, but I agreed with his major points.

Order of service: Standard with extra time for prayer & getting foot loose.

Welcome & hospitality: Several people greeted me.

Coffee: Didn’t try it.

Mission to the area: Not mentioned.

Theological spectrum: Charismatic ala Bethel (Redding)

Best moment: When speaker said more than one conclusion that I had thought years ago!

Worst moment: Service starting and leader not able to be heard above the roar as people jabbered on and then waiting for people to get to their seats to start.

Did they sing that song? No.

Likelihood I’d come back: Possibly, when the adrenaline wears off.

Trinity Episcopal Church – (5) 44 North 2nd Street, Ashland, Oregon

Music and singing:  1982 Episcopal Hymnal, Traditional hymns, pipe organ and cantor.

Message / Preaching: Lectionary texts, generic message on giving each other slack, only time current president mentioned (negative) but also was included in prayers of the people.

Order of service: 1979 Book of Common Prayer.

Welcome & hospitality: Passed the peace

Coffee: Didn’t try it.

Mission to the area: Nothing specific mentioned.

Theological spectrum: Mainline liberal.

Best moment: Strong singing, cantor led in responsive song.

Worst moment: Asking visitors to stand and introduce themselves – introvert nightmare!

Did they sing that song? Thankfully, no.

Likelihood I’d come back:  Some more contemplative services mentioned which look intriguing.

Some biased observations from 24 plus years of preaching, worship leading and pastoring – the bulk of the time was given to the speaker. I heard no heresy or bizarre teaching, but the word of God was not the focus – it was the springboard for the speaker’s ideas. There was humor, stories, and a few PowerPoint Bible references but verses were plucked from here and there with no discernable exploration or explication of the word. In addition, besides an opening prayer, one for the offering and a closing one, any kind of prayer for the nation, our leaders, the church or the world were absent. On the positive side, there was only 1 instance of political commentary. However, if the rule of prayer is the rule of faith (lex ore, lex fide – as the ancients used to say), then I might assume that the “means of grace” is limited to singing, listening to a message, coffee, & crackers & juice.

It was evident the people gathering together and their leaders of where I’ve visited are sincere and committed to serving the Lord.  So many churches doing the same thing reminds me of competing franchises – each serving their version of their best burger -a different flavored bun, a new topping, a variation in seasoning but at the bare basics – the same. Like it or not, franchises compete for consumers and consumers, fickle creatures that we are, are drawn by the new, what’s popular or the hot feature of the moment.  Churches are tempted and challenged by the same market forces that shape consumer expectations as part of the “experience economy.” These may lead to a subtle (or not so subtle) competition.  

Will I return to any of these congregations? Will I pick one, join and get involved? I’m not sure. I realize that it takes more than a one-time visit to make an informed decision. The trouble is, I’m not much of a “joiner” these days and I’m not interested in an inward focused, building-based organization. Yes, I am a tough customer. I’ve been told “why bother” by others in the past but I am not ready to give up. My search continues.

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