Sunday, April 17, 2005

The Feminarian Goes to Mosaic

First I must ask for your prayers, as my dad today resigned his pastorate, as is his associate, leaving their church with no pastors, and dad & mom w/no jobs, friends, or house. This was the recommendation of the oh-so-helpful survey people who came to "evaluate" the church a while back.

But I want to share with you about my trip to Mosaic, a church here in Pasadena. In the spirit of Ship of Fool's Mystery Worshipper, I'll just list some questions and my answers to sum up the experience (this is going to be long).

The Basics
Name of the church:
Denomination: Southern Baptist (so I’ve been told, it’s not made known by the church)
Origin/Mission: Their welcome packet included a confusing five-part mission statement (their “Core Values”):
Wind – Commission: Mission is why the Church exists.
Water – Community: Love is the context for all mission.
Wood – Connection: Structure must always submit to Spirit.
Fire – Communion: Relevance to culture is not optional.
Earth – Character: Creativity is the natural result of spirituality
It sounds pretty but I don’t get how these are connected (the element, “C” word, and sentence of each, that is).
Name of the service: None as far as I could tell, just “Mosaic” or maybe the name of the sermon series, “Imagine: Creating the Life of your Dreams” which was on a huge banner above the big screen. Today’s session, which was introduced by a little film, was entitled “Adapt.”
Kind of service: Sunday morning worship
The cast: Musicians, skit actors and dancers, a preacher, and a guy who did announcements.
The manner of the worship leaders: The musicians were accomplished but when they tried to encourage the crowd it sounded a little weak and forced. Besides this they only sang, didn’t pray or talk. The actors were “in character” so it’s hard to guess their manner. They were trying to be funny and mostly succeeded. The preacher was very loud, yelling at us most of the time, except when he’d affect a hoarse, “meaningful” tone in his voice. The announcement guy was a little dorkier than the rest but he was warm and welcoming.
Description of the congregation/Demographics: The congregation was almost entirely 20-30’s (most looked in college or just out), although there were 2 or 3 older folks (elderly) and maybe 10-15 boomers. I saw one baby, one young child, and one older kid who came in at the end. The musicians looked about 20 (except the boomer playing the bongos), the preacher mid-30’s, and the announcement guy mid-40’s. It was almost entirely white people, although the band was half Koreans. There were a few people of different ethnicities in the group but they were mostly one of a kind. Definitely there’s no problem here with a “hip” look (dyed hair, funky clothes, etc.), so it was hard to tell how wealthy people were. They seemed to be more from Pasadena than LA (not cutting-edge). The majority of people were in casual clothes – not preppy, but clean and pressed.
How full was the building? About ¾ at the start but seemed mostly full by the end. It was hard to guesstimate but I think about 500 were in attendance.
Did anyone welcome you personally? The parking guy, two people at the welcome table (where we purposely hung out – one was a nice young Asian girl who answered our questions and the other was a boomer who seemed a bit nervous of us), and the person handing out programs at the door.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost? I was accosted by a woman who gave me a flyer for the women’s breakfast, telling me 6-700 women attend and I should bring my non-believing friends (I don’t know how she knew I was a believer).
How would you describe the after-service coffee? They had lemonade and coffee to drink, and bagels and pastries to eat, all at a charge. We saw a sign for “1 free drink for 1st time visitors” so I asked for a lemonade and was told I had to fill out a guest card. I drank my lemonade with guilt.
How would you describe the pre- and post-service atmosphere? People seem to be there to get church done – not really a feeling of anything in the air. There were many small social groups talking, 2-3 people, but just about shallow things. Most people got inside to get a seat and when it was over they checked out a few tables and talked to friends. It wasn't an especially excited place but it was pleasant enough.
The overall mood or atmosphere of the service itself? It felt mellow…almost to the point of disinterestedness. It was all very loud.
Level/type of participation by laity? I was really surprised that the people didn’t sing (not that they could have heard themselves). They all stood up and listened to the singing, then sat down and listened to the sermon, then left. There were no opportunities to talk, pray, greet one another, or say anything as part of the liturgy. If you didn’t want to sing, you could keep your mouth shut the entire time, and a lot of people did. They were, however, engaged in listening to the sermon, taking notes and/or using their Bibles (the verses were also projected on-screen).
Clergy? One preacher and one announcement man, neither identified themselves, and no other clergy were visible. I don’t know who the clergy were, although I was offered a “Backstage Pass” to talk to them and invited to the “10-Minute Party” afterwards where I could have someone answer questions.
Vocal/Visual/Body cues of leaders: The musicians raised their hands when singing some parts of the songs (words like “Hallelujah”). They mostly stayed standing in one place. The preacher used his hands a lot when talking and paced the stage, obviously wanting to draw the crowd’s interest into his message. He held up his Bible when reading from it and the Harvard Business Review when quoting from it. The announcement guy used a hand-held mic (as opposed to the preacher’s Secret Service-style earpiece) and also paced a little.
What does the congregation do in response? They stood every time we were singing, they clapped for the peppy songs, a few (less than 10) lifted hands (especially when the leaders did), some hugged themselves, some hunched over in prayer. One woman was signing through the songs (to the side, not a leader). Two people at the left were painting. All of the congregational actions, except for a couple holding hands, were individualistic – eyes closed, many hands folded, standing straight up.
What action(s) does the most work in the service? This is a toss-up between the singing and the sermon, but judging by the level of congregational participation, I would say the sermon was most effective for the laypeople.
