Tag Archives: Worship

Doubting God.

I was in the middle of writing a post about tomatoes, gardening and pruning {I bet you have an idea of where I was going with this} but then I ran across this article “Young Americans Losing Faith?  New Poll Shows 31 Percent Of Adults Under 30 Doubt God Exists”  This doesn’t surprise me.  Does it surprise you?

To put this another way, 1 in 3 Americans under 30 have doubt about the existence of God.  I would bet the Canadian number is higher if only because we might be slightly less afraid to admit it and we’re a more secular culture in general.

To me this means as a church we are dealing in an increasingly secular world.  A world that isn’t afraid to express doubt and acknowledge the possibility that God may not exist.  It means we are living in a world that is different from one we have in our church memory banks.

We have to change.

We have ignored this doubt.  We push doubt away and pretend it doesn’t exist.  It does.  It has to.  If we’ve never wrestled with our faith or really struggled with God, how can we mature and grow as Christians.  We need to allow doubt to be part of the conversation.

Things are not as they were 50 years ago.  People today see churches as places that are great for weddings and hold a great deal of nostalgia but are not relevant as a faith option.  Instead of coming to church people are turning to the internet, friends and celebrities for ideas on faith and God.  We’ve lost our influence.  We are no longer part of their conversation.

This loss of influence has frightened us.  Fear is not the answer, faith is.  In the Bible God constantly says ‘Be not afraid’ and yet we find ourselves living daily in fear.  We hide from the outside world and wonder what comes next.   The problem with this way of living is that we will never know what happens next if we do not do something to make the next thing happen.   We cannot show others light if we are hiding it from them.

Jesus called us to be the salt of the earth, the light of the world.

This is a heavy calling.  We are to live in the world and shine our light.  We are to add flavor and substance to our communities.  We aren’t doing this.  Our lights grow dim and our salt is losing it’s flavor.  In focusing on ‘not’ dying we’re not living.  In our struggle to stay alive we’ve forgotten our purpose and mission.

Imagine a church that lived according to the Gospel.  That was the light of the earth and recognized the need to live in community and care for others.  Imagine a church that could say the following:

We are Christ followers.  We gather together to worship and praise the Lord. We live in the world God created and care about it.  In our community we love, we laugh, we live. We long to serve and will find ways to help those in need. We know that our building is a resource but is not our God. We pray hard and fierce. We read the Bible and learn from it’s message. We are living a mission given by God to us in this time and place. We are Christ followers. 

I would go to this church.
Others would too…

 

My garden and a bunny got me to thinking…

This past weekend my family and I travelled up to see my brother and sister graduate from University in Sault Ste. Marie.  It was a wonderful weekend, we had so much fun and I’m so proud of them both.

Of course while I was away there was a heat wave here at home.  My garden sprung to life while I was away and so today I thought I would check out the progress in the clear light of day as we got home fairly late last night.  The change was phenomenal.

My clematis was gorgeous and in full bloom

My tomatoes exploded

My herbs were happy

…and the bunny was happy.

This bunny is one of a family of bunnies.  I know what you’re thinking.  Bunnies aren’t good because they eat your strawberries.  You weren’t thinking that?  I was.  They eat my strawberries!  Nevertheless they are in our yard this year more than any other and I discovered why.  While we were away this happened to my grass:

A patch of clover decided to multiply while we were away.  We’ve been battling this clover for a while but it’s gotten out of hand lately.  My husband has been working hard and removing it.  He is constantly outside digging it up, spraying some kind of natural iron compound on it, yelling at it and giving it the look.  So far nothing has worked.

The bunnies love clover.  They come into the yard and eat away all day.  It’s paradise for them.  Unbeknownst to us we’ve created a perfect paradise for bunnies free of dogs, quiet and removed from traffic with plenty of their favorite foods.

As I stood outside marveling at the determination of the clover to survive and the never ending stream of bunnies which seem to find their way into my yard I got to thinking.  Lately I’ve read quite a number of blogs by people in their thirties who are searching for a church and desperate to find a place where they fit in.  They long to find an environment they feel comfortable in.  They long to find a place that offers community, is recognizable to them and doesn’t exist simply for themselves.

