My trust in God flows out of the experience of his loving me, day in and day out, whether the day is stormy or fair, whether I'm sick or in good health, whether I'm in a state of grace or disgrace. He comes to me where I live and loves me as I am. Brennan Manning link
Over the last two weeks I have been in discussions with an individual whose family has been both harshly and unfairly disciplined by a church which is a member of a group of churches which stress church membership and discipline. We hope to tell this story in the near future and expect it to get a similar response to the story about The Village Church. The mother in this story said something quite profound.
I joined this church years ago when they said that they stressed grace in the church. What I didn't understand at the time, was they meant they stressed the doctrines of grace and not the grace I was looking for.
She said that those doctrines led to an atmosphere of legalism that reminded her of the shepherding movement. At this point I cannot tell the story but you will understand when you eventually hear it. One part of the story led me to tears and I could barely speak. The abuse and pain in this situation demonstrates what can happen when grace is not part of the actions and spirit of the church.
Parents should never skip church for a kid's sports game.
I once heard a stern lecture from a pastor about attending church on Sundays. He berated the parents who skipped church to attend the sports tournaments of their kids. He was the father of tiny children. In his authoritative style he told parents to "make their leagues" stop Sunday games. He said that he would do so when his son started playing sports. He claimed that being church on Sundays was the number one priority and that his sermon was the center of the church's worship.
Most experienced parents understand how certain sports can interfere on Sundays and there is not a blasted thing one can do about it except to pull the kid out of that sport. Most parents will not do that. That pastor will learn that lesson soon enough.
The Gospel Coalition has a plethora of articles on not skipping church like this one from Kevin De Young, The Scandal of the Semi-Churched.
4. Are you willing to make sacrifices to gather with God’s people for worship every Sunday? “But you don’t expect me to cancel my plans for Saturday night, do you? I can’t possibly rearrange my work schedule. This job requires me to work every Sunday–I’d have to get a new job if I wanted to be regular at church. Sundays are my day to rewind. I won’t get all the yard work done if I go to church every week. My kids won’t be able to play soccer if we don’t go to Sunday games. If my homework is going to be done by Sunday, I won’t be able to chill out Friday night and all day Saturday. Surely God wouldn’t want me to sacrifice too much just so I can show up at church!” Not exactly the way of the cross, is it?
He even suggests that missing church might indicate that you are not even a Christian!
The sermon is the pivotal point of the worship service.
In conclusion, then, the reason that preaching is so prominent in worship is that worship is not just understanding but also feeling. It is not just seeing God, but also savoring God. It is not just the response of the mind, but also of the heart. Therefore God has ordained that the form his Word should take in corporate worship is not just explanation to the mind and not just stimulation to the heart. Rather the Word of God is to come teaching the mind and reaching the heart; showing the truth of Christ and savoring the glory of Christ; expositing the Word of God and exulting in the God of the Word.
That is what preaching is. And that is why it is so prominent in worship. It is not a mere work of man. It is a gift and work of the Holy Spirit. And therefore it happens most and best where a people are praying and spiritually prepared for it. That is what we will talk about next week.
In Sermon Centric Worship, Austin McCann said:
Everything in the worship service should be centered around the sermon. Nothing should be more important than the sermon. The sermon is where the Holy Spirit convicts, challenges, and changes the hearts of the listeners through God’s inspired Word.
…3. Preaching is the designated means of Gospel communication. I firmly believe every Christian should share the Gospel verbally in their day-to-day life, but the Gospel is primarily shared through proclamation of God’s Word .
…When we hear preaching from God’s Word we hear God speaking to us. We give God ourselves for His glory and He reveals Himself to us through preaching of the Word for His own glory as well.
He closed with the following:
I fear that many churches are putting more emphasis on other parts, and may I say good parts, of the worship service other than preaching. God has given me a huge desire to preach and I believe preaching is something we need to restore in many of our churches. Matt Chandler once said, “The pulpit drives the church.” I fear that many churches are being driven by emotion, creative worship services, music, and so much more other than preaching. This starts with the pastors. I urge you pastors, spend most of your time in the week studying God’s Word and preparing the message God has given you. Lead the way pastors, preach God’s Word faithfully and keep it central in your worship services.
A pastor who gets grace.
Attendance in church
I heard a sermon that caused me to really want to listen. I was attending a new church which has a liturgical bent. In a short, 10 minute sermon, I heard him offer the gift of grace to the weary people sitting in church. He was focusing on "Remembering the Lords Day." I remember thinking, "Here it comes. You are a bad Christian if you are not in church."