What is the dramatic high point of the service? I think the congregation most enjoyed the skit, because they whooped for the dance moves (it was about hip-hop dancers) and laughed at the jokes. Most of the service was on an even keel and I didn’t feel especially moved by any of it.
What does this moment say about what is valued? The congregation values being entertained. The clergy value their music and their sermon and maybe can’t decide which is more important?
Which part of the service was like being in heaven? If heaven is anything like this, I don’t want to go.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place? Most especially the music.
Did anything distract you? These glowing orbs on silver pillars that were set about the stage (they glowed through the blackouts, and even changed color).
Are they clearly exhibiting an adherence to any cycle of Christian time? Not that I could tell, although they were in the middle of a nine-week sermon series.
What does the church’s schedule look like? Services at 5 pm Saturday and 9 (two locations), 11, 5 and 7 on Sunday. They have a lot of small groups that meet at various times.
Outline of the worship service: There was no written program (the brochure I got was just an offering envelope, a guest card to fill out, and a list of their services). The service went: five songs, short computer-animated film that introduced the sermon topic, a skit, the sermon (intro, prayer, exposition with scripture interspersed, closing prayer), a greeting to guests, the offering (canned music and announcements on screen), announcements, closing song (same as opening song). The offering and announcements went on for 10 minutes.
Is it linear or layered in progression? Linear.
Do things happen spontaneously or are they carefully planned? They want to seem spontaneous (hence no printed order of worship) but obviously it’s planned because the PowerPoint followed everything perfectly. Even when the preacher said “By the way…” and went into what might have been a tangent, the slide came up with the scripture he was quoting.
What were the exact opening words of the service? The opening of the service was extremely loud music (especially the drums and bass) and a song. The first actual spoken words were “Thank you, sit down” after the songs.
Closing? “It was great to see you, look forward to seeing you next week. Why don’t we have a closing song?” and we did.
Describe the segues: Lighting was used (blackout or change in light) to indicate changes in mood and between worship elements. The short film was a segue from singing to skit. Canned music was used during the offering, during which there were announcements on the screen.
Does anything unexpected or surprising happen? We were really unsure about when the service was ending. The sermon was done, and the preacher closed it in prayer. Then he welcomed the guests and told us not to feel obligated to give to the offering. Then the offering began (people passed paint cans) and several people left. We weren’t sure if that meant it was over. The canned music had come on, as had the announcements that were running before the service, so we thought maybe it was over. But not everyone left so we stayed put. Then the guy got up with the microphone and gave some verbal announcements (which were also put on the screen), and took us into the final song. People were having conversations during all of this, and the audience lights had come on, so it was really hard to tell if it was part of the service or just the coda. After the final song, though, most people left, so we did too.
The neighborhood: Residential, one of the middle class Pasadena neighborhoods.The building: Auditorium of William Carey University
Is there another location(s)? Mosaic has four locations in LA (and seven elsewhere in the country).
Gathering space: The “Connection Village” which is a bunch of tents set up. It looks like an arts fair. Each tent has info about a group or event, or food, or stuff to buy. It’s where people hang out before and after the service – not a lot hang out in the auditorium.
Worship space: A large auditorium (seats probably 1000) with the sides and back rows corded off. Some theater seats were available, but we sat in the front where there were folding chairs. In the very middle in the front were maybe ten cushy armchairs and two café table setups (three wicker chairs around a little wicker table). These seats went first!
The leaders are on a raised stage, with a second raised area behind the main platform, where the non-singing band members reside. Behind is a black backdrop curtain. To the sides of the stage are large silver pillars, probably 30 of them. To the left facing the stage is the area for artists with canvases and lights set up for them. Onstage are large triangular shapes that are lit in blue, and smaller silver pillars topped with glowing orbs. On the back wall is a huge banner that says “IMAGINE,” a smaller one that says, “Creating the Life of your Dreams,” and two huge vertical banners with sketched human figures, a man on one and woman on the other. These are all spotlit.
Subdivisions of space: The theater seats vs. the folding chairs vs. the “coffee shop” chairs; the painters’ area; the two levels of the stage; the pillars which hide the unused parts of the auditorium.
Where congregation/clergy facing? They face each other (with the stage raised).
What liturgical furniture is in place and when/if used? Halfway through the singing I noticed a plain wood table at the front of the stage. It was stark and unfinished and had a white towel on it. I thought it might be their altar or something that the pastor would use. But it turned out to be part of the skit – they actually broke it. Which had a meaning all its own.
Was your seat comfortable? Yes, it was nicely padded for a folding chair, but the length of sermon tested my limits.
What, if any, printed materials are used? None whatsoever.
Describe the prayers: There were two prayers said aloud by the preacher, one at the opening and one at the close of his talk. They were not read but had probably been thought through.
To whom are prayers addressed and how is that person spoken to? The prayers were definitely addressed to the congregation. They were prayers of thanks and request regarding the points of the sermon. Example: “God, thanks that we are adaptable…you know we allow ourselves to be shaped by the wrong things…help us to be pliable…shape us to be your people” etc. Basically he asked that God help us take on the challenge of what he was about to say, and then that God give us the things he just talked about.
