12 September 2014

Miracle Life Family Church

The Walkers (Senior Pastors of MLFC)

I could be wrong, but it is my opinion that MLFC has built something of a bad reputation with Reformed Baptist church leaders and enthusiasts in Lusaka for pilfering the young people in our churches. Last Sunday, I decided to go and see what the fuss is all about. What I found there was not what I expected.

I, like my counterpart, had been to Miracle Life before but never on a Sunday to attend the service. I think it would be fair to say that we were both astounded at what we found there, and pleasantly so. Obviously attending one church service doesn’t offer the most comprehensive perspective of what a church is all about and there's more to a church than it's Sunday service. One thing is sure; Reformed Baptist church folk in Zambia can learn a thing or two from MLFC.

A quick run through of our time there would go like this:

We attended the second, 10.30am, service. Traffic thickened as we approached the building with a hoard of first-service attendees leaving as a whole other hoard, like us, were making our way to attend the service that followed. We quickly got parked and made our way in. Ushers showed us where we would find free seats. We didn’t want to miss anything so we opted for the middle column, third row from front where the pulpit would be directly in front of us. The praise team stood on some make shift ascending steps on the left. Directly in front of us and right behind the pulpit were three individuals who led the praise team. Directly behind them going towards the right hand side were the musicians. The praise team were already leading the worship with some vernacular selection, shifting left and right with the enthusiasm that would make a Reformed Zambian Baptist’s skin crawl. The rock n' roll concert coloured background lights which were flashing didn't really help in settling our reformed hearts though they were turned off from the point we took communion onwards.

Things settled down as they led us through several songs of worship. All words were projected and the congregation stood throughout the singing. A group of suited men walked in through a front side door to occupy the front row of the right column and quickly joined the rest of us in standing and raising hands in praise and worship.

A relatively man young man who appeared to be one of the pastors came up and welcomed us all asking first time visitors to raise their hands so that we could be identified and given some cards and brochures for filling in. He invited the Senior Pastor, a white man named Walker, up front who explained that we would have communion after a song among other things. The praise team led us in another song and the bread and cup were passed around in a beautiful routine where as soon as you got yours, you stood up waiting for everyone to get theirs so that together, at the end, everyone ate together. When that was done there was a prayer and we were all seated. When we raised our heads at “Amen,” the stage which at first was filled had only the Pastor and two young ladies behind him on either side of the pulpit. The one holding a guitar gave their agenda away. The Pastor announced that the offering bags would be passed round and left the stage as the young ladies immediately broke into an extremely well presented song. When they were done, the young looking man, likely a pastor, returned to make announcements and invited Pastor Walker up to preach. The Pastor re-echoed a few announcements and opened to Proverbs 5 right after announcing that if any parents didn’t want their children to listen to the sermon on sexual purity, they could go to the exit where they would find ushers to take their kids to ‘Children’s Church’. He did however state that he wouldn’t say anything that would be thought explicit that the bible didn’t say. After an excellent sermon that would pass in any Reformed Baptist church, the Pastor asked us all to bow our heads. A musician rush up the pulpit area to begin playing the keyboard softly as the Pastor said a few stirring words and invited those who wished to give their lives to Christ to come forward. About six people came up and they were ushered through a side door on the opposite end of the one used by the Pastor and his team. As the Pastor invited anyone who needed help on any spiritual matter to come up front and see the people in front, about five individuals with name tags stepped up from the front row and walked towards the pulpit area and turned to face the people and we were dismissed.

I'll be honest. I'm not sure what MLFC is all about yet but from what I saw, I could move there. The gospel was certainly preached and emphasised. The man pretty much sounded reformed to me with some pentecostal influence. I read through their core beliefs and saw things like their emphasis on scripture and family. Obviously, some elements would be taken with a pinch of salt, but from my brief visit, we are beating the same drum especially as far as the gospel in concerned.

My preference is the Reformed Baptist churches because of our beliefs and gospel drive but I understand why we are losing our young people to MLFC. To put it in a word, I'd say "excellence". In fact, excellence, like the emphasis on scripture was mentioned among their core beliefs and values and boy did it show. I noticed it in at least two areas where we are, in my opinion, desperately lacking in our own churches.

1. Aesthetics

From the moment you drive/walk through the gate of MLFC you can't help but notice the aesthetic touch. The place is clean and beautiful. All the booths are well set up with labels. The pulpit area and pulpit itself is adequately lit and well set up and mapped out. Not too busy, not too plain. I have heard that they invested quite significantly to make sure the place ended up looking as good as it looks. The seats for the congregation are orderly and uniform, their floor is carpeted and well tiled. The paint on the walls looks fresh and void of markings or stains and even the placing of speakers and microphones is orderly and clearly thought through.

2. Organization

As soon as you drive through the gate, traffic control people in yellow traffic vests line the parking lot, directing you to where you should park. As you make your way to the doors of the building, all the exits and conveniences are well marked with signs to lead to them. There is something of an information desk for anyone needing any direction or information. There are several well marked booths for those who wish to register for certain seminars and courses announced during the service. For those interested in joining a midweek church group that meets for prayer and bible study, there is a well marked booth. All ushers are immediately identifiable and are eager to help and welcome. One is stationed at each exit and they line the aisles. Their sound and instruments are well balanced with no single microphone too loud or too low. The projector is well managed and used both during the singing and preaching. Each verse read appeared on screen in the version the preacher read it. Two or so times, a message appeared on the screen calling for the parents of so and so to make their way to the back. The musicians and praise team were in sync with no interruptions. Even the dressing of the choir and musicians is thought through. They are well placed on the pulpit area and well spread out. Even their exiting and getting onto the pulpit area is seamless and easily goes unnoticed. You cannot miss the work that they have put in to ensure that they are well prepared for the Sunday worship service. One may attempt to criticize them as maybe too prepared but at least they are organized and make an effort to ensure the best environment and aura for guest and member alike.

We as reformed baptists sin in our failure to apply ourselves in preparing for the sabbath worship, especially those who play specific roles and oversee the worship service for God's people. The aesthetic element is altogether missing. Our pulpit areas generally look terrible. You certainly do not return to the church because of how well organized and laid out it is. Yes, many churches go to an extreme and overemphasize this at the expense of the message but the opposite is just as inexcusable. I looked around and saw the diversity of people around, even Indians, in the congregation and quite easily understand how they achieve such a high attendee retention rate. We need to improve, beauty must follow from truth!

What MLFC does takes work and commitment to ensure that the people playing a role during the service are well prepared and set for the service. Everyone knows what they are doing and where they should be. Everyone has done their homework and is ready to play their part with excellence. Worshipping in a Reformed Baptist church can at times be a complete put off. We have settled for mediocrity and it is a shame on us because it is really treating the Lord's day with contempt. Because we do not apply ourselves, we don't even think of ways to make things better. One of the announcements the Pastor made at MLFC was the need to upgrade their projectors. Also, he spoke of a new system they would employ where all those who arrived for the 10.30am service before 10.30am would park in a special car park so that they had priority to leave first and not get caught up in traffic. That is excellence, that is a sign of people who take the Lord's day and worship of God's people seriously trying to always improve the systems and routines they employ. Perhaps we need to form "Excellence Ministries". Whatever the solution may be, I hope we reverse this unfortunate situation in our churches where we are content with mediocrity!