In the comments of my recent post Javalujah!, I talked about a church I attended this weekend, and I wanted to share a little more.

The church is called Phos Hilaron, which is a Greek phrase. They say it means “dancing light”, which is fine and illustrative, but I personally prefer the more straight up “hilarious light” or the less illustrative, but more accurate “cheerful light”. Anyway, it’s an old hymn, like 3rd century old. I guess I said all of that to establish that I am a stuck up nerd. I mean it.

I went into that church kind of nervous and guarded. #1)I didn’t prefer their translation of the Greek. #2)It was in a movie theater, which only further reminded me of the struggles I have with entertainment-based churches. #3)I read some publication from them that said they are “re-imagining church” or “redefining church” and it made me think of all the other signs I’ve seen at the new churches in the area: “doing church differently” or “not your typical church” or some other phrase that mostly translates to me as “Seeker Church 2.0”.

I suppose I went in with a few chips on my shoulder.

First of all, to be fair to myself: There was a strong emphasis on entertainment. The preacher even told me at the beginning of the service, “Just have fun!” They obviously had a huge screen to use in the theater. They used 3/4 of it to project the lyrics via mediashout; the other 1/4 they used to project live video from up front using the 2-3 cameras they had wired in for different angles. You could basically see fine because of the stadium seating, but why not have the band in video behind the band?! The camera guy would even fade between shots only to come back to a close-up of the guitarist’s hands wailing away on a particularly sweet riff. It was self-indulgent, funny, and kind of awesome in an are you serious? kind of way.

Now, to be fair to Phos Hilaron: It was not hollow entertainment. I suppose the best way to describe it is that it was purposeful. It was my first time at a church in months where I did not find myself asking questions like what am I doing here? or why does any of this matter? They had a lot of fun together; there was indeed a character of lightness (both in the sense of levity and of radiance) and of dancing in the room. We laughed, we sang, we listened. We engaged and were engaged. The preacher spoke a challenging, life-specific message about fighting for our marriages–it was faith applied to real life. The music was powerful in a strange way to me. We sang new rock and old hymns. One song, You are holy (Prince of Peace), was something I used to sing a long time ago at Bible Camp, and I found myself tearing up as I remembered that God is actually near. I guess I had forgotten. Silly me.

And perhaps the crowning jewel of Phos Hilaron is how they are re-imagining church, however trite of a phrase that might be right now. Three Sundays out of four they have a “worship service” at a place like the Tinseltown movie theater. But on that fourth Sunday they switch things up and do a “service worship”. Rather than meet and sit in a building and consume Christianity, I kid you not, they actually go out as a church and serve in their community. This month, they are going to Jefferson Street Baptist Center to serve the homeless doing everything from helping in the eyeglass clinic to helping with haircuts, assisting nurses, serving food, painting, light construction, etc. They live it out together. This is something I have long dreamed of. When I was 18, I told my pastor that instead of having a service at church one Sunday, we should just have everyone go out and serve together. He got angry at me, because I had implied that that was the only way to get people in the church to actually serve. But here it is now being lived out.

I guess re-imagining church is fine when it’s done faithfully and authentically in such a beautiful way. I guess entertainment isn’t so bad either if it isn’t hollow and an end in itself. And I guess calling yourself the Dancing Light Church isn’t so bad if you really are going to dance the light of Jesus into this dark world.