Affirmation and appreciation go a long way in deepening relationships and making sure another person knows that you value them. A Healthy Church takes the time to acknowledge and say thank you to volunteers and leaders. One way pastors can affirm their team is through a personalized note. Check out the GCI branded pastoral letterhead and other resources for team affirmation, here:
A tongue-in-cheek idea to keep church the way we like it.
Because we like things the way they are and don’t want new guests to return, let’s make sure we incorporate at least a few of the following behaviors – things that seem normal to us, but might seem odd or overly strange to guests and new believers.
- Offertory: Be sure to focus on the need to cover the pastor’s salary or to maintain the building. Guests are far more concerned with the welfare of the church and pastor than they are about mission and ministry.
- Make sure guests know they should not give an offering. After all, we don’t want them to follow the lead of the Spirit.
- Communion: Focus on the bread literally being the body of Jesus and the juice literally being the blood. It’s OK to mention we aren’t sure what happens, but we know we are eating his flesh and drinking his blood. Leave out the remembrance part; that just confuses people.
- Small group prayer prior to or during the worship service. Do this as public as possible. In particular, the worship team should wait until the last moment, when everyone is waiting before they pray together. Don’t worry if this is awkward for guests—if they want to be part of us, they will get used to it.
- Spend a lot of time on intercessory prayer. Don’t worry about how long the list is – even if we are praying for more people not in attendance than are in attendance. Sure, it might give the impression that the church is sick and dying, but don’t worry about that.
- Right in the middle of worshipping God, insert “Church Life” so we can focus on us.
- Sing unfamiliar songs – regardless of their theology. We can always explain where the songwriter got it wrong, “Bless their heart.” Besides, if we heard it on the radio on a Christian station, it must be good for corporate worship.
- Play the music loud – there may be people outside wondering whether or not they want to worship with us, and if they hear the music, they are more inclined to join us. Provide ear plugs for anyone who needs them.
- Never explain anything. Let the Holy Spirit help people understand why we do what we do.
I’m sure we can add more to this list for those of us who want to keep things as they are. Not me, of course.
Here are a few nuts and bolts.
By Randy Bloom, US East Regional Director
I think all of us would agree that God is worthy of the best we can do – and this includes preparing for a Sunday worship service. Worship is participating with Jesus’ worship of the Father. It’s important that we make appropriate preparations that help people encounter Jesus and grow as his disciples.
Develop a theme
- We recommend that GCI pastors follow the Revised Common Lectionary. Equipper provides a theme and scriptures for each week, giving worship leaders a jump-start in preparation. Worship leaders can read the four RCL scriptures and pray over them. See each week’s theme and scriptures in Equipper.
- Special Days. Because we are a Christ-centered denomination, we follow his life and have special days focused on Jesus’ life, death, resurrection and ascension. These include, but are not limited to, Advent, Christmas, Lent, Holy Week and Pentecost.
- This should be a collaborative process including the sermon speakers, worship leaders, musicians and sound crew. Themes, sermons and songs should be selected to reflect the culture and needs of the congregation, with the purpose of leading people to Jesus, helping them experience his love and grace and inspiring them to respond in worship and lead transformed lives.
- Songs need to follow the main theme reflected in the sermon.
- Select songs that are easy to sing and have lyrics people understand.
- Select songs that are true to our theology and focus on worship.
- Follow a simple rule of worship: gathering song, worship of the Father, Son and Spirit, sending song.
- The style of music should reflect the culture of the community (not just church members) making it easier for guests to participate.
- Occasionally introduce a new song (good to do during the offertory), preventing worship services from becoming mundane and repetitious.
- Because our focus is on God and not ourselves, we won’t spend time talking about ourselves.
- We don’t need to introduce people who sing, pray or make announcements.
- Avoid needless interruptions that disrupt the worship experience.
Worship is not primarily a performance, but it needs to be done well. Services that are poorly planned or thrown together at the last minute do not lend themselves to worship.
Our goal should be to prepare worship services that are both appropriate for believers and understandable to unbelievers in our midst. In everything, let’s praise Jesus. Worship is joining him in worship of the Father.
