As this new year has begun, God has called me to start getting some things organized, and one of those things is my writing ministry. As I’ve been drawing together my Facebook notes into files by category, before moving on to drawing together my work here on the blog, I’ve noticed that my work has been sporadic at best this past year. As I read through the last several posts here in preparation for getting organized on Sunday, it struck me that I have done a miserably incoherent job of explaining what God is doing in our lives currently. At first I wanted to kick myself for writing snippets of what I intended to reveal next time, only to not quite ever get to next time. But, for those who know me, you know it’s been a rather full couple of months. Corey having open heart surgery isn’t precisely an excuse for never quite getting into the rhythm of writing again, I was still struggling some before that. But, it was certainly one of the reasons.
As I prayed today about what to write here in this space though, this was the only thing that kept coming to mind. It’s time to get back to talking about the journey God has set us on. And more than just that, it’s time for me to quit nibbling around the edges of why God has called us to this wandering for a time. I think I have hesitated to share the why of what God has intended because I was afraid I’d sound a bit like a crazy person. All the excuses of, I didn’t finish school, I’m not trained, I don’t know any people, why would anyone be interested in doing this, yada, yada, yada kept swarming through my head. More than that, I have only shared small pieces of the things that have been happening in our home church over the last year. I am at peace knowing that God was moving on my behalf in the midst of all of it to move me where He wanted me to go, but at the same time, I think some of it shook my confidence.
But, God has declared He is doing a new thing with the coming of this new year, in so many different areas of our lives and the lives of others I know. It’s time to set aside uncertainty, and share the vision God gave me when we first began this journey at the end of summer, and that He’s been fleshing out ever since. God has called me to start a new ministry to Christians. I know that sounds a little strange, but the reality I have found on the ground in too many churches is that they are stagnant. They are that way either because they are geared inward and have no outreach at all, or because they are geared entirely outward always looking for the “unchurched” (oh, there’s one of the topics I misplaced). In either case, the people inside the walls of the church aren’t being ministered to. Growing disciples by nature will be outward focused, but you can’t have growing disciples without focusing on those who have accepted Christ. It’s frustrating, particularly for those who are called to find ways to share the Gospel, but where there isn’t room to learn inside the normal workings of their church.
That’s where this ministry comes in. As the pastor at the church we attended on New Year’s Day mentioned, we do mission because there isn’t worship, but the point of mission is to bring worship where it isn’t. Everything we do as Christians begins and circles back to the recognition of who God is and how we respond to that. We need ways to expand that response and be always seeking to be excellent in worship. Too often today, we hear that simply as our music needs to be better, more contemporary, more traditional, different, etc. Or that we need to ditch the traditional, increase the traditional, have communion, don’t have communion, wear robes, don’t wear robes. We get lost in the forms and styles, and completely lose the soul of worship, which is to come into the presence of God and offer Him all of ourselves in an active posture that seeks to respond to His glory.
Don’t get me wrong, I think most churches try to do that. But, as with most human institutions, we get set in our ways. Most churches have a standard order of worship, whether it’s printed out or not. There is a sequence and rhythm they follow in their time together, that it doesn’t take more than a week or two to catch on to. The same one or two or handful of people do the talking. The worship team or choir director leads the music. The pastor preaches the sermon. Maybe the children’s director does a children’s time if you’re in a larger church. Maybe there are a couple lay people that read the Scripture if your pastor tends to do that separate from the sermon. It offers the opportunity to come into God’s presence, but it’s hard to break the expectations of the time to really let the Holy Spirit break through and move (this is true in more Holy Spirit focused churches too, where there is a tendency to get so focused on the outward expression of excitement that we can miss the inward speaking of God).