Same questions about the sacraments and other parts of the liturgy (i.e. creeds). The only other liturgical elements were the songs and announcements. They did do a warm welcome for guests.
Who is preaching? I have no idea.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about? God made us adaptable and we have to be able to adapt to be what God wants us to be and to live the life of our dreams. BUT, in order to be adaptable, we must engage the culture, be flexible, and hold strongly to our core convictions.
What is the point (conversion, teaching, narrative, topical)? The sermon was a teaching sermon, using stories from the Bible and a few from life, to give people tools to make their own lives better.
Exactly how long was the sermon? 39 minutes, though it should have been 20. The natives were restless around 33 minutes.
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher? 3: I appreciated his use of Scripture, and the message was good, but he didn’t seem to believe much of what he was saying. It was more like a performance than a personal talk to us.
What is the response(s) to the sermon? There is no corporate response, and since we went straight into the intermission/offering/conversation time, it was kind of chaotic.
The style(s) of music used and from where/when is it? I didn’t know any of the music and there wasn’t any information about it on the screen. It was a pop music style.
Who leads? One female and one male leading singer on each song (two men switched off the male role).
What musical instruments are played? Keyboard, bass guitar, electric guitar, acoustic guitar, drum set, bongos, tambourine, shaker.
Who is participating? Not very many people are singing but there is a lot of movement (mostly bopping along to the music). The congregation’s singing, if there was any, was absolutely inaudible over the drums and bass. If the mics weren’t turned up, the leading singers couldn’t be heard either, which happened when you could see their mouths moving but not hear anything. The building completely absorbed the sound such that I couldn’t hear myself at all (and I can sing pretty loud). Looking around, I noticed most people were not singing, but they were listening to the music and participating with their bodies.
Who is the intended audience? The first four songs were to God and the fifth was more to one another (lyrics like “Together we sing, everyone sing”) and then to God during the chorus.
How does the music fit the order of worship? I had a hard time telling one song from another, but near as I could tell, there was no rhyme or reason to the order of the songs or when they were placed in the service (case in point: the opening/gathering song was the same as the closing/sending song!). They did have four peppy, one mellow, and one peppy again.
Where is the eye drawn? Usually to the big screen, which showed announcements, screen savers, the lyrics of the songs, the band members (in a concert-video style with weird fades and wipes), the actors, the preacher, and the scripture readings. Also to the painters, and to the glowing orbs.
What do you hear? Indian music when we entered, then generic, funky, ethnic music. Drums and bass during the songs. Mercifully at one point there was just keyboard – that was the only time I could hear people singing. Recorded music and talking during the intermission/offering. One thing I did not hear that I’m used to hearing is the noise of children and babies.
Do you use any other senses (smell, taste, touch)? Nope, except the sour taste in my mouth.
What type of sacramental objects are used and to what effect? The only objects I saw were personal Bibles, pens and pads of paper, the paint cans for the offering, and the preacher used a stool as a table and to sit on when praying (and his aforementioned Bible and magazine).
Is art used intentionally? Definitely – there are fancy screensavers behind the song lyrics, the whole stage looks like a set of a futuristic sci-fi film, the painters are there. The preacher brought up a painting of a butterfly, which stood behind him during his sermon. The skit combined acting and dancing (the dancers were not actors, unfortunately).
Does the visual and dramatic environment make an independent contribution to the flow of the service? The lighting and the video segments were used effectively to signal changes in the service mood, but they were intended to do that work. Just the painters, who had no specific correlation to the worship, were independently contributing (although they didn’t really fit into the flow).
How is art used to endorse/undermine the church’s theological values? Putting the painters up front shows that they are welcome and encouraged to worship God with their art. The church wants to be an impressive, moody show, and the sets, lighting, and screen play into that. The drama was silly, which may have undermined its purpose to lead into the sermon. In fact, when they smashed the table, I’m sure that didn’t reflect the church’s feeling about the Lord’s supper. The table wasn’t supposed to represent the altar – it was just part of the skit. I don’t think they intended the correlation I made. But I’m used to seeing a table in church used for the purpose of Eucharist, not to do a cool stunt (a guy in a ninja suit broke it with his hand...don't ask).
How is this church distinctly different from my own tradition? In every possible way, except that we might both believe in God.
Were there new, interesting, unusual liturgical elements? Smashing the table was definitely unexpected. The painters were new to my experience. The kinds of music (especially the ethnic, funky, and techno that played us out) were interesting.
Theological congruence – does the service do what it purports to do? If it means to teach a little and entertain a lot, then yes. If they hope people will come to a deeper relationship with Christ, I question their rather shallow offerings. There’s not much ritual to get into, and I couldn’t see any reason to come back.
What is the level of laity empowerment and laity awareness of their empowerment, such as it is? The laity do run many of the programs and ministries, but it seems that the majority of attendees just come for the show.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)? 0
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian? I have to go with my husband’s comment: “If I thought that’s how Christians are I would never want to be one.”