Worship is exalting God and leading others in worship to Father, Son and Spirit. Good worship not only brings positive results to the life and ministry of the church, it also extends to the lives of all the people who are involved. Our Sunday gatherings are a participation in holy, eternal praise of our great Triune God. Let’s prepare for him!
By Randy Bloom, US East Regional Director
As I write this article my wife, Deb, and I are experiencing the joy of getting to know our new granddaughter. She is beautiful and we love being with her. Prior to her birth, our son and his wife went to great lengths to prepare for her arrival and we were blessed to have a small part in the preparations: buying clothing, diapers and all the paraphernalia that are helpful with newborn infants. We went all out to prepare for her arrival and share life with her and we go to great lengths to enjoy our time together. This is an exciting time of life.
Every week Christians have the opportunity to share in an exciting and life-changing time of life. I’m not referring to experiencing life with a new child, but the weekly time of gathering with our great God of love and grace – our Sunday worship services. How do we prepare for these priceless opportunities? This is a huge subject that could fill libraries. I’ll simply address a few tips on the subject of preparing inspirational, transformational worship services. In this article we’ll review some of the concepts and practices that flow from our Trinitarian theology. The next article will deal with some of the nuts and bolts of worship preparation.
Sunday gatherings are times when we are blessed to enjoy being in God’s presence as we participate in worship with other beloved sons and daughters. It’s not that we aren’t in his presence in every moment of every day, but where two, three or more are gathered, he is with us in a special way. It’s a momentous family experience we share with the Triune God. Shouldn’t this reality inform the way we prepare for these priceless occasions?
This is an important question and it’s worth asking it with all seriousness and sincerity. After all, our worship gatherings are more than just another social event. We learn from Trinitarian theology that when we gather, we are coming into the presence of the almighty God, creator of heaven and earth; worthy of all honor and praise. We gather to exalt HIM. In our culture, and with our human inclination toward familiarity, casualness and personalized concepts of freedom, it’s easy to lose this perspective.
Worship is always about God, and not about us. Trinitarian theology also teaches us that “our” worship is about entering into the eternal flow of Jesus’ ongoing worship of the Father, through the Spirit. Take a moment to ponder that statement. We aren’t just in a room somewhere, surrounded by other mere mortals—we are in a “place,” surrounded by a “great cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12:1), that is indescribable. We are in the presence of God, and worship is God centered.
Healthy, vibrant churches place worship at the center of all they do. They aren’t as focused on personal preferences, feelings or needs, as they are about God. When worship is focused on meeting our needs and wants more than on who God is, it ends up being shallow and leaves us hollow and disappointed. With the primary focus on praising and glorifying God, we will be motivated to prepare better for how we participate with Jesus in the great commandment and the great commission.
Considering these foundational truths, it’s important that pastors ask some challenging but essential questions:
- Do we and our worship leaders understand what worship is?
- Are our worship leaders gifted and capable of leading inspirational worship?
- Does our congregation understand what worship is?
I realize these are sensitive questions and they need to be asked with grace. But they need to be asked. Perhaps, as pastors, we need to spend some more time with our worship leaders and worship team members to review the nature and purpose of worship.
There are a multitude of resources available to help worship leaders serve more effectively in their ministries.
- https://resources.gci.org/worship is a good place to start.
- Sponsor your worship leader(s) (if affordable) to attend your regional celebration. There they will see inspiring worship services modeled. It won’t be perfect, but it will give them some ideas to help them improve your worship services back home.
- Ask your RD to sponsor a worship seminar for the region. We have experienced worship leaders who can teach and train.
- Do an internet search on worship resources. Some sites specialize in small churches.
- Take a field trip on occasion to visit a vibrant church or two in your community to see how inspiring worship services can be done.
Preparations certainly include prayer—prayers focused on asking the Spirit to guide us and inspire us as we select songs that follow the sermon theme (we highly recommend following the Revised Common Lectionary). Just as we are thrilled to prepare for the arrival of a new baby, special dinner guests or other special celebrations, we should take time to pray and think about what we are going to do. We want to make our guests comfortable; we want them to enjoy the experience. And we want the Spirit to guide and inspire us as we help people enter worship.
