Reason #237 why I hate visiting churches: the “meet and greet” portion of the service. You know, that time during the music when the pastor or music minister encourages you to “find 5 or 6 people and shake their hands and tell them you love them.” This is very uncomfortable if you’re a visitor, especially when you turn around to greet the person behind you and they are all very busy shaking each other’s hands and catching up on the antics of little Billy and Susan. Especially when you’ve never met these people and feel rather awkward about professing love to them so you just kind of mumble something incoherent. Especially when you’re sitting in a row by yourself and end up just sort of standing there all bereft while everyone else is hugging and laughing. And especially when the one person who finally comes up to you asks you if you’re single. Seriously. Since when is it a good idea to ask about that right when you meet someone? It’s bad enough that my relatives ask me every time I see them, but at least they’re related to me so in theory they have more of a “right” to ask me than a complete stranger. (Even though I still say it’s none of their business, and trust me, if I’m dating someone, the whole world’s gonna know about it eventually.) Anyway, all of this discomfort certainly has motivated me to be more understanding and compassionate towards visitors, should the day come when I finally do find a church to call home and can then focus on welcoming other people.

And I decided not to go back to this particular church, although my reason for not returning has very little to do with the meet and greet. My real beef is this: topical preaching. Or rather, bad topical preaching. I’m not completely against topical preaching although I do prefer a more exegetical approach, but when it’s so scattered I can’t make sense of it or it has nothing to do with the Scripture presented as the main focus, I have a problem with that. Yesterday’s message was part of a series the pastor has been doing about community and spiritual growth, and this message was called “How Can We Help Each Other Grow?” Well, I had a particular interest in what he had to say about this due to some discussion that’s occurred on another friend’s xanga, but what followed was not about growth at all but about making everyone else feel good. In order to grow, we should make everyone feel accepted, appreciated, loved, and affirmed (they all started with the letter a per typical preaching alliteration, but affectioned isn’t really a word, so loved it is). Now, I’m not saying these are bad ideas (they’re very positive, necessary things), but I’m not so sure of the connection between these things and spiritual growth, and the pastor didn’t clear it up for me at all. Most of his supporting comments dealt with child-rearing and being a good friend. And you know what Scripture he had underneath the title of his message? Romans 8:28-29, which says, “For we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. For those he foreknew, he also predestined to become conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.” Beyond reading it, stating that these were his life’s verses, and saying that this is why we should grow spiritually, he did nothing else with them. Each of his points had other Scripture attached to them, and they had little relevance to his message.

I know I’m being very critical, and if this were an isolated occurrence I’d be more inclined to let it slide, but it’s not. I’ve been confronted with it at practically every church I’ve visited since I’ve been in Knoxville. Does no one care about just talking about what the Bible says? Why does everything have to become a how-to list? God’s Word is sufficient in and of itself; it doesn’t need to be “dressed up” or manipulated to help someone support the ideas they want to get out of it. I would much prefer an in-depth look at those verses in Romans in their context and just as they are than hear a scattered message that dealt very little with Biblical truths. It seems to me that a message should be shaped around Scripture and not the other way around. Is that too much to ask? I don’t think so, but it seems very hard to come by. Here it is almost November and still I haven’t really found a promising church home. I know God will provide, though, so keep looking I must! I’d appreciate others’ thoughts on this!

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