Unfortunately they are struggling to find a place that they recognize as church and I’m not really surprised.  Church as most of us practice it today is unrecognizable to most people in their thirties.  There is no organization that they belong to, no place they go where people behave as the church does. Meetings are held at coffee houses or at a round table.  Gatherings are informal and relationship is the primary focus.  People come to church expecting to find relationship and connection but do not see it because we do not present it in a way they understand or can connect with.

My backyard is an accidental paradise for the bunnies.  A safe haven from the storms of the world.  A place where they are fed, nourished, protected and given rest.  Maybe we need to create an intentional paradise for the people of this world.  Maybe we should be creating safe places for people to escape the storms of this world. We should feed them, nourish them, protect them, empower them and allow them to be.

If we did that imagine what a ministry that would be, what opportunities we would have to serve others in our world. I’d love to know what you think.  What would your paradise look like? What do you need in a church?

Meet me at dawn.

As the sun begins it’s stretch into the sky, my alarm goes off on the nightstand beside me.  I slowly drag myself out of bed and stretch my body attempting to get  muscles moving once more and it’s clear to me in seconds they would rather be tucked back in my warm bed.  My feet barely leave the ground as I point them in the direction of coffee.   Shuffling towards the kitchen while rubbing my eyes I’m lucky not to make contact with any door frames.  I can barely see.  The light is dim.  I need that coffee.  The minute it takes to brew feels like an eternity and I’m hesitant to create any noise that might waken my 2 year old.  These moments are meant for me and God.

With coffee in one hand and a notebook in the other I scramble off to find my Bible.  After I have collected everything I settle into my corner, comfy and secure. I begin to pray.  After prayers I read.  It’s God and I.  Together in the quiet of the morning.

Sounds idyllic, doesn’t it?  Time with God at dawn.  Moments set aside for reflection and prayer.  The truth is it’s more like a duel than a sunrise symphony.

It’s not that I don’t love God, I do.  It’s not that I don’t respect God, I do.  It’s just that in the morning, at the crack of dawn before the world awakes I’m probably a little too me when I face God.  I ramble about anything and everything in my thoughts.  As I’m not reading for a purpose there’s very little to direct me and my thoughts can seem scattered and confused.  While reading I’ve been known to complain to God, cheer to God, reject some rules and find myself pushed in to the reality of what it means to be a follower.  Some days I struggle to stay awake and most days it’s not pretty.

It’s funny really.  When I’m writing a sermon I pray with a purpose.  I’m composed and directed.  Things have a plan and I listen and reflect and follow as I’m supposed to.  Without a plan I’m all over the map.  Without a plan it’s chaos. These mornings aren’t perfect but they’re me.  This time set apart from God is one on one time with no real purpose.  It’s rather liberating really.

This ritual is fairly new.  Adopted out of the realization that I far too often neglect time with God independent of work.  I came to the conclusion after one too many days away that I needed to schedule God in as he’s too easily pushed to the side.

I’m probably not alone in this.  Life is busy and in this modern age we’re always moving, thinking and saying we’ll get to reflection next week.  Time set aside for quiet reflection is frowned upon as we could be using that time to do something.

I’m here to tell you it’s okay to sit.  I’m actually getting more accomplished now.  I waste less time on the internet.  I am more invested in the day, in what is happening right now.  Starting the day off with God means I actually carry God with me.  It’s a nice feeling.

It’s okay to sit.  It’s ok to reflect.  There is nothing wrong with stopping.  We all need to set time aside to sit, listen and hear what God is saying.  While my time isn’t perfect, it’s my time.  Time God is using to teach and direct me.  It’s time for discovery and surprises.

This week I invite you to join me.  Seven days is all I ask.  Seven days at dawn where we meet God and surrender our time to him.  It doesn’t have to be perfect time.  It doesn’t have to be planned.  It just has to be.

Will you join me?

What Church should be…

I think about worship a lot.  I think about style.  I think about substance.  I think about flow and movement.  I think about experience and texture.  These things are part of the worship experience.  They are part of what people take with them when they leave.

In the last couple of months I’ve lead worship at 4 different churches.  Each has it’s own unique style and form.  Moving in and out of these styles has given me the opportunity to think a lot about worship and what I would like to see in a Church.  I’ve talked with family and friends.  I’ve thought about what church should be like. This has been an interesting exercise for me.

