Tag Archives: worship

Freedom to Worship

church

I was startled recently to discover that roughly 70 percent of the world’s Christians live without the right to worship (Belz, Mindy, “Joining the Chorus,” World Magazine, February 16, 2019). We are privileged to live in the 30 percent can take going to church publicly for granted. We can become complacent and nonchalant about it. But those who do not have the right to worship in their countries tend to be more devoted to worship when done in secret. There is more of an urgency and necessity among those who do not have the right to worship. They find a way to do it. They are excited to take part. They are drawn closer to Christ through the activity of clandestine church.

The next time you go to church, imagine that you do not live in a place where you can worship openly. How does that affect your worship? Is there a richness, a depth, that perhaps was not there before? Is there more joy in the practice of worship when you consider it is something that is not allowed in most of the world? Is there a greater gratitude to God for the blessing of public worship?

Keep the 70 percent in prayer. Keep going to church. Keep the Church alive through your dedication to it.

Entertaining Worship

entertaining worshipA recent survey from Ligonier Ministries asked the question, “Must churches provide entertaining worship services if they want to be effective?” The results were a bit surprising. About 4 in 10 believe “effective” churches must offer “entertaining” worship, through only 1 in 10 believe this strongly. Those who attend worship weekly agreed more strongly (14%) than those who attend only on holidays, rarely or never (8%) (“Come, Now Is the Time to Entertain,” Christianity Today, January/February 2019, 17).

The results of the survey are interesting to me because they indicate that providing entertaining worship is not as desired by parishioners as much as it is perceived to be by church leaders and the public in general.

The conventional wisdom seems to be that we in the church need to wow parishioners in worship with rock-style music and bands, lights and flash. But the data here shows that it is actually not as powerful of a draw as we may think it is.

We do not need to put all our eggs in the “entertainment basket,” these numbers seems to reveal. While the entertainment factor can still be a part of a worship experience, we continue to need to include and emphasize the Word and Sacrament, the fellowship with those in the congregation and a grounding in Christ-centered messages.

The joy and excitement of worship remains on the Good News that we are saved by grace through faith in Jesus, our crucified and risen Lord. Let that be what brings the most entertainment to our souls.

 

Stay Here

stay hereAs the year draws to a close, many people consider what new adventures they would like to embark on in the new year and ponder major changes in their lives. While this may be good and something that is beneficial in some circumstances, oftentimes the best plan is to stay put with where you are.

When Jesus was about to ascend into heaven to be with his heavenly Father, he said to his disciples: “I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here … until you have been clothed with power from on high” (Luke 24:49).

Jesus wanted the disciples to stay where they were until the Holy Spirit came and moved them to venture out into new locales. And the disciples listened: “They were continually in the temple blessing God” (Luke 24:53). They waited patiently to be guided by the Holy Spirit on what to do next.

Sometimes the best and most beneficial thing for us to do in life is to stay here. Be at peace with where God has placed you in life and not pine for some other location that sounds more appealing to us, yet may not be.

The Holy Spirit will tell you when it is time to move. In the meantime, spend time in worship where you are, pray to him, serve those around you right now in the name of the Lord Jesus, who called us to this place and time to be his hands and feet.

So my advice to you for the new year is to stay put and be content with where you are in life. Who knows what God has in store for you right where you are?

Everyday Worship

everyday worshipChristianity Today’s 2018 book of the year is Liturgy of the Ordinary by Tish Harrison Warren. The thesis of the book is to point out that all of life is liturgical, that is, filled with sacred everyday rhythms that point to Christ. The most ordinary activities in the author’s life (brushing her teeth, making her bed, fighting with her husband) take on divine meaning.

I have talked about this general idea in previous blogs, but the concept seems to be getting more traction as of late, perhaps because people are so desperate for something solid and definitive in their lives.

I recently was asked by my dad to put together a worship service for a family reunion. And what I ended up doing was using devotions from Hope-Full Living (Creative’s daily devotional for seniors) as parts of the liturgy. A devotion on forgiveness became the confession and absolution, a devotion on loosening your grip on material possessions became the children’s sermon. A blog I wrote about being attractors to others for Christ, just as certain bushes are attractors to certain butterflies became the sermon, and a devotion on blessing others became the benediction.