Anonymous said...

I live nowhere near CA, but I love the idea of this evaluation form. How great would it be to have a central clearinghouse where people could browse this kind of review of various churches in their area?

Anonymous said...

I attended Mosaic for about a year, and I have to say, your description is pretty much spot on. There were no glowing orbs when I went; that kind of frightens me.

LutheranChik said...

Greetings from a cranky Lutheran. Your description of "Mosaic" sounds like an especially horrifying and painful level of Hell. Maybe it's where reprobate liturgical types are sent when they die unrepentant.;-)

Now I have to go listen to some Bach to make the scary visions go away...;-)

pete said...

Point of Information:

Mosaic is a Baptist General Conference church, not an SBC one. BGC is somewhat less conservative than the SBC.

Anonymous said...

According to this website, Mosaic is affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention. There are a number of other websites that say the same thing, so if that's not the case there is quite a bit of misinformation out there on the subject.

pete said...

Hmmmm. I hope it will be obvious how I arrived at this mistaken conclusion--the BGC seminary I graduated from (Bethel Seminary, St. Paul, MN), has as an adjunct faculty member Erwin McManus, the senior pastor of Mosaic. It is required of all Bethel Seminary faculty to belong to a BGC church. Thus, my conclusion was that Mosaic must be a BGC church.

pete said...

that should end with ".html", not ".l"

Neville said...

I wonder if this post has helped to divide the Church even more than it already is?

I guess what I mean is, I'm always hearing people complain about Protestant forms of worship and Protestant churches and part of me jumps into complaining mode with them...while the other part of me goes, 'What are we doing to change it? Nothing, really.'

Sure, I'm not a fan of Willow-Creek-esque megachurches, but is the right response to simply scoff and sigh in their general direction, annoyed at how off "those Christians" are?

There must be a better way to recover, rethink and revitalize the way Church approaches all acts of worship.

I just wonder how many people in the Mosaic church community were talked to in this appraisal of its morning worship service?

Appreciate the thoughts though. Keep them coming.

Anonymous said...

Completely and utterly blown away by your assessment of Mosaic. It is obvious that you went into the church with a closed mind and your main objective was find things that you didn't like about the church. Mosaic is a church that is all about outreach. This is why the church seems so untraditional. Pastor Erwin is all about reaching out to people who don't know God and bringing them into a relationship with Him. I don't totally agree with all of the entertainment aspects of the service either, but you cannot question the motives of leadership of Mosaic. Otherwise, why would they hold service in the Mayan (a nightclub downtown). Before you go out and publish such a harsh criticism of a body of believers you should familiarize yourself with them first.

Stasi said...

Actually I did not remotely approach with a closed mind - I'd wanted to visit for a long time and I was expecting to really like it. It was my assignment to discern the theology behind everything communicated by the elements of the service. That is what I did (and then posted most of my paper here), and I was saddened that I didn't necessarily find a lot going on theologically.
I didn't question their motives, I simply reported what they are communicating to the outside world.