Wednesday, August 23, 2017

We Go to a Community Church

NorthPointe Community Church,  Fresno, California
“We don’t believe it’s good to do life alone,” Ben Koole, one of the pastors at NorthPointe Community Church said as he was opening the service. Mindy and I don’t believe it either, which is why we’re doing Community and Neighborhood Month on the blog -- and that’s what brought us to NorthPointe Community Church. Ben noted five upcoming events to help people get involved in the church, but he said there wasn’t time to discuss the events. Instead, he encouraged people to look the events up on the website.

There was time to talk about another program, “Say Yes to the Next Generation,” the ongoing fundraising program for the children’s facilities. So far, they’re well on their way, having taken in $4.7 million of the $5.8 they need to raise in order to pay off the buildings on the property. To help the congregation go “All in” on the project, they’d produced and showed us all a video tour of the elaborate teaching areas. The first and second graders meet in Kingdom Kids, which has a medieval castle theme. The third and fourth grades meet in the Cinema. The Outlet, with a power plant theme, is dedicated to fifth and sixth graders (for all those future engineers). “I’m envious, I wish they’d had this stuff in church when I was kid,” Senior Pastor Steve Williams said after the video.

The congregation was urged to look toward the examples of willing giving found in the Old Testament when God’s people built the Tabernacle and the Temple. Williams noted the example of King David, who gave to the Temple as an example to others, and he told the congregation that while he’d always given his tithe (a tenth of his income) to the church, he’d given a second tithe for this building program. “Who will step up with me? People aren’t expected to give equal gifts, but there can be equal sacrifice. You need to get the pledge cards in by September 3rd. Nothing becomes dynamic until it gets specific.”

We enjoyed the music. People in the congregation seemed to be singing. A little thing I noticed in the song lyrics on the screen was that everything seemed to be lowercase except for any reference to God and Christ, including the pronouns. When the offering baskets were passed, Mindy put our “connection card,” though there weren’t any others in the basket that she noticed.

Pastor Williams’ sermon was a continuation of a series entitled, “Why God? Handling Disappointment with God.” We were attending that morning with someone who has been going through difficult times, so we hoped this sermon would be an encouragement to him.

Williams used Job 23: 3, 8-9 as his main text and the idea of God playing Hide and Seek as a central image. When Williams related a difficult time from his own life, though, his story was rather underwhelming. About a year after he became a Christian, while he was still in high school, he began to have questions about his faith. He wondered about the problem of evil. So he got in his parents’ car and yelled at God, asking for an answer. But God was silent.

People in any congregation are dealing with big issues. Odds say that with five hundred people or so in the congregation, a large percentage are dealing with problems like divorce, mental illness, addiction, bankruptcy, the death of a child… Williams has been a pastor of this church for over thirty years, so I’m sure he’s counseled with people dealing with major issues. So wrestling with doubt as a teen in what sounds like an otherwise healthy life didn’t really have much of an impact.  

Along with the book of Job, Williams referred repeatedly to C. S. Lewis’ books that deal with the issue of God and suffering, The Problem of Pain and A Grief Observed. The person we were with has read and thought a lot about these two works, along with the Book of Job.  He felt that Williams gave a very superficial view of the arguments of these works, offering simplistic answers (and quotes used out of context at best), while Lewis' books present mystery.

At the conclusion of the service, baskets were passed again and people were encouraged to put in their connection cards at this time. We’d, of course, already taken care of that.

NorthPointe Community Church has beautiful facilities. Mindy and I both thought it was a little like a small-scale Saddleback Church in Southern California. It’s still pretty large compared to most other churches. NorthPointe has four Sunday services and averages over 2000 people in attendance each week. It is good to know that these people aren’t having to do the Christian life alone.

Service Length: 1 hour 17 minutes
Sermon Length: 41 minutes
Visitor Treatment:Visitors were welcomed from the front during the worship service and directed to the Connection Center in the lobby. There were also several welcome areas with material for visitors throughout the campus.
Followup by Tuesday Morning: none
Our Rough Count: 475
Probable Ushers’ Count: 500
Snacks: ice water, coffee, decaf
Musicians: keyboard (man)
Vocals (2 women, 1 man)
Acoustic guitar (man)
Electric guitar (2 men)
Electric bass (man)
Drums (man)
Songs: “Your Love Awakens me”
“Light of the World”
“Faithful to the End”
Distance to Church: 10 miles
Open WiFi: yes, if you set up an account
Tie/Suit Count: none
Church Website:
NorthPoint Community Church, Fresno, California