Finding my way, sharing my finds
Several weeks ago, I visited Calvary Chapel in Cary, NC.
I had been impressed by the reviews of this church online, with many people saying that it was one of the most welcoming churches in the area and others applauding how this church took a unique approach to teaching the Bible: Line by Line.
When I arrived that Sunday morning in late August, I initially took note to the incredible diversity of this church. Many churches strive to have diversity in their congregation but, in my experience, few end up with a very large representation of minority populations.
Not so with Calvary Chapel. There were so many Hispanics and African Americans in attendance that at times, I felt like Caucasians might be in the minority at this church. But as more people poured in, I realized that the division across all three races was pretty even.
A truly diverse church congregation is no small feat. And as I sat in the high school auditorium-like sanctuary waiting for the sermon to began, I pondered what kind of pastor or Bible teaching style could do such a good job of attracting such diverse crowds.
I got my answer when Pastor Rodney Finch, Sr. walked on stage.
This is a down-to-earth kind of pastor who is serious about his Bible – and caring for his flock.
Pastor Rodney spoke that Sunday on 1 Corinthians 1 and 2. And he stayed on 1 Corinthians 1 and 2 for just about an hour.
You see, this is a church that goes line-by-line in the Bible, soaking up as much wisdom as possible from the passages before moving on to the next verse. I worried this might be a painfully slow pace for members of the congregation but that fear was never realized. Instead, I gained a ton of new perspective, historical context and modern-day applications from this chapter.
Pastor Rodney described Corinth as the epicenter of “hedonism and immorality,” the “Lost (yes, Lost) Vegas of the Ancient World.”
He described how the church at Corinth was started by Paul the Apostle and how it was a popular place to which preachers wanted to minister to. In this chapter, Paul is reminding the people of Corinth that he didn’t come to them talking in a highly intellectual way like many of the previous pastors did. Instead, he approached the people with straightforward talk about who Jesus Christ was.
In this moment, Pastor Rodney pointed out, Paul is trying to remind the people of Corinth not to get caught up in their own haughty intellect but instead to trust in the wisdom of God above all else.
“For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men,” reads 1 Corinthians 1:25.
Pastor Rodney said that in this passage, Paul is basically calling out these people for going back to their earthly ways (ie, relying on their own intellect over God’s wisdom) after having received the grace of God. Pastor Rodney paraphrased what Paul was trying to tell them: “You forgot where you came from. There was a reason you left the world in the first place. Now you forget? What are you going back to?”
At this point, Pastor Rodney shared a story about how, while he was growing up in Philadelphia, he hated this kid named Rodney because he was always picked first for sports teams and Rodney was always picked last.
“But because they picked me last….look at me now,” Pastor Rodney said to laughter. “God chooses his team and he picks the losers first.”
With that, Pastor Rodney circled back to 1 Corinthians 1, saying that God’s wisdom is not merely man’s wisdom multiplied to the millionth degree.
“It’s a wisdom of a different order,” he said.
Pastor Rodney continued that God doesn’t care if you’re rich or famous, smart or successful, he rejoices anytime anyone is saved.
“All people in the family of God are equal,” he said. “Heaven isn’t filled with the Who’s Who, it’s filled with the Who’s Them?”
He then read 1 Corinthians 1 28-31: 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, 29 so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. 30 And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, 31 so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”
Pastor Rodney said there are three things we can take away from this:
These takeaways definitely spoke to me and I could see how they applied to my own life. And I thought Pastor Rodney did a good job of conveying the message, although I will say that he seems to be prone to go off on tangents. There was one point in the sermon where he spent several minutes talking about how he once thought “paninis” were pronounced “pananans.” I honestly can’t remember how in the world he got on this story and I almost felt like it diluted the message to go off on this tangent. But the congregation didn’t seem to mind at all and some even shouted up playful quips to him from their seats, teasing him about confusing the word.
And throughout the sermon, he kept talking about how his feet were really bothering him, to the point where he asked a guy in the back to bring him up a chair so he could sit down during the sermon. He continued to fuss and self-deprecate throughout the sermon about how he was falling apart.
These kinds of moments showed just how humble and candid he is with his congregation, although the downside of it was that it kind of detracted from the message he was preaching on.
Still, I walked away with some useful nuggets of Biblical wisdom that I could apply to my own life and I appreciated that.
Afterward, I stopped by the welcome desk, where Pastor Rodney had said, “They’ll put some free stuff in your hands.”
And I just have to commend this church for how they handle free gifts for newcomers. Of course, during my church tour, I have found that almost every church I’ve visited gives away something to the newcomer. But usually it’s an already prepared bag of goodies that they hand off and send you on your way.
The interesting thing about Calvary is that at the welcome desk, they give you a booklet of information about the church with two coupons inside. One is for a free drink, which you have to go to the Cafe to redeem. The other is for a free book, which you have to go to the bookstore to redeem.
The thing I like about this approach is that it essentially makes the newcomer talk to at least three new people in order to redeem these gifts, which I would imagine increases the chances that the newcomer is going to find a connection with at least one of these people and want to continue coming back. It’s also useful because it helps the newcomer get acquainted with the resources that the church has to offer.
Of course, I’m sure that when I was first starting out in the Christian world, I wouldn’t have wanted to go through all that effort for a free book and drink. But as someone who’s been actively back in the Christian faith for more than two years now, I think it’s a genius way to get to know newcomers on a deeper level.
And when I did go to the cafe and the library, I was really impressed with the warmth with which I was greeted. They really went above and beyond to make me feel welcomed and that definitely goes a long way for newcomers.
There was no visitor/newcomer parking that I saw, which I had grown accustomed to seeing throughout my church tour. It’s a small detail but it definitely left me feeling like it would be easy for a newcomer to get lost in the masses initially. And that initial feeling was exacerbated by the fact that as I walked through the front doors, no one really greeted me or acknowledged me because the greeters were busy talking with their regular friends.
I think this would be the kind of church that would really push me to grow deeper in my faith in God, especially given the church’s practice of taking scripture line by line. I also think that the congregation itself would help me become a more open-minded person because I would be more embedded with people from different cultures, rather than being surrounded by a majority Caucasian group of church members each week.
Having said that, I have grown accustomed to churches who have thematic series that pull from different parts of the Bible and I wonder if I would miss that approach if I attended Calvary. This church does occasionally do thematic series but for the most past, they’re spending their time diligently moving through the entire Bible chapter by chapter, line by line. What’s more, while this church appealed to my head, I didn’t necessarily feel a strong yearning in my heart to be a part of this congregation (like I did when I first attended Forest Hill in Charlotte).
Thus, for these reasons, this church is a maybe for me at this point. Of course, I won’t be attending any church regularly until I’m finished with my church tour. But it’s good to know where I might want to return to when my tour ends in December.