Sunday, February 28, 2010

A Report from Christchurch, Newport (SGM)

I've probably been one of SGM's more outspoken critics over the past few years or so - but I have always hoped that if I was proved wrong then I wouldn't be afraid to say so. So today I went to a Sovereign Grace Ministries church for the first time in about five years for my nephew's dedication - Christchurch, Newport - which is very much the "flagship" SGM church in the UK pastored by Peter Griesley.

I had an amazing time in which I was indeed proved wrong and thought the best way to report on it was to use the "Ship of Fools - Mystery Worshipper" format. That will help me waffle less:

Denomination:

Sovereign Grace Ministries - a "family" of churches.

The building:

Intriguingly an old telephone exchange - and the building looks like one too.

The neighborhood:

The M4 motorway.

The cast:

Dave Taylor (the "Executive" pastor) who led worship and his band. Peter Greasley (the Senior Pastor).

What was the name of the service?

Sunday Meeting.

How full was the building?

There were 600 chairs laid out and I didn't see many empty chairs.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

Yes. There were car park attendants to direct my family mobile and were stewards on the door who smiled and said "Hello" and gave me an update leaflet. Peter Greasley the senior pastor also grabbed me and said "hello - great to see you" (I should add this is probably cheating as we had previously agreed to speak to arrange a meeting!).

Was your pew comfortable?

It was a grey plastic chair with minimal padding. Not the most comfortable - but also I have sat on far worse pews.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

Lively, loud and excitable.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

"Hello ... can anyone come and sit down and let's get started".

What books did the congregation use during the service?

None. There was a projector which displayed the words of the songs.

What musical instruments were played?

A guitar, keyboards, drums.

Did anything distract you?

They have an LED device up near the screen that flashes up a number allocated to parents, whose children are in creche or nursery. When we were singing songs I didn't know I found myself looking to see which parents were scuttling out.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?

Very lively and passionate with lots of hands raised. There were no spiritual gifts (prophecy, tongues etc) however that I saw. The theme that kept coming through to me was the "Unchanging Faithfulness" of God. The highlight for me was singing a re-vamped version of; "My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus blood and righteousness".

Exactly how long was the sermon?

40-45 minutes or so (but didn't feel like that at all).

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?

I would say a 9.5 (only Terry Virgo, Rob Rufus or Ern Baxter get 10's). I've heard Greasley years ago and this was probably the best I've heard him preach.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

Text: Romans 2. "A Matter of the Heart".

1. Outward religion cannot make you right with God.

2. Righteousness with God is a heart issue.

3. If you rely on religious rules then you had better keep them!

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

The theme of grace, grace, grace that came through the worship and the sermon.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?

Probably the walk up to the church - I hadn't been in Sovereign Grace Ministries churches for 5 plus years and I feared the worst.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?

Peter Greasley the senior pastor found me and chatted about said meeting. I also had a brilliant catch-up with a friend I used to know from previous days which was great - we exchanged phone numbers. He was very real and welcomingly un-religious!

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

I didn't have any - I hate after-service coffee but we were told that if we were visitors we could skip the queue.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?

The church = 8 (it is still SGM after all). The neighbourhood = less. I did toy with the idea of being a commuting church-goer during the worship!

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?

Yes - very much so.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?

That it is stupid and naive to tar all churches with the same brush simply because they are in the same family of churches. And also to forget that God does amazing on-going works of grace in church pastors who are also human and can make mistakes and are as worthy of forgiveness as I have received said forgivness!

7 comments:

janelle said...

Hahahha, Dan you crack me up. Interviewing yourself is a brilliant idea.

I'm sooooooo glad to hear that you had a great time.

Anonymous said...

Dan

I have a question about your visit. I have visited many churches which seem terrific on the surface. Great sermon, great music, lots of nice people, etc. However, the devil is in the details.

The issues that concern many folks over at sgm survivors, etc seems to be the long run issues of control, discipline, etc. But, with all of the issues surrounding the primaries of SGM, I must admit, sadly, that I remain dubious.

I am glad that you had a great visit and hope that it portends well for that church.

Dan Bowen said...

Anonymous,

You ask a good question.

But I think the context that has to be born in mind is that I have been the most suspicious of SGM in the UK for almost 5 years.

I went to that church service dreading it and expecting legalism, a dreary citing of "the Cross" and Mahaney-isms.

So I was taken back to say the least to experience a genuine passionate touch of the Presence of God during worship. I wouldn't say it was charismatic or even continuationist - there were no spiritual gifts at the very least!

And the preaching - I dissect preachers well and can even criticise some of my heroes like Terry Virgo and find fault. So Peter Greasley would not have been someone I would be expecting much from at all (being the SGM leader in UK).

But I was wrong! It may not be like that every week and there may indeed be issues under the surface. And I know that abuses have gone in the church previously (particularly when former leaders were in the church - now elsewhere).

But I was just trying to reflect on that visit which was the first encounter with SGM for years, and one that was highly stressful and emotional. And that was my genuine and honest response.

jul said...

Dan, that's great! I'm SOOOO glad your visit went well. I wonder if that message is up on the church blog? Would be interested to hear it. I've hear Pete preach quite a few times in person and always enjoyed him though I don't know if I still would or not, you know I'm very particular about the gospel and a couple of SGM's pet doctrines are so anti-gospel in my mind that I can't imagine them preaching a whole message without referring to them at all. If that's what Pete did, then bravo to him! I've heard whole sermons preached since leaving (online, SGM that is) which were so good and then right at the end they spoil it all with some reference to bad news.

So I guess I'm a little skeptical like anonymous but still very happy you had a good time. I won't deny we had some wonderful worship times in various SGM venues, something we still miss sometimes. Also, you won't find nicer people anywhere, generally speaking.

Many of us were praying for you, good to hear those prayers were answered in the way they were!

Dan Bowen said...

Julie, that's certainly been my sense in past visits to Christchurch.

I'll tell you honestly what I sensed from Peter Greasley - he's human and he honestly cares.

I think if he had just been lovely to me in person and I had sensed an iota of legalism in his sermon, I would have been highly suspicious that he was just buttering up to "shut me up". But the fact that I didn't hear anything that made me nervous during the sermon too, really was amazing.

I'll give you a hint of practical application he gave at the end of the sermon.

He told parents to stop standing in judgement on their children if the children are "playing up". He pleaded with them to stand "with" their kids and make it clear, "we're no better than you".

He told leaders the same!

So what I was hearing was a practical application of REAL grace - and yes this was a Sovereign Grace church!

He said some more stuff to me when chatting that wouldn't be appropriate to share in public, but it was all good. And as I said to Anonymous - I was going on FULL red alert ready for the slightest hint of ANYTHING legalistic. I wasn't expecting to be so blessed through the worship, the sermon AND through how fab he was in person.

Let's hope the other SGM churches come to reflect that one day ...

Dan Bowen said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dan Bowen said...
This comment has been removed by the author.