Healthy, vibrant churches prepare weekly worship services that help people lead transformed lives. True worship is transformational. People cannot help but be changed when they enter God’s presence and experience his love and grace in worship. Inspiring, hope-filled worship helps people lead lives of worship – lives with worship at the center of all they do, all the time. With this in mind, we want to try to create a sense of expectation in our worship services. We want people to expect something to happen – an encounter with Jesus, encouragement and inspiration by the Spirit, a closer relationship with the Father and a stronger desire to participate in Jesus’ mission through the church.
As we can see, there is much to consider when we prepare our worship gatherings. In the accompanying article we’ll discuss some basic nuts and bolts for worship planning. Let’s continue to grow in our ability to develop worship experiences that are inspirational and hopeful for the people God brings to our fellowship.
By Bill Hall, National Director for Canada
Recently, my wife and I had an interesting conversation with our son. He informed us that the 1st of July was the first anniversary of his first date with his girlfriend. Since this date is also the date of Canada’s birthday, I’m sure we’ll all be able to remember this important highlight in his life.
We all celebrate or remember important landmarks in our personal lives, such as anniversaries, birthdays, our date of baptism, and our date of our graduation. We celebrate many of these days with family, and some with friends. The Christian Church does the same. In a process that has taken approximately 1600 years, what we refer to now as the “liturgical year” was developed in the Church and for the Church to help us keep our minds on what really matters – Jesus, his life, death, resurrection, ascension and return.
The liturgical year is based on important milestones in the life of Jesus, as well as the anniversary of special events in the Christian Church.
The emphasis placed on specific days varied among the different branches of the Church, and still does. Similarly, the actual dates of a remembrance or celebration varies due to the fact that the Eastern Church continues to use the Julian Calendar while the Western Church uses the Gregorian Calendar.
Regardless as to when they are observed or the emphasis placed on certain days, the point of the days is to remember and celebrate Jesus.
As we focus on the Hope Venue, it is important to set aside special days of worship—days that focus on the milestones of Jesus’ life. Planning special worship services on these days provides the community we serve reminders of the hope we have in Christ.
Following is a list of the standard days of observance in the liturgical year, along with a description of what they commemorate: Much more detail on these dates will be shared in Equipper during 2020 as we dive deeper into the Hope Venue.
Advent marks the beginning of the Christian year and occurs the four Sundays preceding Christmas. The first two Sundays look to Jesus’ promised Second Coming. The latter two Sundays anticipate his first coming in the incarnation, remembered at Christmas.
Christmas remembers the incarnation, when God took on our humanity to show his great love for us (Matt. 1; Luke 2; John 3:16).
Lent is a 40-day period that begins on Ash Wednesday and ends on Holy Saturday (the Saturday immediately preceding Easter Sunday). It is a time of reflection on our lives and our need for a loving Saviour. It is a remembrance of the 40 days Jesus spent in the desert before the beginning of his public ministry (Matt. 4:1-11; Mark 1:12-13; Luke 4:1-13).
Holy Week begins on Palm Sunday and ends with Holy Saturday (the day before Easter or Resurrection Sunday). It remembers the last week of Jesus before his crucifixion and includes Holy Thursday (also known as Maundy Thursday) (the Lord’s Supper) and Good Friday (Jesus’ crucifixion).
Easter (Resurrection Sunday) commemorates the resurrection of our Lord Jesus.
Ascension Sunday commemorates when Jesus ascended to the heavens in sight of his disciples.
Pentecost is celebrated 50 days after Easter Sunday. It remembers the coming of the Holy Spirit upon believers and the beginning of the Church. (Acts 2). Some churches also refer to this day as the reversal of the Tower of Babel event found in Genesis 11:1–9.
Planning special events for these days is not only an expectation in the communities in which we’ve been called to serve, but they provide opportunities for us to invite friends, family and neighbors to worship with us. There we are able to share through drama, readings, special worship songs, and sermons, the good news of Jesus—who he is, what it meant for him to become one of us, why we need a Savior, why he died, what it means that he rose and ascended, and what it means that he will return. In other words, we have opportunity to share his love and life with others.
