I pulled into the parking lot and turned off the engine. I guess this is it. A friend had recommended City Pres earlier in the week, and Doug Serven had called me to introduce himself, so I thought I would at least visit.
The halls were empty, but the melody of an unknown song drifted from the sanctuary. Timidly, I approached the first pew in the back and sat down. A nice lady came and asked me if I was looking for City Pres. I said yes. She directed me to a different auditorium where a congregation was singing “O the Deep, Deep Love of Jesus.” As I slipped into a back row, a tall man introduced himself. His name was Ben. After the service, Ben invited me to his Tuesday night City Group in Deep Deuce.
When you meet someone or go somewhere for the first time, your first impressions can often fade into “the real person” as you find out personal qualities. What caught my attention that first night was the honesty, openness, kind yet thought-invading atmosphere, and realness. But it hasn’t faded.
I went to Deep Deuce that Tuesday.
There was a nagging curiosity and burning desire to see if what I felt and saw on Sunday was all real. I don’t remember the exact Bible passage we studied, but I remember we talked about the biblical characters’ humanity—they were people who had feelings, problems, and stories that were just as unglamorous as those of us in the present day but for the fact that they got to see Jesus in person. Jesus came into the world. Those of us who live in the world don’t always live in dazzling palaces.
Why aren’t we talking about the lessons we’re supposed to learn from the passage—like the commands we’re supposed to follow or the life-altering conviction from Jesus’ message? I thought. I remember Ben saying something like, “What’s in this character’s story?” To me, Bible study meant you take a passage and think about it for a while, break it down into verses, write summary sentences, discuss resulting truths, and try to apply it to your life that week. But this was different. It was simple. We were looking at the biblical characters’ stories.
I came curious and left even more curious. Was I missing something? Why was the story so important? Story? And why was I so curious? Almost overwhelming curiosity. I don’t like when I think about something for a really long time and can’t figure it out—and this was something I couldn’t figure out.
That was over two years ago.
I still haven’t figured out why I was so curious, but I do know one thing that’s at least encapsulated in this: City Pres invites “others to walk with Jesus with us.” While inviting people to come walk with Jesus, City Pres congregants do some walking themselves. That’s the heart of the City Groups. That’s the heart of the music—what I call the cross between Charlie Brown, Coldplay, and Bernard of Clairvaux—and the musicians. That’s the heart of every message from the pulpit. That’s the heart of why we walk down the aisle for the Lord’s Supper. That’s the heart of why others write their stories on this blog.
City Pres hasn’t ever given a reason to change the first impression I received that November night in 2012. And the invitation to walk with Jesus is stronger and continues to stir my heart more than any sermon I’ve ever heard—because of the friends who faithfully live it out.