trecc #6: surreal stew

I could write pages and pages and pages tonight. I won’t, but I could. It has been one of the most eventful and interesting days of my life – but more than that, it’s been surreal in its combinations.

[In case you’re new, I’m blogging a little differently than usual as I TRECC from Portland to North Carolina. You can see what I’ve been up to – and what TRECC stands for – at the TRECC Itinerary.]

This trip’s biggest days are not like steak – one great big, solid slab of food that richly satisfies. Instead, most of the most memorable days are like stew – real satisfying, but with a multitude of complimenting or even contrasting flavors.

Today was like that, only like stew with the most varying ingredients you can imagine. You might remember I had a pumpkin-lamb enchilada in the Bay Area a while back. Today was kinda like that, only with peanut butter added, and then the whole think dunked in a bowl of gravy and apple jacks. Today was a stew like that. Only scrumptious.

It was awfully “extreme” and diverse, is the point.

To set up the day, let me remind you that I’ve already been to 2 church services this weekend – The Rock and Bethlehem Baptist. The Rock is a Great Commission church, a denomination that has an interesting and sometimes checkered history. Bethlehem Baptist is where John Piper preaches, and he and his church are abundantly well-known and very influential in certain quarters, as you probably know. So I was coming in with an already-interesting church weekend.

Both of those churches – and the churches today – gave me amazing thought-fodder. I always like that. I enjoy any church that’s unique. I enjoy churches that are famous because it’s fun to think about why they’re famous and to explore how they do everything. I enjoy seeing churches that are clearly intentional, even in the little things.

I’ve seen an awful lot of famous churches on this trip, and I’ve seen a lot of other churches that are really interesting for other reasons, too. Good times.

As for today…

I actually decided to “sleep in” today, which still only meant 6 1/2 hours of sleep instead of 4 1/2. I missed an additional church service I could have visited, though. I’m really glad I slept, however, ’cause it’s been a really long day.

First stop this mornin’ was Sunday school at Bethlehem Baptist at 10am. (This was actually a really late start for my Sundays.) They have three campuses, and a college Sunday school at each. The Downtown Campus study is a traditional, teaching-only Sunday school, before they all head to the 11am worship service. I got to meet a few of the leaders, too.

When that finished, I had to book it across town to get to The Sanctuary Covenant Church in time for the 11am service. (I do a lot of “booking it” between churches on Sundays.) I think I got inside around 11:10.

Apparently, Sanctuary Cov. is #25 on this year’s Most Innovative Churches list, and I can certainly see why it might make that kind of list. This was, in style and content, pretty much an African-American church – only the audience was very diverse (with a bunch of college students, too), and the church was clearly a new, modern church plant meeting in the auditorium of a Minneapolis Middle School.

Efrem Smith, the Senior Pastor, will apparently be speaking at Willow Creek’s Leadership Summit this fall. He was good, that’s for sure.

This wasn’t Hip-Hop Worship Sunday at Sanctuary (that’s next Sunday), but this style wasn’t too far off. It was a fun morning.

One other big reason for visiting Sanctuary today was because of an event they were holding this afternoon. I “just happened” to be in town the day they were holding their “College Ministry Roundtable” – a meeting to draw college students (and they have lots of them attending, that’s clear) to chat about what a college-focused ministry might look like at Sanctuary.

Do you think that kind of meeting is up my alley? I think it is. Any chance I have to hear how churches are thinking about college ministry is a HUGE privilege.

Another ingredient in the stew.

I had emailed to ask about coming to the Roundtable, but having not heard back, I figured I would show up and ask about sitting in.

No students showed up.

So we – three of their volunteer leaders and I – spent an hour and a half talking about what they’re thinkin’ and what I’ve learned that might help them. It was one of the best couple of hours of my entire trip.

I can not tell you how awesome it is to see this trip really and truly be used to help real-life college ministries. And I’m not even very good at “consulting” yet – I talk too much and have too much rattling around in my brain. (That’s why book-form or blog-form helps – because there’s just SO MUCH to think about.)

But it was a great time with some cool people, and we all felt – definitely, me included – that God blessed us in working that out.

Next stop on my Sunday: Circuit City. For no obvious reason, my new-ish laptop AC adapter started beeping last night. Though they seem to have built in a beeper, the engineers didn’t put anything in the manual about what beeping is meant to indicate.

I think it’s still under warranty. We’ll see. But either way I had to get a new one today. Arg. Computer problems are the worst. After all that, it was about 4pm.

Do you notice any time in here for lunch (or breakfast) so far? No? Yeah, I don’t, either. I did get a few of those handy Special K bars and a Boost, but those don’t work for three meals in a row, generally. I got hungry today.