The Christian calendar provides us with wonderfully meaningful ways to fulfill our calling and to join Jesus in showing how we live and share the gospel.
 Paul F. Bradshaw and Maxwell E. Johnson, The Origins of Feasts, Fasts and Seasons in Early Christianity (Pueblo, 2011; Collegeville: Liturgical Press) pp xiii.
The first half of our We Believe discipleship resource is now available in a workbook format. The workbook is developed to the spark conversation and make these resources more applicable for small groups and discipleship classes.
We also made one change to the original document. To better reflect our praxis on infant baptism and for greater clarity, we have adjusted the language of 8.6 in We Believe. The updated downloadable files for We Believe are available on our resources site. The change affects the adult version, the youth We Believe did not include the topic of infant baptism.
First impressions can bridge someone into the life of a faith community; it can also become a stumbling block.
By Heber Ticas, pastor and Superintendent of Latin America.
Maria had lived in isolation for about 13 years before encountering our spiritual family. She had fallen into a deep depression and a sense of emptiness after her husband died. Previously disillusioned with church, she didn’t know where to go to find support, and did not feel she had a sense of belonging anywhere. Rosa, Maria’s neighbor, had sometimes observed Maria watering her plants and always wondered why she was so secluded. Bolstered with faith and hope, one day Rosa overcame her fear of rejection and knocked on her neighbor Maria’s door and invited her to dinner and to participate in the small faith group she was hosting at her house.
She was pleasantly surprised when Maria agreed to come. Maria was quickly assimilated to the environment of the small group, which proved to be a safe zone that afforded her an opportunity to open up and engage. It wasn’t long before these newfound friends invited Maria to the Sunday celebration. Although she enjoyed the relationships she was now forging, she was hesitant to take this next step. Her fear and previous negative experiences with churches dominated her thought process. Her friends were able to work with her fears and she was able to take the plunge into a church environment. Fortunately, the church had an assimilation team and plan in place.
It has been often said that it is difficult for an unchurched person to darken the doors of a congregation. There are many factors that make this statement true. In the church culture in America, Maria’s experience cuts across generations and ethnic backgrounds. In GCI, we believe that our Sunday celebration is the hope venue of a healthy ministry. Our Sunday celebrations are intentional environments where regular attendees and guests can both experience a place of belonging, inspiring worship and inspiring preaching. Our desire is for our congregations to be the healthiest expression of the church of Jesus Christ that they can be. It is vital for us to consider the reception we provide for our guests in our Sunday celebrations.
It has also been said that a first impression can either bridge someone into the life of a faith community or it can become a stumbling block. I strongly believe that our approach to our guests on Sunday morning needs to be a tangible expression of the relationship that is shared by the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. These expressions can be tangible in the following manner:
- The way we welcome guests into our fellowship
- The visibility of God’s love shared amongst each other
- The overall worship experience
An intentional assimilation team’s function is to make guests feel welcome, safe, and appreciated. Church experts tell us the first two minutes guests experience will shape their overall impression of a church. If someone is received with warmth, attention and value, most likely their approach to the rest of their experience will be with a positive mindset. This mindset is shaped by the flow of what occurs from the parking lot to the pew/chair. If the joy of receiving a guest was expressed with attention in the parking lot, in the front door and by the one ushering the guest to their seats, any tension a guest possesses can be greatly diminished.
After the first two minutes, a guest will begin determining whether to consider a return visit based on their overall impressions. I regard the physical ambiance of a church facility an important part of a first impression of a visitor, but there is nothing more powerful than observing the love of our Triune God displayed in the way we relate to each other. A common thread in the feedback that I have received from first time guests, is the way we relate to each other and the familial nature of our church. When the body of Christ expresses love and unity, it makes a powerful statement.
What is going through the mind of a first-time guest on their way back home? I pray that as our guests take inventory of their experience in our Sunday celebration, they will feel a burning desire to return and engage further. I pray their overall first impression was one of a healthy environment, in which they can express their faith in community with others, and where they and their children can forge new relationships as they encounter the incarnational love of the Father, Son and Spirit.
