In my last post, I began talking about my family’s visit to the church Chuck Swindoll planted in suburban Dallas, Stonebriar Community Church. I discussed how he began to see the church drift into a market-driven approach, and the renewal he believed was necessary, which he outlined in his recent book The Church Awakening: An Urgent Call to Renewal. I conclude in this post with some brief impressions from our visit.
Getting a Glimpse
So I wanted to attend Stonebriar Community Church when I had an opportunity, to get a glimpse into what this might look like on the ground. There I was very encouraged by a very Word-driven worship service with expository preaching as its centerpiece.
But it wasn’t just the sermon that was Word-driven. Everything in the service was geared toward letting the Word of Christ dwell richly (Col. 3:16) in the worshippers. This Word-drivenness was by no means the caricature of an arid “academic” approach, but was rather a winsome, fervent, reverent, prayerful service geared to building up the body and fueling spiritual growth. The worship was reverent and structured yet felt natural and free, not stilted, with a sense of vibrancy and zeal (much of it no doubt owing to Swindoll’s natural charisma).
The excellently done music, both traditional hymns and contemporary songs by artists like Keith Getty and Stuart Townend, led by Pastor of Worship and Music Ministries Don McMinn and a choir and accompanied by an orchestra, served to undergird the sermon and inculcate the Word. We sang from a hymnal when singing hymns that were printed in the hymnal, and a screen when singing modern songs that weren’t.
I found it interesting that Swindoll did not use PowerPoint during his sermon (not that he would say pastors ought not project their outlines), although a beautifully printed outline of the sermon with space for writing notes was included with the state-of-the-art printed “Worship Guide” that was distributed to each worshipper by the friendly greeters at each door. No visual images were used in the worship service. Swindoll preached a longer sermon than I had expected (perhaps, I surmised, because most of the sermons I’ve heard him preach have been edited for radio).
Some people were dressed in suits and ties and dresses, others were dressed in “business casual” dress, and others were dressed in jeans (some of the older people were dressed more casually, and some of the younger people were dressed up, and vice versa). The congregation was richly multigenerational and multiethnic.
Several thousand people were in attendance, so there were two morning services. But I read on the church’s attractive and user-friendly website that both the church’s morning services are identical in terms of the music, sermon, and other features of the service. Everything was done with the highest standards of technical excellence and care.
Refreshing and Encouraging
It’s refreshing to see a minister of Swindoll’s stature questioning the status quo of much market-driven evangelicalism. And he’s not just questioning it but actually repenting of the ways he himself has been involved in it, and making appropriate changes to return to a more New Testament oriented church life away from the entertainment- and image-drivenness of much present-day evangelicalism.
Attending Stonebriar was also encouraging and confirming of the sort of approach we’re attempting to foster at Welch College. We don’t do things exactly like they do (for example, our choir does not wear choir robes, and while we use a variety of musical instruments in worship, we do not have the large orchestra they have). But at Welch we’re trying to nurture an attitude to being the church that is pertinent to modern life yet refreshingly different and transcendent.
We want worship and church life to be saturated in the Word and shaped by the Word. We hope for worship and church life that is in continuity with, not divorced from, the Christian tradition. But we don’t want churches to stick slavishly to habits they’ve sometimes acquired in the mid- to-late twentieth century that have too often become non-negotiable “traditions” to them.
I encourage you to read The Church Awakening. Like me, there will be, as with any book, things you agree with and things you disagree with. But it will be rewarding to hear the wisdom of this servant of God who himself is attempting to bow to the Lordship of Christ in the way he is leading his congregation.
By the way, after the service, Melinda, Anna, Matthew, and I went and greeted Dr. Swindoll and introduced ourselves, and I told him a little about our ministry at Welch. I told him how much I appreciated The Church Awakening. He gripped my hand and said, “That right there tells me a lot about you.” Those words warmed my heart. I thank Dr. Swindoll for his deep wisdom, his steadfast courage, and his inspiring example.