August 21, 2004
Pastor Dave Brown is unabashed about it. He sleeps in on Sundays while his peers in ministry labor in their churches.
Yet he and Pastor Doug Brendel lead their worship services on Wednesday and Thursday nights for Compass Fellowship in northeast Phoenix, offering people a spiritual lift in midweek when they may be feeling their lowest.
Brown, 43, is the lead pastor and handles music, while Brendel, 49, is the teaching pastor, delivering the message each night.
When the two men conceived of Compass, they wanted to do "a midweek church for a few different kinds of people," Brendel said. "People who can’t or won’t go to church on weekends because either they are uncomfortable with the traditional church or their own schedules won’t allow it," he said.
For Warner Lewis of Scottsdale, Compass is his "second church," although he is "still looking for a church home for Sunday." He is part of a core of more than 30 people who have launched the congregation, which began meeting in a house in January and subsequently bought the home, its guesthouse and an acre of urban desert.
Keeping that homey atmosphere is important, they say.
"Some people show up early, plop down in the kitchen and eat whatever dinner they’ve brought," Brendel said. The service with "plain-spoken Bible teaching" begins about 7 p.m. "By 8 or so, they’re done — and people hang around another hour or so, eating munchies and chatting. Whoever leaves last turns out the lights and locks up," said Brendel, author of several books including "The Scottsdale Prophecies: Seven Predictions for Your Personal Future" and "The Naked Christian: What God Sees When He Looks Right Through Me."
On one recent Wednesday night, early-comers were treated to beef stew and two flavors of coffee.
The service opened with a series of praise songs led by Brown on guitar. Brendel followed with a message on "The Eye Chart Gospel: Seeing Others God’s Way." With TV monitors, he read a Dr. Seuss storybook, "One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish." The liturgy was based on Matthew 13:47-50, in which Jesus compared the kingdom of heaven to a fisherman casting his net. One of his teaching points: "We are not in a position to throw bad fish overboard, because we’re all fish ourselves."
A house church, Brown said, "is more intimate." While many people "want to be lost in the crowd" in large churches, he said others "wants to be known, and they want to enter into relationships."
"I see people on a journey, and I want to help people on the journey," he said. "That is what we are all about. How can I help you each day of the week take another step toward God."
He said his church does not judge anyone who comes to visit or join.
"You can totally disagree with us and come, and we would welcome you, and we would list the ways to help you in your journey — even if you are going in some different direction," said Brown, who was once in full-time Southern Baptist work and has training in Bible languages and music.
"I left organized religion for years and years and years," Lewis said. "I kept failing to find the spirit of God in organized churches, and some years ago, I sort of discovered an alternate way," Compass Fellowship. He said he was among a segment of people "looking in a different direction for a church home, and after testing the water in a lot of different places, we couldn’t find a church home that really resonated with us, and so we created our own."
"It is comfortable as a home. It is ours," said Lewis, who is a drummer for the church. "It is a very warm place to bring friends and acquaintances and new people."
Jeff Van Wart, 36, a home remodeler from Phoenix, once considered himself agnostic. But he researched the Bible and could find nothing to prove it wrong. He had met Brendel, who had conducted his brother’s wedding, and gave Compass a try. He called Compass Fellowship "very casual, very laid-back with lots of great music." He said he can find himself exhausted by Wednesday night and even getting to church is a challenge, but "by the time I leave at night, I am fully refreshed and I go home and do the housework."
He said people attend the church who hold responsibilities in six or eight churches on weekends "and need refueling in midweek."
"I think this is the wave of the future," said Brendel, who grew up in an Assembly of God church, worked for TV evangelist Rex Humbard in the 1970s and was pastor of an interdenominational church in Boston. "We say we are Bible-believing evangelical Christians, but we have really enjoyed the variety of people God has brought us at Compass," he said, noting that the church has attracted people of Jewish, Mormon and mainline Christian faiths. "We have what I call ‘flair-nosed charismatics.’ We have angry, lapsed Episcopalians and everybody in between."
One Saturday per month, the church holds an "Excursion," which may be a field trip or a service project. From 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. today, members will tour St. Mary’s Food Bank, return to the church at 4047 E. Whitney Lane in Phoenix for a barbecue, then hear reports about church members who recently traveled in Belarus, once a part of the Soviet Union.
Church is like being "among friends" and being "in a home for everyone to come to," said Lorie Robison of Phoenix, who attends with her son, Paul. "We mill around in the kitchen like you do in your home," and everyone is encouraged to handle household chores.
"I am really hoping this ministry takes off here and that there will be a place for me," Robison said. "Until then, I am good with a mop."
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