On a recent Sunday morning I was getting ready for church, in fact I was in the shower where all good thinking seems to begin, and I began to wonder what was in store for us that morning. The more I thought, the more questions I had. The questions weren’t really spontaneous but more like a culmination of sorts, an amalgam of thinking from the preceding months, and even years. The heart of the question was why do our church services (in a variety of congregations and denominations that I visit) look the way they look? More specifically, why do most services revolve around someone instructing us for about 30 minutes, or more? Why is the sermon the focal point of the entire service? Is this really focusing on Jesus? Is this what Jesus intended when He instituted the church?

I speak with a lot of pastors about strategy, service design, structure, vision, mission and a host of other topics, but this specific line of thought and questioning is fresh for me. Preaching has always been an accepted part of the weekly gathering, at least in modern history. Most folks, including myself consider it sacred and would never consider lowering its place of prominence in a service. But this particular morning my thoughts were going elsewhere, and I’ve not been able to sideline either my thoughts or my questions since they began. In fact, I’ve leaned into them and explored them on a deeper level.

Somehow we’ve gotten to the place where we’ve divided the “service of worship” into two segments: Worship, and Bible Teaching. So much so that we often hear the comments, “Great worship today,” or “Great teaching today.” I just can’t accept that as being appropriate any longer. Here’s where I am: Because we’ve decided the weekly gathering is primarily an attractional event for evangelizing the lost or instructing believers our focus is not on celebrating Christ and His kingdom on the earth.

What would a service look like if the focus were not the sermon or a particular style of music? What if we really gathered to celebrate the kingdom of Christ? What would we stop doing? What would we start doing? Perhaps you’re part of a church already focused on the kingdom of Christ. Perhaps you’re developing a hunger for such a gathering, or perhaps you think I’m a bit foolish for even thinking about this. I wonder if our services aren’t kingdom of Christ focused because we don’t think that’s an attainable goal, or it doesn’t look like what we’ve come to expect from the modern church? I wonder if it’s because we’ve turned the church into our hired hands for evangelism and without a seeker event we feel we have no other means of exposing the lost to Jesus.

As you can tell, I’m doing a lot of wondering these days. I’m not suggesting we abandon music or the Bible but I am wondering what it would look like to be more like the early Christians in Acts. Not really sure where this is taking me, and not sure what this even has to do with my current role in life but the journey continues. 

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A friend of mine who pastors a fairly young church has determined that the church’s original name isn’t reflective of who they’ve become. It sort of reflects their location but it doesn’t reflect their values, their vision or anything substantive about them. They’re really grappling with it, praying over it, talking with a lot of people. A name that reflects their identity has become a pretty big deal for them. They need a new name.

I remember struggling with what we’d name our third child. She was a surprise but somehow that name didn’t seem appropriate so we crossed it off our list. People around us told us she was going to be a very special child (tying this to the surprise element I suppose) so that put all kinds of new pressure on us as we combed the baby books looking for that special name. 

For a boy we finally landed on Geoffery. At this point I can’t remember why, but that was the name. The only problem was the spelling. My wife wanted Jeffery and I wanted Geoffery. I must have thought it looked more special that way. More unique. We were still discussing the spelling on the way to the hospital so fortunately we had a girl. And by the way, everyone was right. She’s very special, and her name is Aimee.

When I sit down to write a post like this I probably think about the title too much. But it’s what grabs people’s attention. It’s the first thing they see and it can form, or at least influence their opinion of the post. I suspect the more intriguing or outrageous the title the more inclined people will be to read what follows. 

We put a lot into titles and names. In marketing, a name can be critical to a product’s positioning. When preaching, a title usually sums up my big idea. Titles and names are more than just labels. They’re indicators of sorts. They tell stories. They give hints or clues. This morning I read Isaiah 43. The last part of the very first verse jumped off the page. 

“Don’t be afraid, I’ve redeemed you. I’ve called your name. You’re mine. 

 

As I read this passage it strikes me that God doesn’t seem too concerned with our names. Evidently He knows them but that’s not what strikes me. The words that follow are what strike me. My name is not the focus. My name is pretty immaterial in this context. My name is not what matters most to God. What matters most to Him, and to me are the words that follow. You’re mine!

I’m not sure why they call them fortune cookies. I’ve never made a fortune from any “wisdom” inside (although one time it said, “You will make a fortune with your friend”), I’ve never felt fortunate after reading one or eating one, and none of mine have ever come true, much less been very enlightening. However, in spite of al this I think I’ve always cracked open the cookie and read the so-called fortune. Only one time was I ever totally disappointed and that’s because there was no fortune. I’m not talking about a blank piece of paper or a statement that wasn’t really a fortune. I’m talking an empty container. I felt betrayed and almost like I had to look over my shoulder the rest of the day, fearful that some kind of mis-fortune might be coming my way.

The fortune cookie ritual is pretty fascinating when you think about it. They don’t necessarily taste good nor do their fortunes provide us with anything of value yet when they’re brought to the table they’re cracked open with a certain measure of anticipation. Then almost ceremonially people around the table read their fortunes to each other and share a moment together. The last time I went through this process with some friends I ended up having the best statement.

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.

Now, regardless of your definition of darkness and light this is a true statement and on that day I can honestly say it’s the first fortune cookie that ever provided me with an inspiring or encouraging word. I’m sure it helped that the whole darkness and light thing is a Biblical concept. This little fortune challenged me to ask myself how I was bringing light into the world and driving out darkness. I still don’t think I’d call that a fortune but at least I felt like I got something out of the deal other than an unsatisfying cookie, which by the way was also better than normal.

So I ask you, what are you doing to drive out the darkness in your corner of the world? How are you being light? Let me hear from you.