More than that, because it’s usually a handful of people, paid and unpaid, that do the “work” of worship, it can be really difficult for others in the congregation to really engage in worshiping God during that time. We get complacent and content to sit back and let those who have been called to “lead” present us with a worship “experience.” Over time, we grow comfortable ignoring the little voice in the back of our head that tells us we should be participating more in worshiping God. Our focus drifts more toward complaining about the things we don’t like about what our leaders are doing, or that we need to be looking for ways to reach the unchurched, or that we need different music, different lighting, different greeters, just something different. We start thinking maybe we should go to the church up the street because they have more programs, better youth, more people, less people, whatever our preference might be. And we forget, not a single one of those things matter in that time we gather together for what we call worship service. Because if we are there for worship service, then the only thing that matters is God’s presence and our response to Him.
So, these are the thoughts I found myself with when I first began wandering. These thoughts that were confirmed to a large degree as we wandered. Every place we’ve been, with one exception, has been a place where God’s people gathered together but the place was relatively stagnant or declining as far as membership goes. Most of them actually had a pretty God focused worship time, but all but two still had the feeling of it being a spectator event with certain segments set aside for engagement, rather than a time of the congregation being fully committed to the worship of the Lord. Hear me please, as I have named a few of the churches we have visited and I cannot stress this enough: with one exception that I have already noted in another note, EVERY church we’ve been to has a sense that they are seeking God, and most have a sense that that seeking is active. The observations here are not a criticism. They are observations.
When I left on this journey, it was also with the beginning of a vision for a way to help the churches overcome this difficulty. I have noted that one of the primary missing things I have seen in the churches is people. There are more than 50 churches in Jasper and the immediate area (five miles or so). The ones that are large have fewer folks than they are built for, the ones that are small are tiny. There needs to be a way for them to cooperate if we are to succeed in spreading the Gospel. Because the worship structures of the churches are often a bit rigid, it’s also hard for new folks to learn how to lead, for new expressions of worship to come out, and for old habits to be overcome. As importantly, for those who are already in leadership in worship, it is often hard for them to actually just worship because they are busy with the “work” of it instead.
God showed me a time of worship, shared between any churches that wanted to send people. Not a new church, but an opportunity for those seeking to learn to lead, an opportunity for those seeking to respond to the presence of God, an opportunity of equipping and engaging across denominational and all other lines to renew the spirit of worship in the congregations. And, an opportunity for all the pastors who work so hard on Sunday mornings to let others minister to them with a time of worship where they can just come.
God is still working out the who. But, the what is pretty simple. The gatherings will happen on Saturday afternoon, probably in one of our parks weather permitting. Participation has a few requirements:
- The worship time will be lay led and planned.
- The planning teams will rotate as often as we have enough teams for.
- Teams can be either all from one congregation, or a mix of different individuals.
- All ideas for worship are welcome but they must include: inviting the Holy Spirit, a time of prayer, and a proclamation of Scripture, and they must be as interactive as possible with the focus being responding to the majesty of God.
- You should either have a church home or be actively seeking a church home, as this is simply a time of worship and equipping. The idea is to bring that equipping back to the ministries where God has called you.
- Visitors are welcome, but if you attend more than a few services, you will be invited, repeatedly, to join one of the planning teams.
And that’s pretty much it. Which doesn’t seem very specific, or maybe too specific. But, what that vision rolls into is simply a Saturday afternoon or evening where committed followers of Christ come together to share new visions and ideas God has sent to fully engage His people in worship. I see dancing, or randomly having instruments scattered through the congregation that people play along with the music. I see the Word being brought to life as the planning teams invite people to practice putting on the Scripture for the week as a live action play. I see VBS Bible stories for adults. I see God’s people lifting their prayers in turn among the assembly of saints. I see things I can’t see, because they aren’t my ideas, they are the ideas that God will give to those He uses this to equip to go out and share the Gospel and breath new life into His congregations.
There is a part two, but that’s enough for today, and that is the primary, first thing that God has called me and my family to do when the time for this wandering is finally done. I pray God has given you a vision for the new thing He is doing in you in this new year. And I would love it if you would add us to your prayers if you feel led, for discernment, partner, and God’s amazing movement going forward. Be blessed, and be a blessing.