In many churches, there is an assumption of "niceness." It isn't said outright, but everyone knows that we're good people who have never done anything too bad. Those people out there... Well, they're a different story. We feel bad for them, but what can you do? When sin is preached about, it's about things like the danger of using prayer requests as an opportunity for gossip or skipping your quiet time.
Niceness vs Reality
One of the things I liked best about Victory Outreach was the acknowledgment that in the house there are real people with real sins. As one worship leader said, "You've been delivered from more than sunflower seeds. It's Sunday morning, so I'll say God has delivered us from 'stuff.'"
The original Victory Outreach was founded in Southern California in 1967, working with street gangs and street people. Shortly after its founding, government agencies saw the good the ministry was doing and offered financial aid, but V.O. soon realized they would have to rely on God and His people to do the work without the restrictions the government might impose.
Victory Outreach has franchised around the country and around the world and has been in Sonoma County for over 25 years. Like other branches, the local Victory Outreach puts an emphasis on recovery ministries. I talked to a couple of different people at the church who had been through the recovery program and now held positions of responsibility in the church. On the Santa Rosa campus they have a house for recovering male alcoholics and drug addicts. Nearby is another house for recovering women. Before the service, there was a group of a half dozen women standing in front of the church to left of the stage and a group of men standing in the front of the church on the right of the stage. Worship music played over the speakers as a man with a mike prayed on the stage. We're pretty sure the two groups were from the recovery houses. Another prefab four bedroom house will be on the property soon.
Mindy noticed the church air conditioning was set at "Men in Suits." Like the Salvation Army, it seems the men in recovery wear suits to church, and the tradition carries on when they are out of the program. There were also a number of men in shorts and t-shirts. Women's attire also varied from casual to Sunday best.
Even the morning's guest speaker, Evangelist James Fernandez, talked about how God had delivered him from drugs and alcohol thirty two years before. He talked dismissively of the term "higher power" for dealing with addiction. He said deliverance comes from Jesus.
Fernandez was in the pulpit (though there was no pulpit) because the church's senior pastor was at the Niners-Packers game with his wife (I appreciated their honesty about that). Fernandez was introduced as an evangelist who had traveled the world. He began his time by singing a couple of songs, Christianized versions of Billy Ray Cyrus' "Achy Breaky Heart" and Al Green's "Stay Together." I'm sure Billy Ray and Reverend Al would be okay with that. (Fernandez had CD's for sale in the lobby with a collection of his pop hits with a Christian take.)
His text for the morning was Ephesians 6. He spoke about the first item of God's spiritual armor, the belt of truth. He said the "belt of truth" was the Word of God. Though, of course, just a few verses down in that passage, the Sword of the Spirit is called the Word of God. I was distracted by an awkward metaphor he used, "standing on the belt of truth." It doesn't seem like a good thing to step on your belt. (Probably shouldn't make a big deal about this, but I have written a book about the Armor of God. Sure, it was a kids' book, but still...)
Victory Outreach is in the Pentecostal tradition with an emphasis on spiritual warfare. The sermon began with a warning that this month of October is annually a dark time. He claimed that the daughter of Anton LaVey, the founder of the Church of Satan, is organizing other Satanists to fast and pray against Christians throughout the month and targeting Victory Outreach and its leaders.
Fernandez spoke on the need of the congregation to stand their ground, fight and move forward. He illustrated his sermon with quotes from "Rocky Balboa," the sixth in the Rocky series. He did quite capable impressions of both Rocky and Paulie. He also pointed to Kim Davis and the victims of the recent Oregon shooting as people who have stood their ground for their Christian faith.
The sermon ended with an altar call, and I was inspired to see approximately a dozen people go forward to make a first time commitment to Christ. Of course, it was difficult to differentiate between those people who were making that commitment from those who went to pray with them. We saw several people "slain in the spirit" during the second altar call (which Wikipedia defines as "a form of prostration in which an individual falls to the floor while experiencing religious ecstasy"). The group who came forward that time were seeking deeper commitment, healing, or prayer.
We first heard about this church from one of Mindy's co-workers. He wasn't there at the 10:00 am service because he's now helping out with the church's Sunday afternoon Spanish language service. There is also a Thursday evening service and a youth service on Wednesdays (called G.A.N.G. for "God's Anointed New Generation.")
Signs and Wonders
We've themed this month with "Signs, Wonders and Miracles." One of the greatest miracles in the world is a life changed for the good, and we're happy to report that Victory Outreach has plenty of examples of this kind of wonder.
Service Length: 2 hours 27 minutes (plus prayer time before the service)
Sermon Length: about an hour
Visitor Treatment: greeters at the door recognized we were new and asked if we were first time visitors. They made sure we went to the welcome table inside the door. The man and woman at the table gave us the visitor's packet ("there's a snack and some information") which had a couple candies, two cards about the youth program, two cards with worship times and information for English and Spanish services, and a CD introducing the church. The woman at the welcome table gave us a visitors' card to fill out, and Dean and the man had a long conversation about why we were visiting and about the ministries of the church. During the service, visitors' names were mentioned during the greeting time.
Followup by Tuesday Morning: none*
Our Rough Count: 125
Probable Ushers' Count: 150
Snacks: coffee, water, probably tea and other drinks, with donuts and pastries for sale (I think) before the service; those things as well as burritos or chile rellenos for sale afterward.
Musicians: 7 singers (female, one leading worship), 2 singers (male), electric guitar (male), 2 electric bass (male and female), drums (male), keyboard (male)
Songs: New Creation
It's Because of You
The Lover of Your Presence
The Great I Am
solo: Heaven is Waiting for You
Miles to place: 7 miles
Total California Miles: 13,007
* On Wednesday morning, we received a very nice "glad you visited, hope to see you again" email from the church.