But churches do NOT wait for me to get Taco Bell, so instead it was on to Solomon’s Porch, my fourth activity for the day. Solomon’s Porch is an Emergent Church pastored by Doug Pagitt, one of the big, big leaders of the Emergent movement.

If you’re unclear, “Emerging” and “Emergent” are used differently by lots of people. Both denote a “new way of doing church,” and methodology between the two camps is often similar. They differ theologically, though, with “-ent” leaning far more “liberal” theologically than “-ing.” (Yeah, it’s kinda weird the way those words sound the same, but I didn’t make ’em up.)

Anyway, Solomon’s Porch is definitely one of the most unique churches I’ve ever been in. It appears to “out-emerge” many others of the same genre, too.

We met on couches and comfy chairs in a circular, “in the round” set-up – all in the spacious renovated sanctuary space of an OLD Presbyterian church. After the series intro (they’re starting a new series), the rest of the “message time” was spent hearing thoughts from members of the audience.

If all that’s not pretty Emergious, I don’t know what is.

Golly, I could write about Solomon’s Porch for days. But the same goes for everything ELSE I saw this weekend. So I continue.

After we took communion and received the benediction, I booked it once again – this time to Wooddale Church, one of America’s most influential. Their pastor, Leith Anderson, is the president of the National Association of Evangelicals now. And he was preaching, too. (It was a really good weekend of having all these famous preachers in their pulpits, by the way.)

Only this was Wooddale’s “The Gathering” service, the most “edgy” of their three service styles. They call it an “alternative worship experience” or something.

Truth is, it could be one of the BEST examples I’ve seen of a pretty traditional megachurch doing the “young adult style worship service” thing. Anderson is not young, but he pulled it off marvelously and with a willingness to stretch – down to letting attendees text-message questions DURING the message that he answered toward the end of the service. (I’ve seen that before – but it was at Mosaic and Mars Hill (Seattle). It’s a little more surprising when you see it in Eden Prairie, Minnesota.)

It was during the worship toward the end of that service, when the turntable artist started scratching his turntable, that I finally recognized just how amazing this day had been. (I even teared up a little.) This was turntable (and rap, eventually) for worship in an unlikely church. The same day as hip-hop worship in a middle school and Emergent church in the round. The same weekend as seeing John Piper on his home turf, in the traditional-but-intentional Bethlehem Baptist Church. And then the chance to see fruits from my labor in a real church, with real college ministry leaders, who really want to impact this generation.

This surreal day, of blessings and providence and locality and uniqueness and analyzation and sleepiness and hunger and booking it and scheduling and seeing, which is a microcosm of this whole surreal trip, is such a blessing to get to experience.

It’s surreal. It’s stew.

The activities of this long Sunday ended at the “Vespers” weekly student worship service at Bethel University. This was an hour of almost entirely singing in Bethel’s dark gym.

Funny thing is, there were several hundred college students there – and that was the second service of the night. It’s not just Bethel students, either – but guys and gals from UMinn and, I’m sure, other schools as well.

I’m worn out, but part of me feels like driving. In fact, for the first 30 minutes of the trip out of Minneapolis, I got to chat with a new seminary friend, who’s working on a report about Vintage Faith, the famous Emerging Church I got to see in Santa Cruz. It was really fun to get to share.

I made it deep into Wisconsin; now I’m finally going to sleep.

I don’t know my route tomorrow – I could end up in Louisville or thereabouts; I could end up in Pittsburgh or thereabouts. Really – there’s not the HUGE time difference you might think. So you can pray for direction on that one.

One final note: I DO plan to return to Minneapolis during the Road Trip. So if you wonder why I only ended up seeing one campus there and didn’t get any interviews there, it’s because I knew I’d be coming back for a bit longer visit this summer. This weekend was really beneficial for scouting it out, meeting people, and attending churches; I’ll probably just spend some time midweek when I come back.

TRECC stats

  • Today’s T-shirt: University of Oregon (“I am a Duck”)
  • Today’s states: 2 – Minnesota & Wisconsin
  • Miles driven today: 182
  • Campuses visited today: 1 – Bethel University
  • Total TRECC states: 7
  • Total Trip states: 36
  • Total TRECC miles: approx. 2046
  • Total TRECC campuses: 6
  • Total Trip campuses: 97
  • Time left until start of College Metro in Wake Forest, NC: 2 days, 4 1/2 hours as of 3:30am Central Time

Written from the Eau Claire, Wisconsin, area


  1. Jen

    awesome post ben! it sounded like a tremendous (and exhausting day). i think i’m entirely envious of your whole trip since i love college students, ministering to them, and social research. you lucky dog…

  2. Jake

    Sounds like a crazy day. That is really neat to hear how that older pastor is willing to adapt for the good of his church and the body of Christ. I am always impressed when I see older people willing to adapt, even if it is not exactly their “style”. That is tough to do!

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