Real stories about real people became the liturgy for the day that day, and it can become the liturgy of our everyday. Every time we are forgiving, caring, and sharing, we are engaging in our spiritual act of worship. Worship does not always have to be anything formal. It can be the most simple gesture that points someone to the love and salvation of Christ. Even difficulties can point us to the strength of our God in hard times.

Look at your day as a worship service and see how that perhaps transforms your attitude and approach. Begin each day with an Invocation, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Then close each day, as we often close worship, with the words, “Thanks be to God!”

 

Why Not Attend?

why not attendGallup recently did a survey in which they asked Americans why they no longer attend church. Here were the results:

44% I prefer to worship on my own

36% I don’t like organized religion

22% I haven’t found a church that I like

19% I don’t have the time

16% I don’t like being asked for money when I attend

9% I don’t feel welcome when I do attend

(Christianity Today, May 2018, 18)

We as a Church struggle with the issues addressed in these responses and must seek ways to reverse the trend of diminishing worship attendance, perhaps through more personalized ministries, less of an emphasis on governance, offering alternative worship times, softening calls to action in fundraising campaigns, and making worship environments warm and inviting.

But, in my estimation, a better question for a Gallup survey should be: Why do you attend church?

The answers for me are:

I enjoy worshiping with fellow believers

I am spiritually uplifted by the music

I am inspired in my faith through the words of Scripture and the sermon

I am energized to go out and live my life as a follower of Christ in the week ahead

I am comforted and encouraged by those I see there

What are your reasons for attending church? Maybe if we as a Church think more about why people are attending church than about why they aren’t, then we will be well on our way to fostering growth.

May this verse keep us moving forward in this endeavor: “Let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near” (Hebrews 10:25).

In the Style of Taizé

taizeFor those of you who may not know, Taizé is an ecumenical Christian monastic community in Taizé, Saône-et-Loire, Burgandy, France. Established in August 1962, it has become one of the world’s most important sites of Christian pilgrimage, especially for youth. The community is known for music that emphasizes simple phrases, usually from Scripture, repeated and often sung in canon.

I was recently at a concert in which the choir sang  a prayer of St. Teresa of Avila “in the style of Taizé.” The choir and then the audience sang the following words several times and in a round:

Let nothing disturb you,
Let nothing frighten you,
All things are passing away:
God never changes.
Patience obtains all things
Whoever has God lacks nothing;
God alone suffices.

The effect was very calming and soothing. Any problems I was having that day seemed to be washed away by the words being sung over and around me. God alone is truly all I need in this life, my soul heard loud and clear through that experience.

Shortly after that concert, I was worshiping at my church and the congregational responses to the prayers were sung “in the style of Taizé,” the bulletin noted. After each petition, the following words were sung:

O Lord, hear my prayer. O Lord, hear my prayer, when I call answer me. O Lord, hear my prayer. O Lord, hear my prayer. Come and listen to me.

The repetition of the words and the feeling of the words being sung by me and my brothers and sisters all around me was moving. I could sense the deep desire of the people to receive guidance from God and the constant drive for us to stay connected to God in prayer.

Songs and prayers should always be flowing from our hearts, if not our lips, over and over again throughout the day “in the style of Taizé.” Repeating meaningful words and Scriptures to ourselves can have a positive impact on our faith and life and actions. We have a tendency to forget things. But if we keep reminding ourselves of the good and gracious God we love who loves us in Christ and listens to us and cares for us, we can stay grounded in him.

Find a favorite Bible verse this week or a favorite hymn and speak or sing it several times “in the style of Taizé,” as part of your daily devotionals, and see how how your approach to the day’s struggles can be positively affected and spiritually grounded.

 

 

Sunday School Shuffle

Sunday schoolAs with the coffee hour I discussed a couple of blogs back, the Sunday school hour is not what it used to be in our churches today, especially during the summer months.

The traditional approach of having separate grades in separate classrooms for one hour after church is becoming increasingly rare these days for many of the same reasons for the decline of the coffee hour. There are so many competing commitments on a Sunday morning for so many young families that schedules do not often allow for an extra hour to be at church for Sunday school.

