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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Finally they came to Kansas City and I got to experience what I thought might never happen. When The Police first announced their tour more than a year ago Kansas City wasn’t on the list. We explored the idea of going to another city to hear them but it was going to be cost prohibitive. When they extended their tour Kansas City was on the list and the date went on the calendar.

The concert was really amazing. How three guys can make so much music is pretty unbelievable. During their final song (pre-encore) I was caught off guard, not with anything they did but by my own reaction. Recently I’ve been reading a lot about God’s love and grace and have sort of been living in a continual state of awe. Although I still don’t fully understand the richness and depth of God’s love for me, I have a much stronger grasp of it now than I did when I was younger. There really are some things good about getting older.

For some this may sound odd and for others it might border on sacrilegious, but as I stood in that arena with around 12,000 other people I quit hearing the voice of Sting and began hearing select lyrics as if they were coming from God. It was a unique worship experience.

Every breath you take
Every move you make
Every bond you break
Every step you take
Ill be watching you

To hear those words coming from God’s heart to my ears was powerful and humbling. There would have been a time in my life that putting those words in a God context would have meant He was maybe watching me to catch me doing something wrong. However, I’ve come to realize that’s not God and doesn’t accurately represent His character. He’s watching me through eyes of love. When I DO stumble along the way He changes His tune, but only slightly.

Oh, can’t you see
You belong to me
How my poor heart aches
With every breath you take

For me, life doesn’t get better than knowing I belong to Him and He loves me unconditionally. My devotion and love for God has moved beyond obligation and has become a response to His devotion and love for me. I wonder if anyone else in that arena had a similar experience?

This morning I was reading N. T. Wright’s Simply Christian and came across a great quote. I was actually sitting in the warm Arizona sunshine enjoying a few days of relaxation while I’m sure many folks were in church. I was, in essence having a time of communion with God as I read and enjoyed the sounds of nature that were so alive on this mild, desert morning. The words that especially caught my eye, and were so refreshing to me were describing the church,

It’s where you’ll find people learning to pray, coming to faith, struggling with temptation, finding new purpose, and getting in touch with a new power to carry that purpose out. It’s where people bring their own small faith and discover, in getting together with others to worship the one true God, that the whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts.

I find this so refreshing because it has nothing to do with the externals we tend to associate with “worship” today. Those externals of music, sound, style, programs, design and many other so called features churches talk about to market themselves to an uninterested, disengaged public. I find myself longing for authenticity, relationship, transparency, shared struggles, and in general being loved and accepted rather than judged. Why, in so many instances has church become a place for performance rather than community? 

I love getting together with a group of people and just being me; being accepted like I am and being appreciated in spite of how different I may or may not be from the others in the group. That seems to happen more outside the church than within. More with the so-called non-Christians than with those who call themselves believers. I wonder what that means! 

I used to love hearing people say, “Great worship today.” Not so much anymore. Although I understand their intent and they believe God was present among us, I also know what they’re really talking about is the music. Somehow it’s become less acceptable to “compliment” musicianship, and more acceptable to only categorize it as being worship. It’s as if we’ve somehow decided music is now the only acceptable form of worship, and in many churches I’ve attended that’s reflected in the attitudes of the worshippers.

Don’t get me wrong, I believe music is an incredible form of expressing our emotion and thought and as such should be a powerful part of our corporate experience. But if music is the only form our expression takes then our worship is lopsided and incomplete. Be assured, God will always accept our offering of love when we come to Him with clean hands and a pure heart, but there are so many more ways of expression than music.

I love my wife Jacque more today than I ever dreamed possible back in 1977 when I first said, “I love you.” That being true, I try to find new ways of expressing my love so it’s an accurate reflection of the depth and richness of my emotion. If I only said those three words over and over again, at some point they’d become commonplace and lose their appeal and impact. Out of love it’s up to me to keep my expression fresh and appealing.

In recent years I’ve learned to express my love for Jacque in ways that are meaningful to her. Before then I guess my expressions of love were based more on my preferences than hers. I don’t think this was a conscious thing on my part but more an indication of the maturity level of my love. As my love for her has grown and matured so has the variety and depth of my expression. In that process I’ve grown to understand that if my love is pure then my expression needs to be focused on her preferences more than my own, otherwise it’s about me. While she never tires of hearing the three words I would daresay they’ve become far more meaningful as I’ve expressed them more on “her terms” than mine.

So, how does God want us to express our love to Him? In as many ways as our God-given creativity will allow. It’s for sure we’re not limited to music, and definitely not one style or sound of music. The options are myriad and God stands ready to receive whatever we offer Him. So when you say, “Great worship today,” what do you mean?