Instead he offered grace to the people. He said that he understood it when families had to go to the soccer games for their children on Sundays. He had done it himself. He also commiserated with folks who are working to put bread on the table and are so exhausted on a Sunday that they sleep in. He remarked that this is one of the reasons that they decided to provide a Saturday service.
He stressed that coming to church and gathering with the folks is important. However, when it cannot be done, then everyone should take some time out(a few hours) during the week and meditate on Scripture, pray, listen to a sermon on line or just sit quietly and listen for God. He said that such a practice would provide strength to face the trials of life.
I remember smiling, thinking about the rigidity of many evangelical church groups on church attendance. But he had even more to say.
The sermon is not the most important part of the worship service.
He told the folks to pay careful attention to what he was about to say. In a truly humble moment, he grinned while saying that he was sure that some might find his sermons boring. He then said, "That's alright." He stressed that the worship service has many aspects to it. Some might find the time of prayer meaningful. Others might be drawn into the Scripture readings or the music. A few might be heartened by repeating The Apostles Creed. Of course, there is always the sacrament of the Lord's Supper which is celebrated each meeting.
Imagine that! A pastor who didn't make himself the center of worship. I felt as though a weight of guilt had been lifted off my shoulders. I tell you this to give you hope that there are those pastors and leaders out there who are not consumed with their own importance.
Have you ever had these issues with a small group?
- It is a mandatory part of joining the church.
- The leader is appointed by the pastors and people are assigned to the group.
- You are told to confess your sins to one another/discipline one another, etc. and you barely know one another.
- You are told that this group is going to be a close knit group of people "doing life together" but the membership is always in flux.
- The group must read a book or review a sermon as mandated by the "leader of all small groups."
- The church has the prerogative to split up the group at will.
- What is shared in the group is shared with the pastors/leaders.
Did you know that you and some friends can start your own small group and you do not need the permission of your pastor to do so? Let me tell you about the small group that I have been in for 14 years.
A group of us in a Sunday school class decided we wanted to start a small group to meet twice a month. We didn't ask permission. We just did it. We opened it up to whoever wanted to join us. We meet on Saturday nights at the home of our unofficial small group leader. Although everyone is willing to have the small group come to their house, it just has worked out that way.
We all subsequently left the church in which we met each other and began attending different churches. During this time, a few more people joined in with us. We are not a closed group. We study the Bible or a book and have even watched a movie(Luther) together. We celebrate holidays together and have done a Passover dinner as a group.
We have shared tragedy together when the husband of one of our members passed away from cancer. All of us have lost elderly family members or have had hospitalizations. I remember waking up from an operation and seeing about 5 women jammed into my hospital room, shooting the breeze! We bring food to one another and the women celebrate each other's birthdays. We have attended our children's weddings, prayed for jobs and finances, shared pain and heartache in our families and some of us stood up to a church which mishandled a pedophile situation.
We have a white elephant exchange each Christmas and it can get pretty rowdy. We have one framed picture of the bris of Jesus. He is surrounded by people dressed in Renaissance clothing. It is terribly tacky. Each year, it is hidden in the white elephant presents in terribly clever ways. The family who wins (or loses depending on your perspective)must hold it for a year and bring it back the next exchange. That family signs their names on the back and date it. It is fun to see it again and sometimes it is a bit poignant as we read the name of our friend who passed away.
We have doctrinal differences. There is a Calvinist, Arminians, and some who are not sure. We differ on baptism, the interpretation of some passages of the Bible, etc. But we ponder it through together. We are all very different people but all of us are committed to the idea of such a group.
We have not needed a pastor in all of those years to tell us what to do, think, or pray. We just hang in there with one another. We offer the gift of forbearance, grace and love that has lasted through the years.
I tell you this for one reason. Find a group to hang with. You do not need to do it through the church. In many instances churches mess it up by attempting to impose their agendas or "formats" that may not fit your group. Find a person who will make sure it happens each time you meet. Get together if there are only 3 of you-don't cancel. Find someone who likes to remember birthdays, etc. and remember the fun things.
Stick it out through the years. I can tell you that it is worth it. I know there are some people out there that would run to my aid if anything happened. They pray for me (and all of you, by the way.)
I look at our group a bit like the many varieties of Bush's Baked Beans. We are different yet the same. And, remember, there are no "rules" that say you must be under the authority of a pastor to have a small group which sticks together.