Maria is still with us. By the grace of our Lord, and our intentional efforts to create such environments, she was able to relieve her tension and engage with us. I recall Maria inviting my wife and me to her home for dinner some three months after she had been consistently attending our services. I felt as if she had been a church member for ten years. Her love and attentiveness were so vivid that I could clearly see the love of Christ expressed through her. I asked Maria, how was it that she was able to connect to the life of our church with such ease? She shared her story, explaining the fear and tension that she carried into our church service that day, but she concluded by stating; “I have now found a spiritual family with whom I can continue the journey of life.”
I pray that all our GCI churches would consider taking a deeper look at our hope venue and contemplate ways in which we can become more intentional in facilitating these most important bridges for all our guests.
How do we assimilate people into our healthy congregations?
By Randy Bloom, US East Regional Director
When a renowned church leader taught that pastors need to get used to the idea that more people will come and go from church than come and stay, I felt encouraged and a bit frustrated. I was encouraged because it helped me not feel inferior about myself or the church I was pastoring; I was frustrated because of the reality his statement expressed. He said this trend was true for almost every church. Why? Why don’t more people return to or stay with a church they visit? Over the years I’ve heard countless pastors ask the questions, reflecting in their facial expressions the same frustrations I felt.
There are many answers, some of which we can do little or nothing about, but there is one answer that we can do something about: people don’t return or stay after they visit our churches because they don’t feel needed, or are not provide opportunities to participate in the congregation. This is called assimilation.
Here is my working definition of assimilation: the process of helping people (at any point in their spiritual journey) become an active part of the life of a congregation. It entails their becoming whole-life stewards of their time (participating in the church mission), talents (using their gifts in service) and their treasure (being generous financial donors).
Why do we want to be concerned about assimilation? Assimilation is living out the theology we espouse. Our Triune God has “assimilated” us into his eternal life of love and missional living. The apostle Paul reminds us: “You are a member of God’s very own family…and you belong in God’s household with every other Christian” (Ephesians 2:19 TLB). God wants everyone to be “at home” with him. We want everyone to know they are included in the same family that we have been included in. We want to make room for others and not just fill seats or church coffers. We are here to participate with Jesus in helping other people know and enjoy the blessings of the life we have, and which is theirs as much as ours, in Christ.
How we can know when people are assimilated into a congregation? In The Pastor’s Manual for Effective Ministry, Charles Arn provides some characteristics of an assimilated person that can help us develop appropriate assimilation processes. When assimilated, people should:
- Be able to list at least seven new friends they made in church.
- Be able to identify their spiritual gifts
- Be involved in at least one role/ministry
- Be involved in a small group
- Be able to demonstrate regular financial commitment to the church
- Understand and personally identify with the mission and goals of the church
- Attend worship services regularly
As we see, assimilation takes time. Yet the way many churches function, the default expectation seems to be that people come and either “automatically” become followers of Jesus and members or they don’t (and we often judgmentally shake our heads in wonderment). Helping someone become an active member of a congregation takes time and attention.
We want to be deliberate in providing multiple ways for newcomers (this applies to everyone) to participate in the life of the church and we need to invite them (ask them) to participate. The assimilation process needs to be holistic. That is, everything a church does should be designed to make it easy for people to participate.
How did you become assimilated into your congregation? Most likely your story is like mine. When you started attending there were a multitude of activities provided to draw you into the life of the church: Weekly services, Bible studies, special days, social events and clubs. There was an intentional plan and process that enabled you to participate in and feel a part of the life of the congregation. Your assimilation into the church did not happen automatically.
Reflecting on this accentuates another important aspect of assimilation: it’s the responsibility (privilege) of church members to help people become assimilated. Are we making every possible effort to help people feel welcome, wanted and liked? Arn also informs us that the number one reason people select a church is that they felt accepted. Do your guests feel accepted? How do you know? This is not something we can take for granted.
Something that can help us assess how accepting we are is to understand the difference between being a friendly church and being a befriending church. I don’t know of any church that does not think it is friendly (even the unfriendly churches I’ve visited told me they were a friendly church). But befriending entails more than giving a warm welcome and a cup of coffee to guests. It involves getting to know them, spending time with them, listening to them and sharing with them. It entails putting the New Commandment to practice—loving others as Jesus loves. This includes making time in our busy schedules, overriding any exclusivistic tendencies we may have and taking some minimal risks to engage newcomers, especially outside the walls of our weekly worship services. It is entering into their lives and walking with them. If we have activities during the week (small groups, outreach events and social events) we have ready made opportunities to draw them into regular fellowship.
