Wednesday, May 5, 2010


What should the church do? In answer to this question, Acts 2:42-47 is often cited. Based on this descriptive passage of the post-Pentecost church in Jerusalem, activities such as teaching, worship in large settings, intimate gatherings in smaller groups, communion and prayer are cited. Certainly these activities, in some form, should mark the life of local Christ communities today.
But this passage offers more.
Recently I was reading Acts 2 again (How many times I've read this passage!), and for some reason I noticed words which described not what the church did, but the spirit which pervaded its life together. These words speak to the question: How did the church feel?--feel to those who were on the inside doing life together, and to those who are on the outside watching it all happen.
Three words caught my mind: awe, glad and sincere.
The people were filled with awe. They were in awe at how the risen Lord was working among them. Sick people were now well. Scoundrels and cheats had begun to live differently. Increasing numbers of people were turning to Jesus.
The people's hearts were glad. Life together overflowed with great joy. Optimism, laughter, and praise filled conversations and gatherings. Life was not always easy--but there was a sense that God is greater than anything life brings.
The people's hearts were also sincere. Today's emerging generation longs for authenticity. They hate masks and phoniness. To a remarkable degree, it seems that the early church was filled with people who were authentic. They were sincere in their commitment to God, and in their love for each other.
These words seem to reflect the overflow of the Holy Spirit in the Jerusalem church. Jesus might have said, "When the Holy Spirit comes upon you, you will live in awe, ooze gladness and walk in sincerity."
What would it be like to be part of a church which was overflowing with these qualities? I think it would feel pretty good.

Friday, February 19, 2010


If the presence of God does not indwell our ministry, we might as well close up shop.
For the past several weeks I have been involved in a personal study of biblical leaders. Currently, I'm digging into the life of Moses. Today I found myself reflecting on Moses' encounter with God after the debacle with the golden calf. Moses is pleading on behalf of the people for God's forgiveness and mercy. He is also deeply concerned that God's presence continues to go with Israel into the future. "Then Moses said, "If your presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here. How will anyone know that you are pleased with me and with your people unless you go with us? What else will distinguish me and your people from all the other people on the face of the earth (Ex 33:15-16)?"
This passage brought the book of Ezekiel to mind. The prophecy begins with judgment and ends with redemption. In chapter 10 the glory of the Lord departs from the temple because of Israel's sin. In chapter 43 the glory of the Lord returns to the temple because of God's gracious renewing activity. Then, in chapter 47 we read of the ever-widening, ever-deepening, life-giving river which flows from the temple. The overall message is clear: rivers of life can only flow from God's presence, and when God is present rivers of life will flow.
Right now I'm helping a church think through a strategic ministry plan. I'm concerned about the lack of a clear vision, articulated mission and explicit values. I do believe that these things matter, and I will do my best to help the church develop these in a God honoring way. But, as helpful as these elements are for the development of an effective ministry, I need to make sure that I help this church understand what is even more important: the presence of God in their ministry.
A church can recognize the importance of vision, mission, values. It can develop simple church strategies. It can recruit teams, train teams, deploy teams. It can seek to become a missional community and engage in a multitude of compassionate projects. But, without the presence of God permeating all of these things, they will ultimately prove to be empty and futile.
And what is good for a ministry, is good for me and you. Does the presence of God fill my life? Can God's glory be seen in me? To paraphrase Moses, "If God's presence is not in me, then I am not different from anyone else."
Lord God, may you be pleased to fill this life.

Monday, January 25, 2010

The 3 P's of Worship

Why does a worship service "work" for some people, and not for others? I use the word "work" rather loosely. Consulting with a number of different churches lately has caused me to do some reflection on this question.
The result is the "3 P's Of Worship." The average worship service consists of 3 P's: preaching, praise and people. As you will see, "praise" is stretched beyond it's technical meaning--but, as a pastor, I like alliteration, and I think it helps make the point.
Preaching involves the communication of God's Word. Preaching styles vary greatly: textual, topical, theological, practical, serious, funny. Preaching is a varied as the personality of the preacher.
Praise involves the elements in the service beyond preaching. While most often associated with music, praise, as I am using the term, includes things like communion, offering, testimony, video productions, and the like.
People involves the mosaic of humanity who attend the worship service. Although "worship" is an act directed towards God, the people around us matter. A month ago my wife and I decided to attend a particular service at our church because we "know more people" at that service. What about those people who prefer to attend a service where they can walk in and out, unknown to anyone else? "Anonymity" is its own kind of "people factor."
In order for a worship service to "work" for most of us, I believe that two out of the three P's need to be present to a fairly high degree. If the preaching is good, and the people are family, individuals will tolerate music that's "too loud" or drama they don't like. If the praise is great, and the the people factor is right, we will tolerate less than great preaching.
When all three P's are present, a person becomes a raving fan of the church's worship service. When only one out of three is present, a person probably finds another church.
It would also seem that different individuals rank the importance of these three P's differently. Depending on how a person prioritizes these P's, determines the kind of church to which we will be drawn. Those who value the people factor will be more comfortable in a smaller church; those who value the preaching factor will gravitate towards the larger churches which, on the whole, tend to have stronger preachers.
This is one guys opinion. What do you think?