Friday, November 2, 2012

On Becoming (and Being) the Church

It never ceases to amaze me that so many church people can have a take-it-or-leave-it attitude when it comes to Lord’s Day worship.

I know that many (if not most) members consider the hour on Sunday morning to be one among many activities on the congregational smorgasbord, and not necessarily the most important.

Expectation of church leaders is too often low as well. One would think elders and deacons would be exemplary in their attendance. Were any one of them to be absent it would be certain that the reason would illness or necessary travel. That’s not always so, however. Elected leaders are subject to the same frailties as other mortals.

I recall the time in my own ministry when a few elders felt it was time to crank up expectations about members’ participation in the life of the church. They recommended, among other things, that the session should announce to the members that all are expected to attend at least two Sundays each month. The elders balked at that—“too much” they said to expect of others, not to mention themselves. So how about once a month? Nope, that’s too dictatorial. So the idea was abandoned for want of enthusiasm.

Clergy, I know all too well from first-hand experience, are besieged from all sides by other tasks, chores and responsibilities that distract from making Sunday worship top priority. It’s easy to let things slip and slide so that the planning and preparing is not the best. That’s an explanation sometimes perhaps, but never an excuse.

Other worship leaders, lay readers and musicians, for example, and those who prepared the space, need beware slacking off, taking shortcuts, giving less than the very best. Nonchalant and perfunctory preparation can sneak up and take charge.

If this attitude of neglect begins to dominate the Sunday morning worship event, before anyone knows what’s happening, worship is casual to the point that many people could care less about what’s happening. Slipshod leadership and passive participation easily become the order of the day.

All of this is reason for some folks, like myself, to get riled up about the need to renew worship in our churches. We suspect that there might just possibly be a connection between the decline in worship attendance in recent years and our lackadaisical approach to the Almighty.

What is more, we have a deeper suspicion that the renewal of our worship would contribute greatly to the renewal of the Church. Making the connection between healthier worship in congregations to a healthier local church, and from there to a more robust and vital Church of Jesus Christ is not too great a stretch.

We need to recapture the notion that the most important thing that happens for Christians is that Lord’s Day worship experience. Therein stands the core of the faith: the Word proclaimed, the Sacraments observed. To treat this sacred event with indifference borders on heresy.

It is in this assembly of God’s people that the Spirit goes to work to accomplish resurrection of the Body of Christ anew. We are drawn together by God to get our marching orders from our Risen Lord present among us in the Word read and proclaimed. We are gathered around the Table to be fed and nourished by the Risen Lord who will live within us. In this way we are no longer just a local congregation--rather we become an expression of the whole Church of Jesus Christ.

Not only do we become the church in this sacred event week in and week out, but we go forth to be the Church in our lives, in our world. From these few moments of worship of Almighty God flow hours and days, even lifetimes of service to Almighty God, by disciples of Jesus Christ empowered by the Spirit.

Weekly worship is the rhythm of church life, and by God’s grace it becomes the pulse beat of the Church of Jesus Christ. The renewal, even reform, of worship opens the possibilities of resurrection and new life for the Body of Christ.

What changes would you suggest for worship in your church that would involve people more actively? How would you improve worship planning and preparation?

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for another great reflection, as usual, Don.

    An excellent resource that I like is a free download from the Center for Christian Leadership at Wesley Seminary, "50 Ways to Increase Worship Attendance."

    Carolyn Winfrey Gillette wrote a hymn celebrating Sunday worship in church titled "You Call Us, Lord, to Worship" that celebrates each part of the service:

    See also her hymn on Sabbath:

    Good ecumenical resource:

    This Presbyterian Panel survey on Sabbath Keeping is 13 years old (only gotten worse), but still interesting:

    Blessings on you, your family and your ministry.

    Grace and Peace,
    Bruce Gillette
    Limestone Presbyterian Church in Wilmington, DE


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