Happy New Year. Tomorrow is the first Sunday in Advent and we begin anew the annual spiritual journey with our Lord from birth to death to Resurrection. Each year we resolve to do better in this faith quest. We admit that lack of spiritual growth is ours to own but couldn’t our fellow Christians, our parish leaders, our clergy help us?
For example, what is the purpose of the Sunday Service? Is it just to carry on a tradition? Is the focus the (few) faithful who show up? Could it be to entertain visitors who may or may not come back next week? None-of-the-above would seem to be the best answer. Try this on for size; the reason we worship is to honor our Creator, our Redeemer, our Sanctifier. Therefore everything we do should make God proud – the way the buildings look when he drives in the parking lot – the music – the sermon – the fellowship – and, yes, even the way the announcements are shared. One author wrote, “If God brought his friends to church, would he be proud to show then what you are doing to bring glory to his name?” Can you imagine God bragging about the service to the angels? To be sure, worship will look very different from congregation to congregation – but each parish should give their very best effort every Sunday and not just pay lip service to the concept of honoring God.
It is difficult to know what first time visitors see and feel because most do not come back and we don’t do follow-up anyway. So to gain that perspective congregational members could invite friends to visit a service and then ask them to be candid about what they saw and felt. Clergy could invite retired priests to visit and then debrief then over coffee during the week.
Members and clergy alike need to honest about the quality of music, liturgy, education and, of course, preaching. As Chief of Chaplain Services in the military it was a privilege to superintend over 200 clergy from 40 Christian Denominations. Many were outstanding preachers; many were not. Retirement has facilitated visiting many Episcopal congregations and perhaps a dozen churches in other faith groups. Again, many sermons were outstanding and many were awful. One fellow used “I”, “me”, and “my” more than 100 times in the first ten minutes of the sermon; too much ego to have room for the Gospel. Another preacher used the entire sermon to describe taking her husband to a tattoo parlor and paying for an addition to his body art. Good grief, where did these folks take homiletics? Can anyone preach a sermon without personal pronouns and ridiculous stories?
Perhaps a suitable New Year’s resolution for laity and clergy alike would be to make the Sunday Service the most important event in the week. Mark Batterson, church planter and Pastor of National Community Church in
, said “It doesn’t matter what size your church is: you’ve got to give God everything you’ve got every weekend! Excellence honors God.” He then added, “If you want to experience growth . . . you have to prioritize the weekend service.” Washington, D.C.
We have ample evidence of what happens when we ignore this wise counsel.Rector@garygilbertson.org