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I took my seat on the front pew, at the end of a long line of serious looking deacons in blue and black suits and newly polished Sunday shoes. This was an almost exact replica of he First Baptist Church where I spent my teen-age years: Downtown right off Main Street. Parking meters out front disabled on Sundays. Steep stairs stacked to front doors flanked by majestic white columns. Golden chandeliers illuminating the foyer’s marble floors and grandiose floral arrangements. A man in a suit wearing a name tag and tie handing out bulletins to people he welcomes by name. Another man, also in a suit, walking widows and the disabled to their seats.

This church exists in just about every town south of the Mason-Dixon. I knew it’s routine and ritual well.

The service began with a “call to worship” blared from a pipe organ played by a librarian-looking woman wearing bifocals that dangled around her neck by a gold chain until the moment she needed them to read her sheet music. During her performance the choir, robed in ankle length green silk gowns with yellow neck sashes filed into the choir loft. And after this the crowd and I sat silently as the music minister made his way to the pulpit. He finally arrived, smiled and asked us to turn to page such-and-such and sing the “timeless hymn” such-and-such.

The hymn was followed by announcements. The Education Minister walked to the pulpit and read to us from the bulletin we received just minutes before from the man at the front door: “There will, uh, be a meeting of the WMU in, uh, uh, the Fellowship Hall oooooon…Wednesday night at…6…and, don’t forget youth camp registration starts today and, um…the camp is called The Great Adventure camp and…Shaun Grooves will be doing a concert right here tonight and you don’t want to miss it…”

The Music Minister returned to the platform and asked us to stand and sing “All Hail The Power Of Jesus’ Name” and we did, followed by four stanzas of another hymn, and another hymn, and then an offertory prayer by an elderly deacon, and then “Special Music” sung by a woman with wide vibrato and accompanied by the organist who had stealthily switched to the piano during the prayer. “His eye is on the sparrow,” she droned, “and I know He watches me.”

Then the pastor, a man in his fifties wearing a double-breasted gray suit and his short hair parted to one side, climbed the stairs to the pulpit, opened his bible, thanked sister so-and-so for her “fantastic singing” and read from one of the Gospels. He reduced the chapter to three points he repeated as he preached. “My first point this morning was…then my second point was…and now my third point is…” His voice rose and fell melodramatically, undulating from whisper to holler and back again and again. His illustrations came from books and not personal experience. There was nothing to look at. No walking out from behind the pulpit. No humor. No cultural. No printed outline to help us follow along.

I kept a mental list of the top seeker-insensitive words of the morning: Offertory. Prostrate fall. Redemption. Salvation. Justified. Personal Lord and Savior.

I tallied the missed opportunities for relevance: A scene from Friends would have gone well with point one – I thought - and surely you’ve got a lost luggage story for point three.

My brain was on the verge of exploding, all the great ideas of mine and all the mistakes of his packed on top of each other in a potentially explosive cocktail. One more blunder by this guy and I might die of an aneurism.

He seemed unaware of my mental anguish when he asked everyone to stand and invited me to play a song. I slid onto the piano bench and waited. “If you don’t know Jesus this morning I invite you to come now and make him your personal Lord and Savior. Meet me here at the front. “We also invite you to come make this your church home by baptism or transfer of letter. Come now as Shane plays.”

This’ll work, I sarcastically sneered with my inside voice. I’d seen “alter calls” in churches like this one a hundred times. It would be a miracle if anyone was still awake, a double miracle if anyone walked down the aisle, a triple miracle if that someone wasn't a Christian already.

“Take me, make me all you want me to be,” I sang.

She interrupted screaming from the back of the room.

“Jesus! I’m coming, Jesus!”

I kept on, “Welcome to this heart of mine, buried under prideful vines…”

She answered. “I’m coming! I'm coming!”

To be continued…


Blogger Shaun Groves said...

Sorry for my silence this week. It's been a long one. Everything's fine. Thanks for the concerned e-mails (alright, all two them.)

Poor time management skills on my part.

Thanks for sticking with me.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

And to think I was starting to get worried about you. Thanks for FINALLY updating! Can't wait to hear the rest of this story! I gotta go though I've got Barnabus groups in a few minutes down at the Falls.

My campus has a 186 foot water fall and yours doesn't! Naa-naa-naa-naa-naa-naa *sly grin*

Anonymous euphrony said...

We wait with bated breath for the next installment.

Our churches prefer street names over enumeration, but I've seen that same scene many times, as well.

Blogger GrovesFan said...

