Although New Year’s Day and the emphasis upon making changes in one’s life is generally a civic liturgy, it’s not inappropriate for the Church. After all, we just emerged from Advent—the beginning of the Christian year! If you are a church leader, what if you imagine the body of your congregation as a living organism who might make some adjustments for better health in the coming year? Here are a few ideas…
1) Live the Christian Calendar rather than the Civic one.
For many non-denominational churches especially, this is a giant opportunity to disciple the congregation. I’m talking about going beyond Christmas and Easter. Our calendar helps us rehearse the rhythm of the Gospel story: the Father sends the Son, the Son sends the Spirit, the Spirit sends us. So, make a big deal out of Lent. What if you celebrate Pentecost and teach on the Holy Spirit? How about helping your small groups have some light bulb experiences during Epiphany? What if you designed Ordinary Time to be extraordinary? Out of the 8760 hours available in a year, you have about 50 hours available in corporate worship to impact the congregation in a formational way. (And that’s if the church body is consistently, regularly attending). Is the wonder of the Gospel story worth trading for the endless consumer hours in which our culture will focus on national holidays?
The Christian calendar helps us rehearse the rhythm of the Gospel story: the Father sends the Son, the Son sends the Spirit, the Spirit sends us.
2) Design Corporate Worship for Discipleship, not Performance.
All 3 of my sons are athletes. My wife and I spend countless hours delivering and picking them up to practices. They spend hours rehearsing specific plays, working out, developing fast-twitch muscles, eating right, getting enough sleep, watching film, being mentored by coaches…all so they can perform well in their games. This is the liturgy of the athlete. Imagine that the ways you Gather, teach the Word, meet around the Table, and Send the congregation are drills, which over time build the collective health of this corner of the Kingdom. Building a consistent outline gives you the ability to be more creative, not less. Design consistent ways that involve people multi-generationally so they aren’t just watching what is happening on stage, but are participating in it. Allowing corporate worship to become boring says more about our personal spiritual growth as leaders than anything else.
Imagine that the ways you Gather, teach the Word, meet around the Table, and Send the congregation are drills, which over time build the collective health of this corner of the Kingdom.
3) Invite people to help lead their creative ideas.
All church leaders have folks approach with great thoughts on the things “we should” or “you should” do. Often, there are some very good ideas. Yet a big part of stewarding the Body is attention to time. If the idea is good, is this the best season to do it? Perhaps it’s a great idea for us next year after we have time to plan it well. Ultimately, is the idea advancing the Kingdom, or is it just another fun (and optional) activity on everyone’s already overloaded schedule? Is the person with the idea willing to help lead it? If not, circular file it. You are called to help grow the Kingdom, not turn your congregation into the Wal-Mart of opportunities from which people can select if they happen to be in town.
You are called to help grow the Kingdom, not turn your congregation into the Wal-Mart of opportunities from which people can select if they happen to be in town.
4) Continue unwrapping “the Gospel.”
“Gospel,”or the “good news, is a churchy, insider word that few in secular American culture use. But it’s also a biblical word…euangelion. On the inside, this very important term has been the victim of reductionism. For so many, this simply (perhaps only) means “Jesus died for my sins so I could be forgiven and go to heaven when I die.” Not that this is untrue (although there is MUCH more to realize about sin, forgiveness and heaven), but making this statement the entirety of the Gospel is like saying a lifetime of marriage is the honeymoon. God’s salvific purposes are immensely greater than such a narrow (and perhaps selfish) view of John 3:16. For a starting point, re-read Luke 4 and underline every time Jesus talks about the “good news” and his role in bringing it. The Word cannot mean something for us that it did not mean for its original hearers. Ask yourself how good news could already be happening prior to the crucifixion and resurrection, and how “good news” now continues.
5) Promote Reaching In.
This is ministry. This is where we practice the Gospel, the good news, with one another who are in the family…and also with the “immigrants” who are attracted to the Bride of Christ and who are considering joining her. Teach the priesthood of all believers. Visiting, calling, counseling, praying, sending the casserole or the card doesn’t count more when the preacher does it. He or she does not have a 5G connection to God while the rest of the congregation is on dial up. Affirm with the church that their presence matters. All believers have the same Holy Spirit within them. “We cannot become what God intends for us if you aren’t here. You can’t become what God intends for you if you aren’t here.”
[The preacher] does not have a 5G connection to God while the rest of the congregation is on dial up.
6) Practice Reaching Out.
This is mission. Simply put, the way we are practicing ministry to one another on the inside, let’s practice that in our community. This means our presence. Although it may take money, it does not mean we get to send a check, proclaim that we have “done missions,” and feel wonderful about ourselves. At this point in our national history, do we really think human government will ever be a perfect solution? This is the Church’s opportunity to come alongside the poor, orphans, widows, people trying to navigate medical insurance and health concerns, college graduates who are trying to find careers and learn how to be an adult in today’s world, to model respectful dialogue and listen respectfully to opposing views, to pursue genuine friendships with people of another race, to honestly listen to the LGBTQ community, to be surrogate moms, dads, grandparents and to fulfill these roles where they are lacking. In the early centuries of Christian faith, this kind of selfless grace combined with an eye on eternity and the belief Jesus might come back at any moment caused the Church to explode into an unstoppable movement. (See The Rise of Christianity by Rodney Stark). Remember, benediction is blessing + charge, not a closing prayer. What is 1 specific way you can challenge the church to enact what you just taught them at the end of each service?
Benediction is blessing + charge, not a closing prayer.
7) Less is More for Regular Celebration.
Jean Vanier said, “communities who don’t celebrate become places where people just get things done.” Consider having fewer big events and more meaningful, weekly gatherings. Having so much energy vested in the next “big event” can rob us of the time to encounter the movements of the Spirit among us as we get too focused upon what must be done. Ask your people if they normally depart sensing the presence of Christ or a cattle prod to move out of the way for the next service. Invest in and enrich the weekly celebrations for those who are coming. Remember that celebration doesn’t mean partying in the face of those who are hurting. Create space to really see one another and the God who heals. How can we help our congregation see one way that the kingdom of God advanced this week? Every Sunday is a mini-Easter with a celebration of the resurrection, but answering this question well continues affirming Emmanuel—God is with us.