What could Sunday morning worship look like, if it couldn't look like a traditional service, or a soft rock concert? Discuss.
— Joe Watkins (@noggingrande) May 19, 2015
This was the question rattling around in my head a while ago. As I considered the possible answers (and some others shared) I began to imagine what our Sunday mornings at New Hope could look like, at least for the summer if not for the foreseeable and longterm future. For a while now, I have had the sense that Sunday mornings were far too much of a grind for those of us leading worship, and created an unwanted disconnect between everyone present and the real life and ministry to which we are called.
So this past Sunday we changed things up. In case you weren’t with us Sunday, here’s what the order of service looked like.
- Opening Reflection on Today’s Theme
- Welcome & Community News
- Psalm 29
- Opening Prayer
- Romans 8:12-17
- Fill This House (song)
- Isaiah 6:1-8
- You are My King (Amazing Love) (song)
- Extended Time of Prayer
- Final Thoughts
So why the changes? Why not leave things the way they are?
A Season of Prayer
Recently I’ve spent a very specific and concentrated time of prayer and study reading through the book of Revelation and praying about the future direction of New Hope. During a recent session of reflection I realized that as we move outward as a church we will necessarily be engaging ourselves in the struggle with spiritual forces that are more than happy for us to stay quietly within the walls of our building singing and feeling good about ourselves.
It was during this time of reflection that I became convinced that if we are going to move forward faithfully, then we must, as a church engage in more prayer. But our Sunday morning services don’t leave much space for prayer. We’re busy doing all the other things that need to happen on a Sunday morning to try and pray more.
Let that last sentence bother you.
The gospel accounts all tell us that Jesus would spend time away in prayer. Acts tells us that prayer was one of the central pillars of the early church’s gatherings. Paul encouraged the church in Colossae to devote themselves to prayer. And yet prayer seems to take a back seat to other forms of worship when we gather today.
So we shifted our priorities and created and extended time of prayer. This time will take different shapes from week to week, sometimes prayer will be silent, others spoken, but as we move forward we will do it as a praying church.
Strengths and Weaknesses
And the fact of the matter is that focusing on prayer is playing to the strengths of New Hope as a congregation. We are a praying people. It’s been amazing to watch the ways God has moved in response to prayers from the people of New Hope in just the time we’ve been here. This highlights something we’ve said a number of times before, New Hope must be the sort of church that God has designed us to be. This means using our gifts and our talents appropriately in our service to and worship of God.
But this means Sunday mornings will be pretty different at New Hope than at other churches in the area. You’ll notice, for starters, there’s far less music, but I think that’s ok. Many of the churches around us are far better suited to devote much of their time and energy to powerful times of worship through music, and that’s great! But it can also become a temptation for us to spend a lot of our energies “putting on the show” of a Sunday morning. As we’ve planned and prayed about New Hope’s present and near future, we’ve talked about the need to not worry about whether or not we look like everyone else. We need to look like us, being faithful to God, rather than chasing expressions of “church” that exist around us.
Focusing on Things Ahead Together
This new structure also allows me to function more in my strengths and gifts, and to be more connected to people on a Sunday morning. This past week I shared that while I’ve worked hard to be a good preacher of sermons, I just don’t feel as though I’ve been gifted or anointed to preach. I’m a teacher, and a teacher who would rather engage with people than stand on high and lecture. So we’re gathering around tables, and wrestling with questions together. Messages will be less formal and more interactive, and I don’t know how others felt leaving Sunday’s service, but I left invigorated. Rather than needing to go home and crash because I’d poured myself out in ways foreign to my own make-up, I was excited. I had sensed a real energy in the service too, as people engaged with one another more throughout the service and had time to wrestle with the morning’s teaching.
This also allows me and others to spend time focusing on a number of changes that will be happening in the next three months. Sunday we announced that there will be significant changes taking place at New Hope as we get ready to roll out New Hope Community Groups and step forward into the community around us for Jesus. Such change will mean a need for more time spent in other areas of work, and having a more flexible Sunday morning set up will create space throughout the week for that work to get done.
So what would it look like if we couldn’t do a more traditional service, or put on a concert? Hopefully as we experiment with the anser to the question we find out ways to truly be the church God has created us to be, and no matter what I pray that will be genuine expression of what it means to worship God in Spirit and in Truth. Let us be faithful in all we do, no matter the shape it happens to take. I’m looking forward to this season in New Hope’s life, and I hope you are too.
See you all Sunday!