Sunday, November 06, 2016

The Reformation Project: Visiting Fellowship Church, Grapevine

GRAPEVINE, Texas, October 13, 2013 --Getting to the Fellowship Church this morning turned out to be a bit of an ordeal.  Construction is ongoing on Highway 121, which is a limited access road, and the exit normally used to get there was blocked.  The pastor joked about the confusion during his sermon, claiming that even he had considered skipping church and going home. He decided that might be a bad idea.

Once an alternate route was navigated, those making their approach could note clear signage placed at key locations pointing toward the church.  Upon approaching the property, friendly traffic attendants in neon green vests waved and smiled while directing cars in the proper direction.  A sign urged first time visitors to flash their blinkers so as to get “VIP parking.” Not really wanting to be singled out, I did not do so.  As I walked toward the building, I heard an attendant greeting another driver who had:  “Hi! You’re a first time visitor? It’s great to see you!”

Next to the main church entrance on that side was the church’s bookstore and café, called The Source. Entering through that store, I was again greeted enthusiastically by an attractive middle aged woman who welcomed me.  Near the entrance, shelves were filled with books dealing with family life and other practical issues. On into the middle of the store, the shelves were filled with the books and sermon series of the pastor, Ed Young.  Opposite those books, the café offered coffee and pastries of various sorts for a price. 

Leaving the store, one enters a lobby that is actually surprisingly drab.  The lobby is rectangular, with exits on either end.  Above those entryways, electronic signs scrolled colorful messages related to various ministries.  The theme for the creative arts ministry was jarring:  “Always Been about You.”  The signs also featured a digitized clock counting down the minutes and seconds remaining until the beginning of the service.

As more people gathered, I walked around looking for Bibles. I only saw one.

Facing away from the bookstore, one looks toward multiple entrances to the sanctuary, but signage placed in front of the doors prohibited entry until the sanctuary was prepared.  Preparation was promptly complete and the doors opened precisely as the countdown reached seven minutes.  Entering the sanctuary, one was forced through a narrow corridor, as some of the seating was curtained off in order to prevent people from spacing themselves into the back.  A band was already on stage featuring a saxophonist, guitars, and drums with an upbeat, jazzy sound.  Greeters continued to enthusiastically welcome and direct those coming in.

In addition to the band, the upper part of the large stage was enclosed by an eight sided chain link fence.  Though the fencing played no role in this service, it was there as part of the ongoing preaching series of Rev. Young, “Family Octagon.”  As the countdown clock marched toward zero, several singers moved hastily on to the stage, with the leader bounding and bouncing on the stage, clapping his hands above his head and urging everyone else to clap to the rapid beat of the music.  He was quickly joined on stage by numerous other background singers, who appeared to do more bouncing and clapping than singing.  The group reminded me of the Texas Rangers bouncing around a runner that just scored the winning run on a walk off hit.  Among the congregation, it was difficult to tell how many people were actually singing – the lighting was dark, and the band was too loud to hear anyone else.  At one point I turned to my son, who attended with me, and catching his attention, I asked in a normal volume if he could hear me. He could not.

After a couple of fast songs memorable more for their beat than their lyrics, the worship leader welcomed us, urging the crowd to “make some crazy noise for our first time guests,” a demand that resulted in clapping and cheering.  He went on to assure us that we were “surrounded by some of the most incredible people in DFW.  The next song was a bit slower.  After being assured that Fellowship is “where life change happens,” we watched a video in which a couple talked about their marriage being saved after they were invited to attend the church.  Shortly thereafter, the worship leader informed the congregation that God has “incredible things in store for your life.” This was followed by announcements, delivered rapidly, but interrupted repeatedly by applause.  Clearly, they didn’t want the announcements to disrupt the momentum of the “worship experience.”

Introducing the offering, the worship leader reminded members that there were multiple mechanisms in place for giving, but then informed visitors that they were not expected to participate.  The offerings were received in large buckets for those who did participate.  While the collection was taking place, the congregation was treated to another video, this one intended to be a humorous look at “when a child takes over the house.”  Parents, after overcoming a large black man wearing shades serving as a guard blocking entrance to their son, finally were able to sit down with the child and plead unsuccessfully for him to accept a bedtime.  As the video wound down with ever more ridiculous antics, the band sang something about “What’s Going On” in response to this family’s plight.
Twenty minutes into the meeting, Pastor Ed Young walked on stage – to applause.

Dressed in skinny jeans, a medium blue shirt buttoned to his neck, and a sports coat, Young began by explaining that one of his hobbies was making smoothies.  This was relevant to the subject of the day, which was blended families, because, he said, both smoothies and blended families can be “delicious and nutritious,” because “God wants the blended family to be successful.

A blender and various prepared fruits and vegetables were on stage as Young talked, and he would use the remainder of the sermon to go about making a smoothie while imparting various words of wisdom regarding blended families. Traditional evangelical preaching begins with a text and uses illustrations to explain it, but Young takes rather the opposite approach. Beginning with the illustration, he occasionally sprinkles in a Bible verse to explain the meaning of the illustration to the subject at hand.  Thus, just as a person making a smoothie should choose the best ingredients, a person looking for a mate should choose a person who displays the fruit of the Spirit found in Galatians 5.  While expressing pleasure at finding the reference to fruit in order to amplify on his smoothie point, Young also managed to hawk a book that he had previously written on dating, urging any single people in the congregation to buy it.  He also used I Corinthians 6:11 – “but you were washed” – to explain that blended families can be messy and need to be cleaned up. This quotation marked his first reference to Christ in the sermon, which he managed to follow by singing, “Splish, splash, I’m taking a biblical bath.”

Finally, he talked about the power of the blender.  Acts 1:8, in which Jesus was telling the apostles that they would receive power to spread the gospel to the ends of the earth, was somehow used as proof that the Holy Spirit is the power source for blended families.  Blended families, though, must be hooked up with the power source and plugged into the church.

After passing out a few sample cups of the smoothies he had made, which he urged recipients to hold and drink together – like communion, he said – Young imparted other advice to the members, which included making a virtue of the large, impersonal nature of the congregation.  Talking about the need for ex-spouses to be united on matters of discipline, he suggested that it was easy for exes to be members of Fellowship Church and get their instruction for child raising from the same source, because, he said, the church has so many people, locations, and services, that you will never see each other here.

After allowing the samplers to drink their smoothies, Young had all of us quote from the Psalms:  “Taste and see that the Lord is good.”  He followed this by reminding us of all of the blended families in the Bible, listing Abraham, Jacob, David, and even Jesus.  Next Sunday, he would close this series by talking about how adult children relate to their parents.

The service closed with Young urging congregants to follow him on Twitter.  As the congregation headed for the exits, onscreen played a music video of “Parent Map Rap 2.0.”  The rapper in the video:  Ed Young.

I also attended the 11:30 service at the Keller satellite location.  Onsite leaders provided for the service up until the time of the sermon, at which time video of the same sermon from the Saturday night service was played on the large screens.  Services at different times and locations are designed to be identical.

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