Welcome back. You really should warn us if you're going to be away long. These withdrawl symptoms can get very difficult at times!

This "relevant" church sounds much like the one I grew up in too. That disappeared when we lived overseas. We moved to a church that was composed of 95% military families, young marrieds with kids (albeit more than the US 2.4 average per family). Our church's unofficial motto was "Welcome to Sedge Fen-have a baby!" No chior, no band, music was provided by whoever could play an instrument and sing on key (usally). Great messages though and lots of growth. No one was a pew sitter (we had chairs) because we couldn't afford to be. It took all of us just to keep the building maintained and the kids taken care of. Moved on from there to a place that was 20% military families. Still lots of work to be done and great messages and growth. Much broader range of ages and nationalities.

Now, back in the US, we're very active in a church that again, has no chior, but a great band. "Traditional" and "contemporary" services are offered. The parts that keep us there though are not the band or the pews or bulletins or the decor. It's the absolute solid Biblical teaching, not only taught but very visibly lived by those to teach it. It's the discipleship that occurs and the genuine belief that I matter to those there. Enough to be told the tough truth, loved first and foremost unconditionally, and challenged consistantly to be more Christ-like in all areas of my life. Important too, they not only know your name Shaun, they say it correctly and have been known to use your music frequently!


Blogger travis jenkins said...

that reminds me of most of the churches we play at, with the exception that craig usually preaches while we are there and people are scared cause he is yelling and being funny in church instead of making them falling asleep.

Blogger Kat Coble said...

Uh. Okay.

I really don't like this open criticism of the way many believers (including me) choose to worship. Yes, I may be 36, but I prefer the lyric poetry of "Eye On The Sparrow" to the ridiculous repition of "Shine, Jesus, Shine." I prefer the sense of reverence present when videos from popular TV shows are NOT shown on screens flanking the pulpit.

Call me crazy, but can't there still be churches that are about worshipping God in the way tht some of us prefer?

Anonymous Stephen said...

Kat, I may be mistaken here, but I think the point of Shaun's post (and this series) is that God doesn't only work the way we think he should. We don't have to stop singing hymns and show TV clips for God to work. Shaun is not "criticizing the way many believers choose to worship", but rather telling us not to criticize.

Remember the last part of the post: "To be continued...". He hasn't finished his point.

Blogger Kathy said...

Reminds me of the church I grew up in. The only difference is you did not mention any man with a deep voice repeating "amen" through out the service.

Blogger Loren said...

You can argue style till the cows come home (?) but what about content...is this service faithfully worshiping God? And if you talked to ten people in that service you would probably get a few different answers, just like you would at all services.

I've seen lives changed at the dullest of dull services, and lives changed at "cutting edge" services...crazy but omnipresence is something he is good at.

Here is a question to ponder, what is the reason we go to church on sunday?
live changed (salvation)
to worship in community
cultural tradition
free child care
Write in___________

Anonymous Anonymous said...

you forgot....free snacks?

Anonymous Lincoln said...


"ridiculous repition of "Shine, Jesus, Shine." I prefer the sense of reverence present when videos from popular TV shows are NOT shown on screens flanking the pulpit."

rediculous repitition? is this not an open criticism of the way that others "not including yourself" choose to worship? im not tryin to start a fight or call you an idiot im just saying....

Blogger Kat Coble said...

Yes, it was. And it was intentional. I was attempting to show to those on the other side of the "great worship divide" how these types of condescending analyses read.

If you are one who prefers to find worship in choruses, pop culture tie-ins and other more contemporary styles that's fine by me. But it hurts me deeply to see my preferred worship style ridiculed, written off and dismissed.

It seems to happen a lot. The post that brought me here was from AtwoodZoo. There are other Nashville bloggers I read frequently, and the general trend seems to be that as Christians it's really cool to run down the "First Baptist" types. Don't criticise anyone outside the church--heavens, no! Because that would alienate potential believers.

But we have no problem at all with alienating brothers and sisters in Christ.

Maybe Shaun's To Be Continued will end the story in a different vein, but I was hurt by what I read in Part One. Why? Because even with the title and the subsequent writings it appears that my faith is considered less relevant by the cool kids with bands because I don't truck with the flashy new way of doing things.

Anonymous Anonymous said...


You were actually "hurt by what you read" in PART 3. Can I suggest that you go to the archives and read the first 2 parts, in order to see where this story is going?

And on a side note... this conversation back and forth, almost makes me regret aligning myself with Christians. This is stupid stuff to argue about. If you like hymns, go to a church with hymns. If you like video, go to a church with video. If you love Jesus, love everyone else....