I went to church on a recent Sunday and discovered that on Easter we were going to be a different church than we are on every other Sunday of the year. A church that normally has two different services (in reality they’re not that different from one another) at 9:30 and 11:00 is going to have identical services at 9:00 and 11:00. I’m sure their reasoning was along the lines of it being Easter and wanting to do something special, accommodate the crowds, etc. I understand that, but for me that’s only part of the problem. 

Easter is one of those days when a lot of people are going to make their twice yearly trek to church, so the church leaders, being the marketing geniuses they are tend to think they should do something special on that day. After all, if the show’s good enough maybe these twice-yearly attenders (Chreasters) will become regulars. Here’s the problem with that line of thinking.

When you decide to pull out all the stops and put on a big show, your Easter guests aren’t getting a true representation of who you are. They might be getting what you wish you were, or what you want them to think you are, or even you on steroids, but it’s not a true picture. For those who still don’t see the problem, what happens if they come back the next week?

For starters, some of them will show up at 9:00 for the 9:30 service since that’s the time they came on Easter. Those who come on time may not feel the same buzz in the air when they enter the building as they did the week before.  Once the service starts there’s a good chance they’ll feel it; the Easter switch. The church they attended on Easter and the church they’re in now are two different churches. Sure it’s the same building, some of the same people but it’s a totally different service. They’ve been duped!

Just because it’s Easter and you may attract a bigger crowd please don’t be different than any other Sunday. Sure you should celebrate the risen Christ. Go ahead and make it a Sunday to remember. But why is that different from the other Sundays of the year? Be true to who you are. This isn’t a contest, it’s Easter!

Recently I sat in a room with about fifty pastors (which is an interesting thing in itself and should probably be its own post) to hear a presenter talk about the Organic Church — this particular presenter’s label for house churches (not to be confused with the Neil Cole book by the same name). I went not knowing what to expect really, although since it was a denominationally sponsored meeting I had some pre-conceived assumptions. In simplistic terms the concept he presented was one of taking the church to neighborhoods and gathering in small groups of people as opposed to the large singular gathering each week. 

The presenter was very quick to point out that this was not a replacement for church as we know it but rather a new form, or a new alternative to traditional churches or church planting. Some of the people in attendance weren’t tracking too well with his presentation but most were in agreement with him. That was until he began talking in terms that made it sound like this organic movement somehow needed to be harnessed, strategized, systematized and institutionalized so the denomination could support it and be able to jump on the house church bandwagon.

The presenter spoke in terms of a system for training, accountability, reporting and multiplying. In short, he seemed to be taking something organic (his word) and turn it into a church growth strategy. In the meeting I voiced a concern that should we try and denominationalize house churches we might kill them before they ever got started. I believe in the concept of house churches and believe they will be a significant part of the church fabric of the future. I even applaud the denomination’s desire to understand them and give blessing to those people who prefer to gather in that type of setting. However, if they’re going to truly be organic then let them evolve organically and not strategically.

Although my thoughts on the subject haven’t fully crystallized, here’s my take on things right now. I like the concept of house churches and believe having a small group of people extending the love of God to others around them (and even around the world) can be a very powerful thing. I also believe it’s a very Biblical concept and should the Holy Spirit choose to bless it through multiplication that’s fine, but I don’t see that as the goal. While I think it’s fine for house churches to affiliate with a denomination I’m not sure it’s all that beneficial. 

It seems to me that house churches have the opportunity to “be the church” without having the requirement of keeping church machinery grinding forward. House churches don’t need to focus on increasing their numbers and can instead focus on increasing their love for God, each other and the world around them. I believe there is a place for the traditional church and the house church, and believe they can even co-exist within a denominational framework if people so choose. 

So having said all that, what’s your take? What’s your preference?

Ever had an intimate moment behind the wheel? Mine happened just this week, and it sort of caught me off-guard. It was a Matt Redman song that I’ve not heard for a number of years called Intimacy. Combine that with The Prayers of the Saints which is the next song I listened to and it was sort of like a one, two punch. That moment made me miss leading worship. More than just leading it made me miss the crafting art. The part of planning that allows for intimate moments.

I’m not talking about manipulating people’s emotions. I’m talking about creating the space within a service for people to experience intimacy. Not in the forced or artificial way I’ve seen far too many times, but the genuine Holy Spirit kind of moment where you just “get out of the way” and allow the moment to flow. Yeah, I miss the art of crafting those opportunities, and in that intimate moment behind the wheel I knew I was ready to lead again. I knew it because I was visualizing how I would use those two songs and what I would pair with them and it was an energizing thing.

While all of this was going on I was hearing another Matt Redman song in my mind and spirit. That song speaks of the Father singing over me. The sound of that song didn’t come through my earbuds but I could hear it as if it were.