Let me begin by saying what a wonderful, Spirit-filled, REAL worship experience it was to be with New Life Downtown.
I should offer some background to my many blog-post readers who do not hail from Colorado Springs. On the far north side of "The Springs" is a mega-church called New Life. Most national news readers will remember New Life primarily for a scandal that occurred almost a decade ago that involved it's senior pastor Ted Haggart. New Life today, of course, represents so much more than it's association with one pastor's spiritual fall, but suffice it to say that New Life is large. The New Life building is so large that it can be seen with the naked eye from outer space. It's huge.
New Life Downtown is not huge (the Sunday after Easter it had around 500 worshippers). NLD meets in a high school auditorium. It's senior and founding pastor (my friend) Glenn Pakiam, is understated and down to earth. There are no fog machines which spew out a purple haze of mist as the band walks on stage. There are no special lights. There is no technicolored power point presentation. There is not a lot of pomp or circumstance about the service. The Sunday I attended, a single cross stood in the middle of the high school auditorium, adorned with a simple white grave cloth which draped across it. Communion was served at the end of the service. A simple message of hope and reassurance was delivered from the floor, at a bar table and from a stool. It was wonderful.
Let me try to be more specific about what I found so enriching about this worship experience. The service had three factors which I think are essential to any church that is seeking to be both spiritually alive as well as evangelically accessible to the outside world. The New Life Downtown service:
Engaged High and Low; The English poet John Keats once said that his favorite food combination was "pepper on strawberries." Several years ago the most popular interior decorating style in America was "shabby/sheek". Fashion designers in Milan have long attempted to combine denim and silk. New Life Downtown had both high liturgical features and an effective low modern worship music and style. Liturgical elements like "The Lord Be With You" "And Also With You" were invoked throughout the service.
Conveyed Warmth and Privacy; The morning greeting time lasted exactly two minutes (I know this because there was a time clock counting down from the front). Two minutes equals a lifetime for an outsider like me who is in a new social environment. And yet, in the two minutes of greeting time, five people reached out to shake my hand. They weren't "in your face" or invasive in any way. I know that some in the church took stock in my presence, because another friend later in the day asked me, "Were you at New Life Downtown today?". In other words, my presence as an outsider mattered to them and yet I was able to worship in privacy and in my own spiritual space.
Invoked Authentic Experience; The pastor for the morning (not Glenn) talked about struggles that he had had in his life which helped him to understand deeper spiritual truths. The message essentially dealt with a series of "inherent barriers" that many believers and non-believers struggle with in life. A special prayer was offered at the beginning of the service for all graduating high school seniors from Palmer.
I fully believe that the future of all effective worship in the United States (at least for the next 20 years) will incorporate elements of New Life Downtown. If you attend a church that is in major main-line denomination and is seeking revitalization, take a Sunday and check out NLD's new and refreshing style. If you are a part of the mega-church model years of the 1990's (Willow, Saddle), and want to experience the new latest model, go visit New Life Downtown. If you are an outsider to the faith, and are skeptical of organized religion, be assured that this new model, is, in the end, not so new after-all. the NLD service was more reflective of the first century Christ-followers who met in catacombs beneath the city of Rome and celebrated "Joy feasts" some two-thousand years ago. The Spirit of the Lord was, as they say, in both places.
All For Now,