Let's start with a few things to frame our conversation:
We are invited to participate in the activities of the Kingdom not only for our salvation but for the salvation of others. Closely following that is to witness the love of the Father to the world.
The Faith is very much built on relationships. Relationships between God and us really matter. Like any father, conversation, presence, communication, guidance, and love from God to his people really matter to him. He is a God who longs to speak, to "father us," and to receive worship and adoration and communion with his children.
God is an incarnationalist. He actually enjoys being discovered in the most mundane parts of creation - namely, you and me. He came as a human, he considers believers to be his body, and he takes delight in using people in the body to speak his words to that same body.
God loves church. Not so much the liturgy, or the new music, or what we wear, or any given fads we happen to be sporting. He loves us. He takes a keen interest in our gatherings. I believe he gets excited at the opportunity to be with us. And, like any loving father, he usually has something to say.
I am a father. I know what's that like. When my kids get together I get excited. I want to see how they are doing, listen to their hearts, be available for advise, guide, share wisdom, or even just be there for a hug. When we're at a restaurant I sometimes just stare in wonder at them. I love them. I want to get into their life. I want them to get into mine. There is no limit with the amount of me I want to share with them in love.
Would you think that would be any different than our heavenly Father? Not at all.
When members of the church gather it provides an opportunity for God to love on his children. An opportunity to bless, to speak tenderly, and to guide them in the ways they should go. From where he sits he sees our future and he knows what we'll need to make it through. He wants to share all that. And he uses church as a place to do that.
So church isn't a place to praise the Lord because the guitars are in tune, the lay reader read the "begats" with no mistakes, or the sentimental feelings of singing our special hymns were especially meaningful on any given day. Church becomes church when people have encountered God in their midst. When he has had an opportunity through the Holy Spirit to flow up and down the aisles, to move back and forth through the pews, to gaze into hearts, to comfort hurts, to assure identity, and to encourage for the future.
That is church.
This is why it's essential for us who lead services get this. Church is not about getting through the three point sermon, genuflecting in sync with eh saints bells, or getting just the right balance between fire and incense as to not make Mrs. Wackendorf cough, walk out of the building, and retract her stewardship giving.
It's all about getting gracefully into God's presence. That is our goal. And that's what our people need. And they are whom we've been called to lead.
As we prepare to lead and preach on any given Sunday we can't forget - no, all the more so, we need to anticipate - there is another dynamic at work as well. It is the sovereign intervention of God himself who died to break into the services we have so meticulously planned.
Is this a part of our planning as we prepare, or are we just trying to present the best result? Do we integrate the idea of a breathable service with a breathable God who longs to breathe life into our services? Or are we out to present an airtight tupperware protocol that is perfect in every aspect, except for that part where God shows up? My hope is that along with planning you would plan for God to come to church as well. And that the heart of your liturgy would include an invitation and response with the very God the liturgy was created to serve in the first place.
Questions for Leaders:
In my planning for church, how do I prepare (and mentor my leaders to prepare) for God's visitation among my people?
If, for example, during the prayers of the people, passionate prayers arise from the body around a particular issue, would I take that as a cue from the Holy Spirit to spend time praying deeper into that, or would you simply shrug it off and head into the next petition?
On a scale from 1-10, where is my personal expectation for God showing up on any given Sunday?
Is my fist clinched with control (which would be a 1) or am I so open minded that my brains fall out (that would be a 10)? As leaders we need both to identify what God is doing in our midst, have the flexibility to flow with it, despite discomfort or on any extreme. A mentor of mine has shared that we need to reconcile ourselves with the idea of discomfort. This is equally important for control freaks who can't color outside the lines, and for right-brained experimentalists, who have to throttle back to get back to what God is doing.
As I read through the eucharistic prayers, collects, or song lyrics, and a particular phrase "pops out,", am I able to make public note of that - to stop the flow of the service and pray it again, say it again, sing it again, or in some way invite your people to hear and reconsider what just happened?
Once as I was lifting the cup at the elevation when I sensed the Lord inviting us to gaze more deeply at the chalice. So I stepped back and invited us clustered around the altar to do just that. "As I lifted the cup just now I had a sense that God would have us stare deeper into the cup. So I'm going to stand here with it in the air for about a minute. Consider it's meaning for you." I kept it elevated for what seemed like forever. Then it happened. People began to weep. Some bowed low. Others had other expressions of adoration of the Sacrament. For me, when I looked at the silver chalice, I could see the distorted reflections of all those around me, like a mirror at a carnival. At that moment I not only saw the tremendous sacrifice he made on my behalf, but for all of us there standing around that table. It's an image that comes to me just about overtime I do communion.
Finally, as I prepare for my services; do I invite God to meet me there, or am I inviting him to help me do church the best way you can. Big difference there.
Holy Father, help me to discern deeper what it means to have Christ in us, the hope of glory. I thank you that you love and care of the flock, and that you use our gatherings to form us into your perfect image. There is no greater thrill than you in our midst. Speak, teach, and bless us as we worship you in the temple of our hearts. Amen.