People will always come and go more than they come and stay, but practicing assimilation increases the possibility they will stay. In future articles we will explore various ways to help us focus on assimilation. In the meantime, know that people who walk through the doors of your churches are there by a series of miracles that have occurred in their lives. I’m sure you want to do everything possible to be another miracle for them.
By Randy Bloom. US East Regional Director
Have you ever woken up on a Sunday morning and felt like staying home from church? I’m not keen on admitting it, but I have. Sometimes there were legitimate reasons such as illness or extreme exhaustion; but other times I was just being lazy. After getting up and moving around—even when I don’t feel like going—something compels me to head out. Why is this?
I credit the Spirit drawing me to rejoin my fellow believers in our weekly sojourn to worship God. I’m also sure there is a human sense of obligation; all my life I’ve been taught—and as a pastor I’ve taught—that we should go to church and I want to “walk my talk.” But more than an obligation, I feel the need to gather with others and join them in worship. This is part of the purpose of church and why the church has, since its inception, provided times and places for corporate worship. But why this need? Why should we participate in corporate worship? Can’t I worship at home with just God and me? What’s the big deal about Sunday worship services?
Joining Jesus in worship
While there are many scriptural references about corporate worship, the purpose of traditional Sunday worship services is to worship God! We have the indescribable privilege of being able to join in Jesus’s worship of “the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all things visible and invisible” (to quote the Nicene Creed). We participate in Jesus’ worship of our Father—that’s amazing if you think about it. We are invited into God’s presence in a special way and there we experience his love and grace.
Worshipping in communion
We also have the privilege of worshipping God with other believers—joining them in a communion of worship. The Sunday worship service is a time to rejoin fellow believers in a community of faith, hope and love. Many of us live and work in isolation from other believers; the Sunday service is a weekly family reunion. It’s a time to be with people of like mind and heart (and some who are not quite of the same mind and heart). It’s a time for sharing the joys and challenges of life with each other and encouraging each other to stay focused on Jesus and to remain hopeful and faithful. In this way we are spiritually refreshed and nurtured.
Being transformed into God’s image
In worship we are also transformed, bit by bit, into the image of Christ. After all, how can we be in the presence of God and not be transformed? (We are always in the presence of God, but not always with others in a worshipful environment.) The Bible shares story after story of people who are transformed in the presence of God. In the Sunday worship service, we hear the gospel of Jesus, which is “the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16). Hearing the gospel changes us. True, we may not “feel” transformed with any given worship experience, and the transformation may be imperceptible to us, but transformation is occurring.
This is why it is good to remind ourselves that worship is not primarily about us and our feelings; it’s about God and what he is doing in our lives. Worship is about coming before God, worshipping him, and within the context of worship, trusting the Spirit to relentlessly work in us in ways we do not understand or realize. Even when I enter into a worship service not feeling particularly worshipful, by the end of the service I often realize I have not only worshipped, I’ve been transformed (at least a bit). I’m sure you have had the same experiences.
Helping new believers experience God
In most cultures Sunday worship is the time when most people have contact with Jesus’ church and his people. It is where many non-Christians experience God’s presence for the first time. It is often the place and time they begin to realize who God is and recognize he is inviting them to participate in a spiritual journey with Jesus. The Sunday worship service is where they can experience the transformational power of the gospel as they hear it and as they see how it has had an impact on those around them. In addition, non-Christians need to see Christians worship God. You may not have thought of it before, but our worship has an evangelistic impact on people who are non-believers and perhaps even critics of Christianity. As Ed Stetzer writes, “The purpose of worship is also to allow unbelievers to observe the divine-human encounter and to yearn for their own personal relationship with God.” (Planting Missional Churches).