After much thought I can confirm that there are few things I know for certain but I know what I would like and I think Church should be:

real….
People are engaged with the word and one another.  Prayers have substance.  Songs have meaning.  The service would be spirit-filled.  The people would be spirit-fueled.   

relaxed…
The people would come as they are. Whether certain or uncertain, confused or sure, prepared or unprepared, none of it matters as all are welcome.  The only expectation is that grace is given and love flows freely.     

relevant…
Engaging with the word and the world is the goal.  Leaving filled with desire and determination to make a difference.  The church should live out a mission that matters in our time and place.

I wonder how this is possible.
And I wonder if it could happen @ 5 on Saturdays…

A person’s a person…

“A person’s a person, no matter how small.” – Dr. Seuss, Horton Hears a Who

I’ve been thinking a lot about little people lately.  How they learn and grow.  How they discover the world around them. What exactly makes them tick. This shouldn’t surprise anyone as I have a little person around me constantly. He loves texture and sensation. He wants to feel everything. He pulls things apart, puts them back together and then starts all over again. He wants to feel the world. He wants to be part of things.

This type of existing that is so common in toddlers and even young children is not really reflective of our worship style or faith experience {in my denomination anyways}. We expect kids to sit and listen. To be quiet. To behave. There isn’t a lot of room to move around. There’s isn’t a lot they can dig into. They’re expected to be tiny adults.

I worry about my son. How he will experience God as he grows and where he will learn about faith.  How will he experience the spirit?  Will he feel he has a place in all of it? Right now there aren’t many places left in my ‘church’ to do that. There are congregations that still have Sunday Schools but numbers are dwindling and programs are disappearing. Of all the programs in a church, the Children’s programs are often the first to go. We think that we’ll start them up again when we have kids but kids don’t come, families don’t appear because there isn’t anything for them.  It’s a vicious cycle.  It’s a frightening prospect.  In our efforts to save money/energy/time we’ve neglected the most important people in our church.  We’ve forgotten that they are the key to the future. We’ve forgotten how much they can teach us.

Jesus said, “…Let the children alone, don’t prevent them from coming to me. God’s kingdom is made up of people like these.” After laying hands on them, he left.” Matthew 19: 14-15

My son’s life is filled with texture and boldness.  He wants to experience and be part of everything around him. He loves music and sound. He has moments of great joy and also of sorrow. He feels everything intensely and is willing to share in your feelings as well.

If his life is so rich with colour, texture, emotion and expression and God’s kingdom is filled with people like him, should we not have more colour, texture, emotion and expression in our services and communities?  Should we not have programs that cater to young children and their families? Should we not want to learn from them how to live, worship and love?

We cannot do that the way things stand.  When we focus worship around what makes us comfortable and relegate children to the side as observers we’re missing out on a huge part of the experience God wants for us.  We cannot take ourselves too seriously.  God wants us to be fully engaged and as adults it’s natural for us to withdraw and hide a part of ourselves.  We need to learn from the children.  We must discover what it’s like to be a child again.

I worry about my son. He has needs and has a right to experience God in his own way.  There should be a place where he can go to make those discoveries and have fun while doing it. Children matter.  They are important.  They are the future.

The Branches

I randomly found myself thinking last night of a name for the church that I always say I want to be part of.  The church that has:

  • Multiple services in different styles so that all people can be part of one community but experience God in their own way.
  • Ministry for youth and children, families, singles, seniors and anyone else who needs it.
  • Studies and small groups to help people connect and discover.
  • Comfortable seating so that people are happy.
  • Relevant messages that touch people’s hearts.
  • Mission that reaches out into the community around us.
  • A vision for the future and goals to make that happen.

I’d love for this church to be called “(we are) The Branches”.  This may sound cheesy but hear me out.  The name implies ownership.  The name is action.  It was inspired by this verse:

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”  John 15:5

Jesus says we are the branches.  On any tree there are many branches, each a slightly different expression of the whole.  Wouldn’t it be marvelous if we could all come together as one community, in one place and hold multiple services with various expressions.  If we gathered together, shared our resources and did ministry in the world what a difference we could make.  As a people we are called to be the branches.  If we claimed this name and allowed it to define us we might be encouraged to move boldly into the world, growing and reaching into the community in the hopes of making a difference.

