“A Baptist walks into an Anglican church on Pentecost…”

That might sound like the start of a goofy joke, but that’s actually what I did this past month. For a few weeks, I have been away. First, I was at the Southern Baptist Convention. But after that, I took some personal, family time. Since The Scarlett Nation prefers “stay-cations” to vacations (trust me, it’s not relaxing to travel with six kids), I was in town for a few June Sundays.

Typically, if this happens, we will visit a sister SBC church. I will hear a friend preach, take note of any juicy sermon illustrations, and worship as I normally do. But this last month, I decided to step outside my ecclesial comfort zone. I attended a Methodist, Anglican, and Lutheran church in town. Call it an experiment in Baptist catholicity.

In general, I was grateful for what I saw and heard. While there were some issues that we would disagree on, I’m happy to report that my “Rank Heresy Detector” never went off. I even had some new, interesting experiences. I sang worship songs that I had never sung before. I read from the Book of Common Prayer. I knelt for communion. I witnessed a baptism baby sprinkling. I even got to watch as another church had serious technical difficulties when their Audio-Visual equipment stopped working. (Phew, it’s not just us!) All in all, I think it was a worthwhile peek outside our tribe.

As I reflect on this little experiment, I did jot down a few thoughts. Here were a few ups and downs from my visits.


Down #1: Nobody Talked to Me

That’s a bit of an exaggeration. There was that one older lady, at the Lutheran church, who squeezed my elbow as I was walking out the door and quickly said, “Glad to have you,” as she then turned to keep chatting with her friend. But other than that, and the perfunctory pastoral handshake at the backdoor, I felt ignored. Nobody approached me, greeted me, or welcomed me. It was odd and uncomfortable.

All in all, I think this was a good experience for me to have. In one sense, I wanted to go unnoticed. It’s awkward, as a pastor, trying to explain why you’re at another church on a Sunday morning – let alone spying on the local denominational competition. But even more, I was able to experience what, sadly, many people do when they visit a church for the first time.

Every pastor has gotten that Monday morning email from a miffed visitor who is “never coming back” because your church is the “most unfriendly church I’ve ever attended.” Those words hurt. But now I better understand that their experience also hurts. I needed to be reminded of that.

We must never forget that people are not a distraction to the ministry of the church, they are the ministry of the church. Jesus was known as a “friend of sinners.” Could that be said of us?

If you see a stranger today, please introduce yourself. I know I will try. And if you find out that person is a pastor from another denomination, don’t be too suspicious.

Down #2: The (Almost) Jesus-less Service

At one church, the service was exactly 60 minutes in length. It included all the usual elements of announcements, singing, prayer, offering, sermon, etc. As I sat there, though, I kept thinking to myself, “Something seems…off.” But I couldn’t tell what it was. Then it dawned on me: nobody had mentioned Jesus! (They didn’t even pray “in Jesus name.”) It wasn’t until 52 minutes into the service, at the tail end of the sermon, that the preacher added, “and that’s why God sent His Son.” (Thankfully, the pastor did say more about Christ after that. But I was wondering, “Man, what took you so long?!”)

Grant it, that may have been a once-in-a-year oddity. Who knows. I won’t condemn that church for such a small sample size. But may we never forget: Jesus is not only Lord of our universe, He is Lord of our worship services. Each week, we must pray to Jesus, sing to Jesus, read of Jesus, preach of Jesus, remember Jesus, and focus on Jesus. We should talk about Him so much that people will accuse of being “little Christs” – like they did at Antioch. As John said “He must increase” but we must decrease. (Spoken like a true “Baptist.”) It’s all about Him and our worship services should make that loud and clear.

That’s enough of the downs, here are some ups.


Up #1: The Symbolism

The Anglican and Lutheran churches were more liturgical than the Methodist. (In fact, the whole service at the Methodist church felt awfully Baptisty to me. Haha!) Beyond the formal order of service though, these two churches were clearly committed to using imagery, symbols, beauty, and art. And it wasn’t the kind of cheap, evangelical knock-off graphics that we see on mega church slides which are just tacky imitations of worldly entertainment. It was rich, thought-provoking, and beautiful.

The high ceilings made the worship feel transcendent. The kneeling added reverence. The bright colors signaled something of royalty and majesty. The golden crosses and Communion dishes seemed to say, “God deserves our best.” These were immersive worship services. Maybe we could learn a thing or two.

Some of my Baptist friends will dismiss all of this as “smells and bells,” but it was a great reminder to me that God made us to hear, see, touch, and taste. Not only that, but He has called us to love Him with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. To see how other churches do that was a helpful. (But don’t worry, I won’t be wearing a robe anytime soon.)


Up #2: The Preaching

All three churches had a sermon. Each preacher read from and handled a text. One sermon was short (about 18 minutes). One was filled with personal stories. One even had a most memorable opening. (The preacher started by blurting out, “Happy Birthday!” to the church – since it was Pentecost Sunday.) I will say, though, that the sermon I heard in the Lutheran church was more Christ-centered and expository than many I’ve heard in Baptist churches. (In fact, I was so impressed by him, I have plans to meet him for coffee on Tuesday and get to know him better.)  If I may draw a conclusion from just one Sunday, it seems that these Methodist, Lutheran, and Anglican brothers agree with us that God’s people perish without God’s word. May we all continue to preach it faithfully!


With my experiment now over, it’s good to be home at Forest – where the hymns are familiar and the babies stay dry. But I will pray for these churches as they gather today too. I will repeat that prayer I often pray: “Lord, may the orthodox churches be strong, may the unorthodox ones be reformed, and may the heretical ones be closed.”