Joining Jesus in serving others
Worship, particularly corporate worship, has the effect of inspiring people to commit to service in Christ. This is expressed in Romans 12:1: “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy [which we experience in worship], to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship.” Worship inspires us to commit ourselves afresh to Jesus, in acts of service. In so doing, our service, indeed our whole life, is worship. So much more goes on than we realize when we worship with others in the body of Christ.
As I complete this article and prepare to send it to editor Rick, I realize I have the urge to go to a worship service. But it’s Tuesday and I must wait. Oh, well. It will be good to be in God’s presence with sisters and brothers in Christ, even if I have to wait five more days. I hope you feel the same way.
By Bill Hall, National Director, Canada
I have been blessed to meet many people who have been an inspiration to me. One person I met on several occasions was a well-known Canadian actor who, unbeknown to many of his fans, once lived on the streets of Winnipeg, Canada. Because he is no stranger to poverty and the lifestyle that ferments a spirit of hopelessness, he and his wife put comfort behind them in November and December, and tour Canada and the Northern United States to raise money for local food banks. They put up with lost luggage, strange beds, and long days on the road in order that others may be fed.
I was reflecting on his example when thinking about church, and I had to ask how much effort we put into reaching the “lost.” In my ministerial circles—inside and outside our denomination—I often hear the expression, “Well my congregation will never do something like that,” when confronted with having to give up something in order to more effectively reach out into the community with the gospel message.
The “that” may be a change in worship music or worship style, volunteering in the community, moving the church to a different location to reach a different ethnic or economic group, or even changing the day or days when a congregation gets together to worship. When someone tells me “days don’t matter,” I respond, “They don’t matter to whom? Because they certainly matter to the people your congregation is trying to reach.”
What “that” are you and your congregation concerned about changing?
Let’s be honest; many of us hate change when it comes to church. Start messing around with the way we do church and you start messing around with the way we experience and relate to God. I get that, but sometimes I think our focus on “us” and our preferences blinds us to opportunities where the Holy Spirit is leading.
One of my favorite worship songs is “The Heart of Worship”. The chorus goes like this:
I’m coming back to the heart of worship
And it’s all about You,
It’s all about You, Jesus
I’m sorry, Lord, for the thing I’ve made it
When it’s all about You,
It’s all about You, Jesus
Worship has more to do with Jesus than about us. Yet, our many worship songs are more focused on us. I would like to take this line of reasoning a bit further. Many times, we as “churched” people get rather selfish about when we worship, where we worship, what day we worship, etc. Just like worship is really about Jesus, so is church—but we often act like the church exists just for us. We like our church the way it is; it’s a place to sing, to learn and to be with our friends.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m a firm believer in the importance of being a part of a healthy Christian community. We all need the community of believers for support in our Christian journey. But if we think the church is all about us, we are missing an important aspect of Christianity.
Recently I was reviewing the apostle Paul’s letter to the church at Philippi when something struck me. Simply put, Paul gave up everything for the sake of Jesus. Remember what he said:
If anyone else thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless. But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. (Philippians 3:4-8)
Paul was willing to walk away from his heritage, and the way he had always worshiped God (or did church), to reach those on the “outside” with this important message of life. We may quickly read over this point but think about it: What must it have been like for a “Pharisee of the Pharisees” to walk away from his culture in order to reach out to those who were considered by his fellow Jews to be unclean and untouchable? Imagine what it was like to give up on those things that identified you as one of the “people of God.”
Paul through his actions showed those around him that his ministry was all about them. His life was all about preaching about Christ and him crucified. As Christians we have been given an unimaginable gift, eternal life (John 3:14-16). And we live in world that is in turmoil and people need to know they have access to that same gift.
We often say with our lips that we want to reach those outside the doors of our church, but something deep inside of us may be preventing us from taking the steps we need to make to make this a reality.
Here are a few questions to consider:
- What am I willing to give up in order to reach this hurting world with the ultimate message of life?
- What changes am I willing to make (or accept) in order for my congregation to make an impact in the community we meet and serve?
- What sacred cows do I hold near and dear to my heart that prevent me from being an effective messenger of the gospel?
- How generous am I willing to be with my life in order to share with others the generosity shown to me?
May the generosity of God show us the way to share his generosity with others.