In order to accommodate this pervasive trend, churches are turning to other alternatives to incorporate Sunday school into Sunday mornings. One way is through what is typically called “children’s church.” In this model, just before the sermon or right after a children’s sermon in worship children are invited leave the worship space to come to another room to learn about the Scripture lessons for the day or other Bible readings or stories in a more kid-friendly way. This approach usually involves some sort of craft or activity to reinforce the message. Children are then brought back to the worship space at the end of the service to rejoin their families.

Another model gathers all grades into one room during the entire worship service that is happening elsewhere simultaneously. This design allows for the singing of Bible-based children’s songs, a more in-depth look at Scripture and a more complex activity or craft. The gathering of all grades together also increases the feeling of community and fosters relationships that may not otherwise have happened if children were placed in separate classrooms by grade levels.

Many churches have chosen to continue offering traditional Sunday school for separate grade levels, only moving it to the same time period as regular worship.

There are advantages and disadvantages to each type of Sunday school shuffle, in my view. The advantages of children’s church is that children take part in both worship and Sunday school in the given hour. The disadvantage is that it is often disruptive, rushed and unsettling to make the transition from worship to Sunday school and back.

The advantage of the combined grade Sunday school is that there is an increased energy, the entire hour is dedicated to Sunday school and church workers can be more creative with their lesson plans. The disadvantage is that children do not get to experience worship with their families.

The plus of moving the traditional Sunday school to the church hour is that children can receive directed teaching that caters to their leaning development level and that children are with other children their own age. The disadvantage again is that children miss church.

There is no clear answer here, of course. I have talked to many church workers who struggle with how best to present the Sunday school shuffle to their congregations. In the end, it is about sharing the Good News of God’s love in Jesus to children in whatever form that may take. Let us rejoice in any opportunity we have to do that.

The Drifters

two in pewIn his letter in the Summer 2017 Concordia Seminary magazine, Seminary president Dale A. Meyer makes an interesting observation. He says, “Some people come to worship rain or shine; almost nothing keeps them away. Others, sadly, have walked away from worship and don’t readily return. In the middle, between the always-come and never-come, are those who come but could drift away” (“From the President,” Concordia Seminary magazine, Summer 2017, p. 5).

Let’s call this group the drifters. What causes someone to become a worship drifter? I know for me, the rub comes on Sunday morning when you are cozy in bed and just want to sleep some more. So you drift off to sleep and skip church. For others it is other commitments and activities on Sunday morning that have taken precedence over worship. Sports practices, Sunday brunches, or shopping that needs to get done all can conspire to draw people away from worship. It does not take much for the drift to happen. Even a change in worship time can cause people to bolt.

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The Art of Accompaniment

accompaniment in prayerOur sister company Twenty-Third Publications has published a booklet called The Art of Accompaniment, which talks about how parishes are called to journey with their parishioners through their lives of faith.

Creative Communications offers products that help with this endeavor. Shepherd Guides cards are for use by the parish to send at milestones and church year holidays to those who were married in the church, who had a child baptized and who buried a loved one within the last year. (See links below.)

http://www.creativecommunications.com/Products/GU1/shepherd-guides-resources-for-baptisms.aspx

http://www.creativecommunications.com/Products/GU2/shepherd-guides-resource-for-weddings.aspx

http://www.creativecommunications.com/Products/GH6/complete-set-of-five-cards.aspx

Creative also offers a journal for godparents to give to their godchildren to encourage them in their faith at their confirmation:

http://www.creativecommunications.com/Products/CA4/called-and-confirmed-confirmation-journal.aspx

There are many ways beyond these publications, of course, to accompany fellow members of God’s family on their faith journey. I know that I personally have been on the receiving end of some uplifting faith-filled texts or emails from church friends who knew I was having a hard week. Those little gestures go a long way to help people stay strong and keep growing in their faith.

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Manger Scene

manger sceneWhen I was a kid, during the season of Advent we would always have a little manger scene out with the figures of Mary, Joseph, the baby Jesus, a shepherd and three wise men. It was a child-friendly set, with almost like a Lincoln Log stable and Fisher Price style figures (I know I am dating myself with these references).

I just recently learned that this manger scene was a wedding gift for my parents, who were married 50 years ago on December 27, 1967. What a wonderful wedding gift to give: the story of the birth of Jesus in tangible form to share with future children as part of a family tradition.

My parents still have those figures and they still put them out. And I am again reminded when I see them of the marvelous story of how Christ came to earth to save us.

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