Late in the evening on Saturday, May 3rd, Melissa and I agreed on a plan for the church we were going to visit the following day. As we'd decided that we liked my parents' home church (Grace United Methodist, in Perrysburg, OH) we would check out a nearby UMC church which offered a contemporary worship service. Best of all, the service started at 11:45, so we could sleep in!
Sometime after ten that night I kissed Melissa goodnight and sat down at my computer to read and tweet and waste time until I felt tired enough to head to bed myself. While I was at it, I thought it might be fun to check out the podcast of the church we were planning to visit the following morning. I made a few discoveries along the way.
While I knew that this church was considered an extension or second location of another nearby UMC church, I didn't realize that it was truly a multi-site operation. If we attended the 11:45 service at the "campus" near to us, it seemed we'd watch the sermon on a video screen and, obviously, have no opportunity to interact with the pastor who was giving it. This was a big turn-off, but not necessarily a dealbreaker.
As I pulled up the podcast page for the church, though, I realized I could actually pull up the previous week's video message just as it had been sent from location to location, so I gave it a look. As I began skimming and fast-forwarding through the introductory portion of the message, I happened to pause on something that DID feel like a bit of a dealbreaker. The pastor was describing the events of the quasi-religious memoir Heaven Is For Real and explaining that it 1) was based on true facts and 2) was providing the theme for the day's sermon (part of an ongoing series).
I guess that I knew that there was a Heaven Is For Real series going on, but I'd assumed it was more of a cash-in. We'll use this popular book and movie to get folks in the door and then we'll tell them what the Bible actually says about what happens to those who believe after death. After all, the afterlife was a topic I was acutely interested in as of late, as I'd spent that week plowing through N.T. Wright's Surprised By Hope.
It's possible that the whole of the message hewed closer to what I hoped it would be than what I feared it was, but at the time I was turned off enough by what I saw to turn off the video and begin looking for somewhere, anywhere else to go.
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I want to make a quick aside here to explain the importance, and recognize some of the shortcomings that I think come from podcasting.
I think podcasting is a tremendous tool. I LOVE the fact that some pastors (Greg Boyd comes to mind) see their podcast listeners as a potential extension of their church family and cultivate that audience in various ways. I also understand that you simply cannot get pastoral care, mentorship, counseling, or prayer support from a podcast. It's an mp3 file and not a relationship.
But I have grown tremendously in my walk as a result of listening regularly, and extensively, to the likes of Rob Bell, Matt Chandler, Jonathan Martin, Andy Stanley, Greg Boyd, Brian Zahnd, Francis Chan, and more via the incredible power of the iTunes Music Store.
In the archives I listened to Matt Chandler's Village Church grow into the church that it is now. I listened to Bell, Martin, and Chan as they left their churches for exciting new callings. I was challenged in the way I viewed God and even the cross by Zahnd and Boyd. These were not simply a matter of hearing a nice little message during a commute, these were life-altering and worldview shaping experiences.
Podcasting, or something like it, is how Melissa and I got marriage advice from Tim Keller before saying "I Do." It's how I learned that things at my former church had truly gotten as bad as had been reported to me (why you'd podcast what they were podcasting, I'll never know). It's how I heard Mark Driscoll launch into a 10 minute aside about the "heresy" of the book The Shack during a message purportedly about Orthodoxy and the Trinity, and assured me I just wasn't ever going to come around on the guy.
It's a form of dissemination of message that I don't think warrants dismissal, and it's one that I think allows for tremendous insight into the kind of church that is putting out what is being put out.
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On a whim, late that Saturday night, I pulled the previous week's mp3 file off of the website of www.mayfieldchurch.org. A big, pretty, new-looking UMC church in Chesterland that Melissa and I had passed on the way to Lena's pediatrician. I was quickly so enamored that I began live-tweeting the experience.
With considerable humor, Pastor Scott was leading his church through a series called "Shift Happens" (be careful how you say it!) and in this message on "Attitude Shift" he grabbed my attention IMMEDIATELY by sharing an anecdote from Brian McLaren. He then proceeded to namedrop several of my favorite pastors and bloggers within the faith and praise their importance to the future of Christ's church.
I broke into tears.
Pastor Scott then launched into a message about greeting people with the basic dignity they deserve, about not being a traffic cop, and about trends in young people that found them wanting to follow Christ without ascribing to labels like "Christian" or "evangelical." I could scarcely believe my ears.
Sometime after one in the morning I decided I knew where Melissa and I needed to visit the following morning, and thanks to my live-tweeting the event, Melissa got up for a 3AM feeding and read all about my decision.
So we went. And as I promised twitter I would, I told Pastor Scott about how it had happened. And I can't overstate the importance of this: I was able to tell him because I was able to meet him. He was in the building when we visited.
But something else wonderful happened, too. Pastor Scott didn't preach on the 5th. Pastor Jan did. And in addition to delivering an even more soul-stirring message still, I was overcome by the added sense of glee that came with knowing that Melissa had been given the opportunity to hear a woman preach from the Word from a pulpit in front of men and women on a Sunday morning. We were hooked.
We've gone twice more since then, we have no interest in stopping anytime soon. In fact, the more we learn about the place the more we fall in love with it. Everyone's friendly with us, their various missions and outreach programs impress and inspire us, and we cannot wait for Lena to be old enough to participate in their children's programming.
I don't know that it wouldn't have been equally possible for us to swallow some pride or look past some minor disagreements on things still well within orthodoxy and then feel equally at home someplace else. I don't know that we won't find some glaring problem with this place just like all the others some day and have to consider that our standards are just too high, our wants just too ridiculous. But for now I can tell you that we've settled on a place.
And honestly, we'd love for you to come visit with us next week.
Yesterday: Our baggage. How our experiences in Catholicism, and a failed/fallen church influenced our church shopping experience.