I spent a few days in Birmingham, Alabama to take some church planting training from the ARC (Association of Related Churches). During my time, I was able to visit two very influential but different churches. The first was, Church of the Highlands, with pastor and author Chris Hodges (Fresh Air). The second was, The Church at Brook Hills, with pastor and author David Platt (Radical). Both churches are large (25,000 and 4000 respectively) and both pastors are very well known. I give you these facts just so you have a general idea about the two churches. The point of this blog is not to compare the two churches, the point is to share what I really liked about both experiences while drawing some conclusions from it; some personal and some corporate.
My experience at Church of the Highlands began with a traffic jam coming into the church. I had never seen anything like it – police, cones, and a line of cars at least ½ mile waiting to get into the church; and this was just at one campus. Church of the Highlands has 10 campuses in all. Needless to say, I was floored but maybe it was because I had never seen anything like this before. Of course large numbers don’t always mean God is present. That was yet to be seen. As soon as I walked into the worship experience, I could sense the presence of God and I instantly began to weep. I was weeping for several reasons, some of which I won’t elaborate on today. Let’s just leave it at this: God did a profound work in my heart that morning that has had lasting fruit. The Spirit of God was alive and vibrant throughout the worship experience. There was a genuine and authentic power and a charismatic feel to the experience without any flakiness. It was easy to recognize that they wanted to be intentional about honoring God while at the same time providing an “on- ramp” for those who were far from God. The message, taken from the book of Daniel, was powerful, poignant, timely and prophetic. I came away with some conviction and points for immediate application. At one hour and 15 minutes, it was a great experience that left me hungering for more. If I had any complaint it would be this – it’s hard to connect with people in that amount of time with thousands of people present, but I guess that’s to be expected in a church of that size. It’s a bit intimidating as a newcomer, but from what I hear, they do a good job at taking people on a path of discipleship and have many small groups to accommodate community and growth. Overall, it was a powerful experience from which I benefitted greatly.
Later that evening at 6pm, I attended The Church at Brook Hills. From my limited knowledge and research, they appear to be Southern Baptist and Reformed. Although the church itself was large and very nice, the service was fairly laid back with no frills. There was no unnecessary lighting, smoke or worship video loops. The songs focused around the cross and the gospel and the music was upbeat, passionate and Baptist. By that I mean no lulls, spontaneity or prophetic moments. A few people raised their hands, some sang and many simply stood there looking up at the screens somewhat expressionless. David Platt did not preach that evening. It was another pastor preaching from 1 Corinthians 2:1-5, one of my favorite passages and a foundational passage for Journey Church. At first I found his exposition somewhat dull and dry. He wasn’t a boring speaker, but there were no stories or illustrations to flesh it out, just pure, line-by-line, expository preaching. But as he continued, it grew on me. I found a joy and purity in the no frills gospel message coming through. At the end, there was a particularly poignant although lengthy segment where the pastor called up David Platt to elaborate on this point: rejoice in the message not the messenger. Although David Platt, who seems to be a humble man, was clearly uncomfortable with it, they encouraged their people not to embrace the cultural preacher/rock-star mentality that has crept into the Church in the United States. They clearly articulated the power of the gospel itself and their displeasure of this mentality within Jesus’ Church. The preacher made this powerful statement during that time, “The gospel does not increase in effectiveness and quality depending on the giftedness of the preacher.” Although they recognize that their pastor has been given a large platform, their desire is put the emphasis on the glory of God and discipling nations, not upon a personality. The preacher ended by encouraging the people to be thankful and honor their pastor, but not to over-emphasize his giftedness by falling prey to a cultural and unbiblical mentality, evidenced by 1 Corinthians 1:12
Some of you are saying, “I am a follower of Paul.” Others are saying, “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Peter,*” or “I follow only Christ.” 
By the end of the message, I was built-up, encouraged and joy-filled.
In the end, both experiences solidified my belief that there is a need for many different kinds of churches because there are many different kinds of people. After all, as believers, we are a part of just one Church – the Church Jesus is building. In fact, I’m convinced that church without spot or wrinkle, referred to in Ephesians 5:27, is a “Church” (world-wide, all Christians) that’s in love with Jesus and unified with a mission: to reach and disciple every town, city, tribe, tongue, nation and people. I don’t believe God sees denominations. He sees whether or not we are have repented, acknowledged and received the gift of salvation through the death and resurrection of His precious Son, Jesus. In the end, we (Christians) need one another. Not just on an individual level, but the Baptists need the Charismatic’s, the Charismatic’s need the Reformed church, Denominations need non-denominational churches, and so on. It’s not hard to argue that a spotless bride is one that’s not bickering over doctrine, but honestly discussing and processing their differences in order to move together in unity with a mission. I’m not saying that it will be easy to get to that point, I’m just saying it’s necessary.
This is a passion and a life calling for me: to help bring the body of Christ together for mission. I call it unity with a mission: to see the gospel of the kingdom preached in all the world as a witness to all nations (see Matthew 24:14). I think unity has to be focused around something bigger – a mission. How to do this is an entirely different story and I have very few answers. I do know this: it has to be a work of grace, a work of love, and a work of the Holy Spirit. It’s an impossible work, the kind that is right up Jesus’ alley.
I would love to hear your thoughts on this…
 Tyndale House Publishers. (2007). Holy Bible: New Living Translation (3rd ed.) (1 Co 1:12). Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers.