In case you haven’t seen the billboards or heard about Newark’s latest burgeoning non-denominational church plant, their slogan is “Real Church for Real People.” I’m not writing to critique that congregation. For starters I have born-again friends who worship there. Besides this, when it comes to non-essentials like wildly different philosophies of ministry it’s “before his own master that he stands or falls (Rom 14:4)” and, regardless of motive, to the extent they are preaching the gospel, “whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice (Phil 1:18).” Likewise, I’m not writing primarily to point out how deeply ironic it is to claim the slogan “Real Church for Real People” using a stock photograph of a guy with tattoos holding the Bible (nothing against tattoos,…something against stock photographs and the mentality that would lead to such a marketing campaign). I am writing to take the slogan back. I think our church is Real Church for Real People, and more “real” than many.
1. We really sing. This past Sunday (April 12 at the time of writing) my soul was especially uplifted and nourished by the tremendous singing of Matt Papa’s triumphal “O Fount of Love.” To me, it was a foretaste of heaven and one that we at EPC experience every week. Since we’re being so ‘real’ here, I should say that great congregational singing is both by God’s grace and something we really strive to facilitate. By choosing to make congregational singing one of the main priorities of our music ministry, we have a church that can, and does, really sing. This might seem a silly thing to highlight, but I promise you it is not the case that in every congregation people can sing along and people do sing along. There are many reasons for this, including song choice, leadership, sound levels, general church culture., etc., but EPC is unique in the strength of our congregational singing. We, a real church, have real people who really sing.
2. We sing real songs. By ‘real’ songs, I mean we sing songs with depth that, like the psalms themselves, cover the whole range of human emotion and prayer to God. This isn’t a knock against contemporary songs (of which we sing many), nor of repetition in songs (read the hymns in Revelation,…most are a few sentences long and repeat throughout all eternity!). This is a knock against worship that is disconnected from actual, real, Christian experience. In opposition to perpetually ‘happy-clappy’ worship, we sing a mix of joyful songs and somber songs. This past Sunday we sang a few verses from Psalm 22. Why? We sang it not just because we want to incorporate more psalm singing, and not only to focus on the ministry of Jesus who ‘sang’ Psalm 22 par excellence on the cross. We sang Psalm 22 because many of our brothers and sisters, like King David and King Jesus, can only sing Psalm 22 because that is where they ‘really’ are. The fact the over half the psalms are lament should tell us that if we can’t lament in song in corporate worship, then we are not that real of a church for real people. Real people struggle, and we want to be a church where real people can be honest in that before the Lord and one another in corporate worship.
3. We are really diverse. In one pew you have a covenant child alongside someone from Kenya alongside a U.Del. international student alongside someone from Millcroft Retirement home alongside a local truck-driver alongside an aspiring physical therapist. On and on we could go. We have every demographic, every income bracket, every life stage, all in one worship service. More than that, we have every kind of moral background. When I look out at our congregation I don't see grey hairs or job titles or ethnicity or status, I see stories of God's grace delivering this person from drug addiction, that person from a homosexual lifestyle, this person from a life of wasted pleasure and that person from resting in their parent's faith to, by faith, resting in Christ their own Savior and Lord. On and on we could go. Why is there such diversity? Because our target 'demographic' is the 'sinners in need of a Savior' demographic. Our goal is not to be a niche market catering to a certain generation under the guise of authenticity, but a congregation living out the great commission and great commandment with a kind of Christ-centered Word and worship that draws real people to really sing God's praises. In Christ, as one body, we really suffer together, really rejoice together, really fellowship, love, serve, together. That's exactly what God is doing in our midst. It's real church for real people and I couldn't be more thankful for what God is doing here.
- Pastor Knott