So, I went with a friend to Willow/Wheaton today. Impressions? It was interesting. Good band ~ but really not as much music as I thought there might be. Especially considering the set up involved on a weekly basis. (They share facilities with Wheaton Academy.)
Mixed crowd - multi-generational, I saw anywhere from babies clear up to a couple in their late 70's or so.
I find I don't really care for the video preaching concept. It distracts me. And somehow, oddly enough it doesn't really feel like church. Whatever the definition of church may be. It felt more like entertainment, yet that is probably just a perception on my part. I also like action with reaction, I like a preacher who can feel when he is really getting through to people and conversely when he is losing them.
The message was good - good concepts, good integration of scripture - though that aspect was not off-putting to seekers or new believers as all the quoted scripture was up on the screen - no Bible necessary. Though again, I like to have my Bible and use it as a tool, as a supplement as I am listening.
What surprised me the most, and according to my friend isn't a regular occurrence, was the fact that there was an alter call. Having been raised a good evangelical Baptist who knows the drill I was amused, (it literally brought a smile to my face) by the updated alter call. Not being from a "conventional" Baptist church, alter calls were rare in my church, but I have been in many churches where they are as expected as a weekly offering.... Now, at Willow, instead of the tedious, protracted, often mind numbing verses of "Just As I Am" they used a very current CCM/worship style "Just As I Am", upbeat and intentional. New, yet very much the same old thing. I almost laughed out loud.....
I did come away with a couple of good concepts. One is very relevant to attitudes found in many of our churches - you know, the kick 'em when they're down, shoot your wounded attitude you see in judgmental Christianity. It is the concept of a baby learning to walk, and the support and patience of our heavenly Father. Babies fail. They fall. Sometimes they can't take any more than one little step before they stumble. So it is with all of us at any given time in our lives. Instead of yelling at us, telling us how stupid we are, judging us for our ineptitude, and derisively asking us when we are ever going to learn, our Father gently lifts us to our feet, and offers us his hand, all the while encouraging us to try again. And again. And yet again.
If our perfect Father is so understanding, so forgiving, who are we to sit in judgment of others shortcomings?
And secondly, the concept that really caught my imagination was my life as drawn on an Etch-A-Sketch. No matter who you are, it is very difficult to draw anything that even resembles a picture on an Etch-A-Sketch. We make false starts, wrong moves, we totally make a mess of our picture. Yet we can in humility offer our messed up, distorted lives to the Master and He will take it - just as it is. At which time, with grace and mercy, He will gently shake the ruin of our life and erase the mistakes and messiness therein. Gone. Forgiven. Erased completely. And returns a clean slate/screen on which to begin again. Wow!
So anyway. That was my experience at Willow. I believe God is using it in a mighty way. And I'm thankful it reaches those that many traditional churches do not. I will probably visit again sometime - it was an enjoyable experience. But it would not be my choice on a regular basis. A little too modern for my taste. A little too circusy and polished ~ I find myself entertained instead of worshiping. Simple at heart, intentional in worship, desirous of more connectedness, I would not thrive in Willow's environment. But I am happy for those who do.