After a nice long hiatus, I’m back! And I’m still doubting.
The church I went to this morning was, as usual, within walking distance of my home. So close, in fact, that it’s only a few blocks away, in the funky “downtown” section of Greenwood. If you’ve ever been to Seattle, you probably know that the city is a patchwork collection of neighborhoods each with their own character, some of which used to be cities in their own right before being absorbed. Most of these neighborhoods have a “downtown” area.
Downtown Greenwood is filled with shops, apartments, offices, restaurants and way more coffee shops than you’d think one neighborhood could handle. But this is Seattle, after all, and coffee is kind of what we do here.
This particular church owns its own coffee shop, a non-profit called The Green Bean, which has been in the neighborhood in one place or another for about four or five years. And while they own a coffee shop, this church doesn’t own a church. They meet in a local theater, the Taproot.
I’ve known about this church’s existence for some time, and I’ve always thought it odd that they’d own a retail establishment, but not a place to park their pews. I suspect it’s because the cafe can more reliably pay their expenses than a collection plate can, and after seeing their pamphlet today with a year-to-date donations income of only $8500, I can imagine that having some cafe income would be something they’d want.
They have two services, one at 9 am and the other at 10:45. I opted for the later service, and I showed up at the theater at about 10:30. When I got there, there were perhaps twenty people milling around in the lobby, chatting, and drinking coffee. I snagged a half a cup, and stood at a table with literature, hoping to find a guide to what I’d hear today. They didn’t have that, but they did have several pamphlets that describe the church and its philosophy.
They are basically similar to Baptists, but perhaps a little less Calvinist-leaning. That is to say, they believe the Bible is divinely inspired and will lead you inerrantly to heaven, but that some parts of it aren’t literal. This was confirmed when a woman approached me and introduced herself, and we talked a bit about the church. She was nice and turned out to be married to the Worship Director.
As with most churches I’ve visited, the folks there were pretty friendly, and several other people came up to me and introduced themselves. I have to admit that my ability to make smalltalk with complete strangers is a little rusty. Last summer, I had gotten pretty good at it. This morning, I found that I was out of practice.
Soon, the time approached, and we all went into the theater and took up seats. There was a band there, and I found my seat as close to the band as I could get, right up in the front row.
The band was pretty good. There was a lead singer who also played acoustic guitar and for some songs tapped a device that made a drum beat, a bass player who stood mostly obscured in the back, and a lead guitar player who was really good and had a mighty beard. I thoroughly enjoyed the music, and I was glad to have had a chance to tell the band that later. It turns out that the lead singer was also the worship director, and his name was also Mark. He seemed like a pretty nice guy.
Now, the Taproot stage was set up for a play, and so the band stood in what looked like a stone courtyard, in front of a medieval castle-style house. Behind the band, and in front of the house was a large screen they’d put up, and at far stage right was a wooden cross, which looked kind of like two four-by-fours nailed together with some spindly legs at the bottom holding it up. It kind of looked like a coat rack for very large people.
The band started playing, their first of a total of eight songs for the service. I think the music to preaching ratio of this place is probably higher than any other place I’ve visited so far, and in stark contrast with the Jehovah’s Witnesses, who played no music whatsoever.
As they played, the words to the songs showed up on the big screen so we could sing along. When doing so, we were all told to stand. I did my best but after a while, I have to admit, I sat down. I looked around, and saw that about halfway through the music, about ten other people had sat down too, so I didn’t feel too out of place.
In between some of the songs, there was a prayer or two, and readings from Psalm 86, and Psalm 17. Psalm 86 is about how awesome God is and how un-awesome we are, and Psalm 17 is about how God won’t answer feigned prayers, only genuine ones.
Most of the songs were fairly typical of the protestant churches I’ve visited. Mostly about how awesome God is, some were begging for wisdom, or help, or thanking God for being God.
After a while, the music paused, and there were some announcements, and the lead singer led us through a few prayers. The first prayer was about giving glory to God, and it was put up on the screen so we could all say it together. Then there were more specific, personal prayers that were about members of the congregation, and then The Lord’s Prayer.
After that, I was thinking, “Okay, the usual stuff has all happened, and now it’s time to hear the message.” But alas, it was not to be. The band fired up again for a few more songs while they passed around the collection plate. As it reached my row, the lead singer sang a heartfelt refrain: “I’m giving all I have!” It was a nice touch.
It was also a big part of the pastor’s message when he finally did come up on stage and start talking.
It turns out that the pastor was a guest from a “church plant” up the road on Aurora. A church plant is an offshoot. This pastor explained that he had been an intern at Sanctuary, and after he was done being an intern, he went off to found his own church, the Awake church about a mile and a half away. I know a little about Awake, because I’ve considered visiting them, and I know that they don’t have their own space either but meet in a community center. I don’t think Awake has their own cafe though.
So, this causes a small issue for me. Part of me thinks that I shouldn’t give a grade to Sanctuary based on the words of a guest pastor. But on the other hand, they did approve him to speak at their church. The difficulty arises because (spoiler alert) he’s not going to get a very good score, and I’m trying to be fair.
To begin with, he’s not a terribly good speaker, but I tried to keep this from influencing the score. It was kind of hard to stay awake, and his style of talking was such that for every point he made, he repeated himself at least once. Sometimes twice. It took him forty five minutes to give his sermon. It felt like three hours, and it only contained about fifteen minutes’ worth of preaching.
That grumble aside, the real problem I had with it was the content. He rambled around between Acts, a CS Lewis Book, Matthew, and personal anecdotes, to talk about pearls. Specifically, the Great Pearl, which is seeking God, and Lesser Pearls, which are the other things we seek in life. His message was this: If you spend too much time fiddling around with the Lesser Pearls, you aren’t going to get to the Great Pearl.
So, why would this message bother me? On the surface, that very high-level skimmed-over explanation doesn’t sound bad at all. But in the long-winded details there was something I found harmful: He was telling people not to focus too much on things that I think are important, because if you do, you won’t get into heaven. Specifically, he said don’t spend too much time focusing on job stability, family, money, a social life, or anything else because those things aren’t important. Getting to know Jesus is. So stop doing all that stuff and get to know Jesus.
This message sucks enough by itself to rate a negative point, but there was something else: He focused a bit (or at least repeated a lot) about having material wealth, and how giving that up would be like removing a barrier to the real treasure, which was being in good standing with Jesus. In other words, you don’t really need all that money.
All churches need money, and I think it’s okay to ask for it. But I tend to look at churches that are up front about it a little less skeptically than those who use innovative marketing techniques on their flock to get it.
So, on to the score:
Being good to your fellow human: 0 (no mention)
Help your community: 0 (no mention)
Be good to yourself: 0 (no mention)
Good and timely advice: -2 (don’t focus on things that are important, you don’t need that money)
Venue was pretty awesome: +1
Music was good: +1
Guest Pastor McSnoresville: -1
Total Honorary Points: +1