Worship Across Generations
By Drew Laney
In its worship services Mountain Brook Baptist Church takes particular care to make its worship relevant and applicable to all members of the congregation, regardless of age. In spring 2021, I studied Mountain Brook Baptist Church which is located in the Mountain Brook community of Birmingham, Alabama. It offered both traditional and contemporary Sunday worship options. I focused on the contemporary services that took place on Sunday mornings at eleven. My observations were completed in March 2021 via their online broadcast when the congregation was operating under Covid-19 restrictions. Normally, their contemporary worship service takes place in the fellowship hall, however, due to social distancing protocols, the services that I observed took place in their main sanctuary.
MBBC is a led by Dr. Doug Dortch. Dortch is only the fifth person to hold the title of Senior Pastor in the congregation’s seventy-five-plus-year history. As a church with such a rich history in the Mountain Brook community, this consistent leadership is something that has benefitted the congregation’s growth and tradition.
The congregation’s worship highlighted a central statement listed on their website; “Love God. Live with Grace and Generosity.” MBBC is a church that pursues the Lord in every aspect of their Sunday worship and I am honored to have had the opportunity to study this congregation.
Time and Emphasis
Mountain Brook Baptist Church’s contemporary worship services were highlighted by the reading of scripture and the sermon. This took up approximately thirty minutes of the roughly hour-long service. The singing of worship songs took up about fifteen minutes of each service which accounted for the next largest amount of time. Another unique aspect of Sunday services at MBBC is the children’s sermon. This was only allotted about four minutes, but it reveals a little bit of the way the congregation emphasizes the importance of effective ministry during the formative years of childhood and adolescence.
Other aspects of the service included a brief welcome, singing, an offertory time, a time of prayer, and a benediction. Each of these aspects of the contemporary worship service are important factors in the ultimate goal to glorify Jesus through the congregation of Mountain Brook Baptist Church.
As I observed the contemporary services over the course of the month of March, Dortch preached through the prayers of Jesus in a very organized fashion. Each message had the potential to be a stand-alone sermon but also fit into the series in a very clear and definitive manner.
Another important quality of Dortch’s preaching is that each service contained very practical takeaways from the Word about how believers can and should act to best reflect the Lord. This emphasis on application gives a clear picture of how the church is pursuant of lifting up the name of Jesus as they fulfill the Great Commission.
Each week, Sharon Howard, minister to children and families, offered a children’s sermon between the offertory time and the last worship song prior to the sermon. MBBC strongly emphasized connecting the children’s sermon to Dortch’s sermon series. During the “Prayers of Jesus” sermon series, Howard talked about prayer and what it looks like in the life of a believer. This was done in a way that was both engaging and understandable for younger members of the congregation. Each of these children’s sermons also featured a visual representation or an activity. One week, in particular, the activity featured prayer cards that were available not only to children but also to the rest of the congregation as well. This activity also highlighted the importance of community: The cards all featured the names of members of the congregation that had requested prayer.
Primary Sacramental Principle
In Lester Ruth’s “A Rose by Any Other Name: Attempts at Classifying North American Worship,” one of his classification systems was center around the idea that “North American worship services are organized around one of three categories: music, Word/preaching, or table (meaning the Lord’s Supper).” To classify the primary sacramental principle of a congregation, Ruth suggests considering “where is the most time and energy spent within a service” (Ruth 2002, 48). In the services I observed, the reading and preaching of the Word took up about half of each approximately hour-long service. Another aspect of these services that highlight the Word being the congregation’s primary sacramental principle is the way in which everything leads up to the sermon. The only thing that took place after the sermon was the benediction, there was not even a concluding song. This focus on the Word serves as a means to further the mission of Mountain Brook Baptist Church: To make disciples of Jesus Christ.
Mountain Brook Baptist Church is a congregation built on the mission to “make disciples of Jesus Christ who are continually growing in their love for the Lord and increasingly living lives marked by grace and generosity.” Over the course of the Covid-19 pandemic, they have made adjustments to ensure the safety of congregants and, ultimately, the community at large. Mountain Brook Baptist Church is a body of believers focused on building up disciples in the name of Jesus Christ, equipping congregants to share the gospel, and fulfilling the Great Commission. Their focus on the preaching of the word and connection of the message to younger members of the congregation was clear. Their ability to adapt to the surrounding circumstances is a great indicator of their ability to continue to fulfill this mission as time goes on.
Mountain Brook Baptist Church
Location: 3631 Montevallo Road, Mountain Brook, Alabama, 35213
Services Observed: Contemporary Worship, March 7, 14, and 21, 2021
Video Archives: Mountain Brook Baptist Church. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/channel/UChvqxQehiHhtCjq7-mJd5qQ/featured
Mountain Brook Baptist Church. Videos. Facebook. https://www.facebook.com/mountainbrookbaptistchurch/videos/
Lewis, Joe. 2018. Sacred Space and Sacred Story: A Guide to the Windows Of Mountain Brook Baptist Church. Mountain Brook, AL: Mountain Brook Baptist Church.
Mathews, Bobby. 2019. “Mountain Brook Baptist Church Celebrates 75 Years.” Village Living. October 18, 2019. https://www.villagelivingonline.com/news/mountain-brook-baptist-church-celebrates-75-years/
Rector, Tracey. 2019. “A Story to Tell.” Mountain Brook Magazine. November 1, 2019. https://www.mountainbrookmagazine.com/mountain-brook-baptist-75/
Ruth, Lester. “A Rose by Any Other Name: Attempts at Classifying North American Protestant Worship.” In The Convictions of Things Not Seen. 2002. Grand Rapids: Brazos Press.
Drew Laney ‘22 was a student in Christian Worship: History & Theology in Samford University’s Department of Biblical and Religious Studies in Spring 2021.
Published May 20, 2021.