Sunday, November 27, 2016

The Reformation Project: My Visit to Lake Pointe Church

ROCKWALL, Texas, January 12, 2014 -- Lake Pointe Church sits along Interstate 30 in Rockwall, Texas, just across a large lake from Dallas County.  The ridge along the water where the interstate crosses the lake provides one of the more scenic views in all of north Texas.

                Exiting the interstate and pulling into the end of the lot past the church, one drives past a large number of portable buildings cluttering the campus. The unkempt outside of the church differs markedly from the well-kept interior.  A youth area where the kids are headed presumably for Bible study features an indoor basketball goal, ping pong table, and video games.  A children’s area through which we walked on our way into the auditorium had signs pointing toward various themed areas of rooms, with a jungle gym of red and yellow pipes, a la McDonald’s, also in view.  Just outside the auditorium, one could take in a bookstore, a “connection center” for people interested in further information about the church, and a cafĂ©. 

                The worship area was a long semi-oval with a large stage featuring a band and praise team numbering about a dozen members.  Three large video screens posted behind the stage featured various views of the band and singers, including close ups of anguished faces and guitarists' fingers picking at their instruments.  The opening song was an upbeat version of “All Creatures of our God and King,” which concluded with multiple repetitions of the word, “Aleluia.” Very few of the people in my area appeared to be singing.

                Following that song, Pastor Steve Stroope, a fit 60 year old man clad in blue jeans and a sweater, made some announcements.  He then indicated that for their fellowship time that due to the prevalence of flu in the area, the congregation should forego handshakes in favor of fist bumps and nods. He seemed to recognize that this was an odd request, and most of the congregation complied with a sense of awkwardness.  This was followed by two songs, which, again, few in the congregation bothered to attempt to sing.  “There Is Only One” celebrated God’s power to create and proclaimed our commitment to him.  The song was orthodox as far as it went, though the content lacked Christian specificity and contained no redemptive message.  The focus was on God as Creator and our determination to be committed to him.  “Thank you God for Saving Me” contained praise for salvation, though the only explicit mention of divine activity was found in the bridge of the song.

                During another song performed during the offering, the soloist, recognizing that the congregation didn’t seem to be joining in, implored us repeatedly to sing, largely without effect.

                This was described as “Commitment Weekend,” which is evidently an annual event for the church, in which they urge members to make commitments to be “a fully developing follower of Christ.”  Pastor Stroope explained that this phrase had been included in the church’s mission statement for decades and “is what we are about as a church.” 

                The text for the sermon was Ephesians 4:11-13, which the pastor used in order to say that his job was to equip church members for the work of the ministry.  His exposition of the text took no more than 3 minutes, and was followed by an extended discussion of five key areas in which they wanted members to make commitments in order to be fully developing followers of Christ.  Each of those areas featured a key word beginning with a “W:”
  1. What it means to worship God;
  2. Lives by God’s Word;
  3. Contribute to God’s work;
  4. Impact God’s world; and
  5. Walk with God’s people.
                The descriptions of each of these areas were fairly conventional, and the pastor used illustrations designed to help beginners take baby steps in each of these areas.  Thus, the congregation was urged to just try to read one chapter of the Bible and pray 5 days in each week.  Rather than urging a tithe, the pastor suggested they might just begin by giving a few dollars, or more than they spend at Starbucks. 

                Nonetheless, while the descriptions were mostly conventional, some issues did stand out.  The pastor defined worship as “our response to the revealed greatness of God,” a definition that seems deficient in a Christian context.  Christian worship ought to emphasize both God’s greatness and his goodness, and the failure to emphasize the latter along with the former is utterly deflating, as can be seen by Isaiah’s reaction to the vision of God’s greatness in Isaiah 6.  Before his experience of the grace of divine cleansing, Isaiah was overwhelmed, and it was his experience of God’s grace that reassured him and made worship and mission possible.

                Yet, this absence of grace was evident throughout the sermon.  I suspect that the pastor would suggest that I am being unfair, as this was only one sermon, but it is nonetheless astounding that an entire sermon on becoming developing followers of Christ made so little mention of Christ. His saving work was not at all mentioned, and even the part of the sermon about urging members to do evangelism instructed us only to share “a positive word about Jesus,” without clarifying what that means.  Thus, the grace/gratitude motif of sanctification was entirely lacking, and the list of “W’s” just provided us with law:  a bunch of stuff that we needed to do.  The pastor did say that these activities would be blessed by God, but the real actors were us, who needed to prove we were “all in” by pushing all of our chips to the center of the table. 

A brief prayer at the conclusion of the sermon was the only one offered during the entire service.  During a concluding hymn, members and regular attendees were urged to complete commitment cards and to walk forward to place them on tables set up for that purpose throughout the auditorium.

                I left the service thinking of how much Christians need the gospel, too.  That was a message that was not at all shared.

                A satellite campus in Mesquite visited at 11:00 featured an identical service, with music and announcements provided by local leaders to a crowd of several hundred.  The congregation did sing more there, and, in spite of the same instruction, handshakes seemed to outnumber fist bumps.  The sermon was provided via video.


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