I know these things may never happen but sometimes you just find yourself thinking…

{This is the reason I don’t do much personal reflection.  Once I start I can’t stop.  I apologize in advance for any further ramblings this project through Lent may inspire.}

Into the streets…

This week I heard a story {in this video actually} about Priests going out into the streets to offer ashes to people on Ash Wednesday instead of expecting them to come in the door.  The priests had marvelous connections with people who otherwise would never engage in worship as they had bad memories and connections with typical Churches.  These priests were able to meet people in their environment, at their comfort level and offer them a connection with community and God that they might have been missing.

As I study the life of Jesus I see this happen in his ministry as well.  So much of what is remembered from his teaching happened outside the doors of the synagogue or the temple.  He went into peoples homes, met them on the street and entered their lives as he shared the message with them.  He was able to connect with them in a way that meant something to them.

I wonder if this is why we are held back as a community of faith today.  We desire to own ministers and places.  We need to have people belong and conform.  We remember worship that is precise and orderly.  Our need to perform this ritual as we have always known it might be preventing us from sharing the message.

Perhaps if we took the ritual into the streets we might find out what is needed in our communities and meet the people we are seeking.  We might find new ways to share the message and live it in our time.  It might be time for us to head into the streets and see where God takes us.

What do you think?

This video has been floating around for a few weeks now.  Watch it and then we’ll talk….

Now that you’ve watched it, what did you think?  I’ve heard many different responses to this video.  Some people have responded with praise and thanksgiving  that they worship in a traditional church as they never have to experience the shallowness they believe this style offers.  Other people have responded with horror at the joke.  They felt this was selling a new style short and was unfair in it’s portrayal.

The video was created by Northpoint Church in Atlanta as part of the Drive Conference it hosts each year for pastors. It did what it was supposed to do, it forced people to think.  It forced people to look at worship and see how they felt about it and ultimately discover what was the most important thing. Modeled after it’s own style, it was very effective.

Ultimately the video reminds us that it’s not the style or strategy that matters, it’s the message.  When we focus too much on the money or fame or style we’ve lost the point of why we gather.

In truth, most of us in the church don’t have to worry about money or fame or stylized worship. I’m not Andy Stanley or Rick Warren or Joel Osteen.  I don’t have to worry about security or numbers or light shows on Sunday morning. But even so I can learn from them.  When I think of their style of worship I see that:

  1. They have teams to lead different segments of worship.  People who are gifted at music run the music ministry. Others with a love for technology get involved with the intros. Some might be greeters while others serve coffee before the service. People are needed to serve.  In order for things to work the members have to get involved.
  2. There’s more than one Pastor doing the work of the church.  Some preach. Others lead worship. Some direct the music ministries. Others still work with children. There’s a youth pastor. Each area is served by someone who is gifted in that area and really has a passion for it.
  3. Not taking yourself too seriously can lead to many opportunities for growth.

If you’re part of a traditional service can you honestly say that you use your people.    Do you use people in the congregation?  Are you finding ways to help people serve? This is absolutely essential for us. Too often in a traditional congregation there are the same ten people doing the same ten jobs. We need to find ways to engage congregants and get them involved. Only when you are involved do you truly own the experience and maybe once our people feel like they own their worship they’ll get excited enough to bring people along.

If you’re part of a traditional service {and are the Pastor} can you honestly say you like doing it alone?  In the areas you’re less gifted in would you like to work with someone?  Would you like being part of a team better than being an individual? Truthfully I’d love working with other people. I love youth but know of others ministers who are exceptional youth pastors who I could learn so much from.   I’d love to learn about stewardship and pastoral care from people who are given those gifts.  I’m all about sharing the wealth and building on the gifts we’ve all be given.  We need to begin working together in order to truly offer a whole experience when people come into our community of faith.

If you’re part of a traditional service do you ever take a step back and look at what you’re doing and why you’re doing it? These guys did and they saw areas that could potentially be standing in the way of a true worship experience.  What’s standing in your way?  Is it routine? Is it rigidity? Find it and think about it.   Too often we think we’re doing something right because it’s worked in the past and we’re comfortable with it. This leads to apathy and apathy doesn’t lead to growth or discipleship. Sometimes we need to change things up so we really experience things. I’m not talking light shows or zebras here but a few new hymns or an intergeneration worship never hurt anyone.

I guess the video served it’s purpose.  I thought.  Then I thought again.  And if I’m honest I’m still thinking.  Now that I’ve shared my thoughts I’d love to hear yours. What do you think?