One of the requirements for Toby while he’s at seminary is field work. Early in their first year, seminarians are assigned to a local church to give 8-10 hours of assistance to that church. This assignment should last for the duration of a seminarian’s on-campus studies. Their tasks at the field work church range from teaching Bible studies or leading the youth, to visiting the elderly or making hospital visits, to assisting or leading the Sunday morning worship services.
For the past few weeks, I have been anxious to know where we would be assigned. Toby put on his application that he was hoping for a diverse, contemporary, small church.
A brief description of a typical church in Toby’s or my background might sound something like this: one or two worship services, a blended-style worship experience, kids sitting with their parents until it’s time to run up to the pastor for a children’s sermon. There is a man in the congregation who gives out lollipops during the service; there’s a woman (or two… or ten) who will hold your baby if you need her too. Hot coffee and powdered donuts wait for you after church dismisses. Fellowship time is inevitable while kids run off to Sunday School and adults stay for Bible study. We know everyone’s name and feel horrible if there is someone we don’t know. Every voters meeting entails a potluck dinner which recruits more participants than does the budget. There’s a church recipe book available with all the best potluck recipes.
Everybody helps to take care of everybody else’s children. There’s a women’s guild of some sort, a men’s group of some sort, youth group lock-ins and talent nights. Vacation Bible School is the biggest event of the year. The organist is the secretary, too. The pastor’s wife is also the women’s guild president. Someone’s dad is the youth group leader. The pastor may be seen playing wiffle ball with the kids on Sunday afternoon and golf with the elders on Saturday morning.
If you’re sick, you’ll find homemade chicken noodle soup at your door. If you’re hurting, you’ll have a shoulder to cry on. If you’re happy, the whole congregation lets out a cheer. For better, or for worse. That’s church to us. It is a family. And you never really leave your church family at the door on Sunday morning; you take care of them all week long, just as they are taking care of you.
That is what our experience has been. Church = Family. Now we are going to have our horizons expanded. Toby and I have been assigned to one of the largest churches in the state, and one of the largest churches in the United States for our denomination. It is a mega-church. Instead of 2 staff members there are over 43, not even counting the school or maintenance staff. Instead of volunteer greeters, they have a welcome desk. When you walk into one of three sanctuaries, there are lights and cameras and ACTION! They have a huge choir every week. They have a children’s ministry available at three different services. They hold fives services over two days. They have women’s ministry, men’s ministry, children’s ministry, preschool ministry, senior citizens ministry! You name it, they’ve got it.
They have bistro tables and leather couches. There are giving-kiosks, so that with a swipe of the card you can easily make your charitable donation. Outside of the main sanctuary, there are multiple screens broadcasting announcements, including how to find a restroom. At the bottom of each screen, there is a countdown to the start of the next service. Near the children’s ministry wing, there is a multi-level tub slide. Yes, a tube slide! The kids get to Sunday school at the basement level by using the tube slide on the main floor.
That is what our first church experience at our field work church was like. Church = Six Flags Great America. Please don’t get me wrong. This new church experience that we are about to embark on is going to be incredible. I fully expect to be challenged and stretched and amazed in ways I never imagined. And anyone can tell you that Toby and I have not experienced this kind of ministry and it will be good for us.
But that being said, I would give up all the giving-kiosks and tube slides in the world just to sit down on a folding plastic chair next to a dear Christian friend and wonder who made the chicken bake and isn’t the spinach salad wonderful and was that a homemade apple pie I saw?