Anonymous Anonymous said...

maybe this will help.



Anonymous euphrony said...

I agree that the back and forth can be bad. But, at the same time, it is hard to ignore reality. I think that kat coble is speaking from a hurt place that she has been put in; I say this because of what I just heard is going on at my aunt's church in Fort Worth. They have recently started having a contemporary and a traditional service. At the same time, they were told by the church leaders that within a year, the traditional service would be dropped completely and if you didn't like it you could either get with the program or get lost. Now, my aunt has attended this church for 50+ years, and she is being told to leave her church home because people do not want to worship with her in a more traditional way. That's what I call hurting the body. (Just one example; both sides of the divide can be found doing similar things.)

Kat, I would agree with Brody that, if you read parts one and two, you will see a different perspective of where Shaun is going with this.

Honestly, I know of very few churches where this debate is not going on, be it at the surface of buried in deep waters. And it is a centuries-old debate. The transition from a sing and respond (probably what the 1st century church did) to chants to harmonies to whatever has been argued ad nauseam. Whether to use microphones, to use screen projections of the songs – the advent or availability of something new always causes a disturbance. Some want to embrace the new, some cling to the old, and some few find both to be of service to God.

But, I would tend to agree more with Loren, that it is the content and reverence for Jehovah that marks a worshipful assembly. Does it uplift God? Or does it simply entertain? Where are we possibly yoking ourselves with the world? Tough questions, but if we do not ask them (both of our personal actions and our corporate actions) and seek His answer, then we are left wondering down a path of our choosing. (Here I am thinking of king David, who prayed and sought God’s counsel on practically everything he did.)

Anonymous Lincoln said...

Brody, "And on a side note... this conversation back and forth, almost makes me regret aligning myself with Christians. This is stupid stuff to argue about. If you like hymns, go to a church with hymns. If you like video, go to a church with video. If you love Jesus, love everyone else.... "

#1 i think i made it clear i wasnt trying to argue

#2this is a blog.. and a comment board... sooooo how does this not constitute a back and forth? its discussion right?

just responding

Blogger Kathryn said...

well, i'm steering clear of all this stuff. .

I loved the 'screaming woman' at the end of this story!!! She made me smile.

Anonymous Anonymous said...

i was referring more to the centuries of arguing...

Blogger chris said...

I love this story... you got me right where you want me... I'm guessing.

Also love your quote of the day from Kierkegaard... classic


Blogger Susanne said...

I understand what Kat is getting at. I, for one, dread the day when our traditional hymns are no longer played/sung in our churches. Those hymns I grew up with mean almost as much to me as Scripture, probably because those hymns contain SO much scripture. When I need comfort, the words from one of those dear hymns often comes to my mind/heart. I don't hate contemporary Christian music either (I'm a big fan of Shaun's!), but I would hate to see our churches turn their backs on so much church music history for the sake of not alienating the lost. I think there's a place in our church services for praising God by hand-clapping and wailing, but I also see the beauty of quiet reverence; in fact, that is how I worship best. On that note, I'm also sensitive to the fact that others may worship best in a totally different atmosphere.

Blogger Shaun Groves said...

Susanne, let me play devil's advocate for a minute just to provoke a little conversation in a different direction.

Hymns replaced the mass - also full of scripture and meaning and beauty. The mass replaced chant and other forms of musical tribute used for centuries. Those replaced middle eastern music probably like modern middle eastern music - more notes than our scales, different rhythmic basis too, unusual meters, but still used to praise God. And there are some ethnomusicologists and church historians who claim the early church (the first 300 years of Christianity) sang their prayers or to each other but not likely to God as a group - no congregational music in other words. Thats possibly what all this music replaced.

So, are hymns more sacred than the traditions they replaced, and the ones those replaced, and the ones those replaced and the...


Anonymous Lincoln said...

touche brody

Blogger Susanne said...

Great point! I know that all through the ages people have been resistant to change. Change is hard for all of us, and we do need to change sometimes in order to keep people from snoozing through church. I've seen firsthand through my in-laws' church how a church can just die when it refuses to change. That being said, I would be sad if I never again heard "He Leadeth Me" or one of my other favorite hymns at church. I love the idea of merging a "traditional" service with a "contemporary" service so that each person hears something familiar that they enjoy. My church's service is like that, and I've really enjoyed getting to know some praise music that I didn't know before. But I also still get to sing some of my old favorites. I guess it's kinda like going to a musical buffet. :)
P.S. - Will you be coming back to WTBC anytime soon?


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