Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Sunday, January 01, 2017

The Reformation Project: Analyzing my Visit to St. John Baptist Church

In my previous post, I described my visit to St. John Baptist Church. In this one, I will provide some analysis of that visit. Because the prior post is foundational to this one, I would recommend that the reader look back at that one prior to proceeding here.

I did not know much about the church prior to the visit, though one past action by the church has gained some attention in the local religious community. Several years ago, Pastor Denny Davis opened his pulpit to Joel Gregory, the former co-pastor at First Baptist Dallas, thus beginning the rehabilitation of his ministry. 

St. John Church, with a reported average attendance of 8,800, is the 10th largest church in the Dallas/Fort Worth area, according to data compiled by the Hartford Institute for Religion Research. While some aspects of the church service were high tech (the use of video to make announcements), overall the service was more traditional in nature than any of the churches visited for this study. Black churchgoers from past generations would have recognized the liturgy, music, and sermonic style of the service.The advertisement of upcoming revival services represented a look back at an era that is now largely past.

Thus, the musical selections used for both congregational and special music were repetitive and emotional, though, as noted in my earlier description, the songs did contain Gospel content. While the presence of such is a positive, one should note that the music also contained some of the weak theology common in modern evangelical churches. Thus, the statement that the singer knows that God is real "because I can feel him in my soul" falls far short of biblical defenses of the faith, which rely on more objective considerations, such as the empty tomb. Nonetheless, the congregational music was more singable -- and more widely sung -- than what was experienced in other churches that were involved in this study.

The sermon had as its theme the cost of discipleship, and the pastor made a serious effort at expounding the text and applying it to his congregation. At one point, he even referenced a resource that he had relied on to help him in his understanding of the text. While he did a good job of handling the scripture, the sermon might have been improved by pulling in thoughts of Christ's dying and rising for us, as well as of the Spirit's work in calling the believer to serve Christ. While those thoughts were not in the text itself, bringing them in as a means of showing the motivation and power that God gives to the believer to fulfill what is required in the text would have been helpful.

This is the last post summarizing my visits to the ten largest churches in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. In future posts I will begin to draw some conclusions based on these findings.