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The most important things in church life have a high degree of sensitivity to them. Feelings can get hurt easily. Relationships can get broken. Hard conversations are exactly that…hard. Many hard conversations go unsaid because it isn’t worth the cost.

How do we have the difficult conversations even though there may be fallout? At the heart of all of this is the key – vulnerability…Our capacity to receive the truth and keep in the conversation.

First, we pray and ask God if this is a conversation He wants us to have. Too often pride and other blind spots can get in the way of us truly seeing the situation (and our role in it) accurately. There are some conversations that we don’t need to have. Maybe they are a distraction or maybe there is something else more important to discuss and work on.

Second, assess our place in the problem or issue at hand. We may bear more responsibility for the issue than we first would be willing or able to admit. There have been times in ministry I was completely blind to my part of the problem or even that I was the cause of the problem. Some of these instances were not obvious until much later.

Third, be willing to accept push back without being defensive. Defensiveness, while natural and understandable, can get in the way of progress and reconciliation. If we have pushback it may be because we didn’t thoroughly work through the first two items. Or it may be there was more to the situation than we realized…so take a moment to listen and learn in order to find a path ahead rather than get bogged down in defensive posturing to save face.

Fourth, be open, receptive and anticipatory of the Holy Spirit’s work. Allow the Holy Spirit to work the fruit of the Spirit in you before, during and after the conversation. The Spirit is our unifier and part of creating unity is using the fruit of the Spirit to mend broken relationships and ease difficult conversations to make them more manageable.

Fifth, understand that a favorable outcome may take several tries. You can’t always get it all done the first time. The first conversation may be a learning conversation that preps resolution the second or third time around. Be realistic about the pace of a positive outcome. That allows you to not push for resolution when it isn’t truly resolved. The problem took time to develop, resolution will as well.

Sixth, work through the issue with others with integrity. Be honest. Do what is right. Have no regrets.

Even after all of this there is no guarantee that anything got fixed but at least you can know that you did your best to allow God to do His best.

As I write this it is early and quiet. I’m sitting in an empty old farmhouse outside of Vicksburg, MS drinking coffee and tending the fire.

I’ve already brought up two arm loads of firewood from the back woodshed. It’s not that cold outside, but the brick floors and open air build of Becki’s childhood home keeps it cold inside.

It is cloudy with rain on the way, but a little rain won’t stop what’s coming.

It won’t be long until this old house is filled with children, grandchildren, and great children. Today will be the first time we get to meet Graham, Sophia, Lola, and Rosie—the newest additions to the extended family

And we mustn’t forget those of us who are married in to this huge and sprawling ménage. There are quite a few of us too.

Soon this old house will be filled with the sounds and smells of Thanksgiving. There will be turkey, ham, roast beef, and some venison too. If it goes like it always has in the past, there will be more side dishes than I can actually fit on my plate.

Rest assured though, I will get my fair share of dressing/ stuffing. And of course, Becki has made my favorite dessert: Bread Pudding. I will hope with  great fervency there is some left over to take home and enjoy later tonight.  (After all, the Egg Bowl is played this evening—Hail State—and bread pudding will pair nicely with that.)

If my Ole Miss friends are still reading after the little blurb above, you should know that no game or team trumps family of any kind.

The past two years have been difficult and long. But as I look at this empty house in anticipation of what will take place here today, I know that I am blessed beyond measure.

Yes, there will be empty seats at the table. We cannot escape that fact. Some of us my share a tear or two, certainly a memory or three. But still, to be here (wherever here may be for you), is just one small indication of the blessings we share.

We sing a song at church on occasion that tells us to “count your many blessings.” As I anticipate family today, as I think about those who will read this little note, I know just where to begin counting my blessings…

Happy Thanksgiving!

Les

There has been a lot of criticism leveled at the church over the years. Criticism can become a hobby if we are not careful. It seems to me our culture is becoming a lot more overtly critical and now has the platforms to leverage that to a wider audience. Or maybe the criticism level hasn’t changed, it is just more visible now than it was before.

What is the place of criticism in the church?

Matthew 18 sets the standard for resolving conflict with individuals. I don’t think that applies to all systemic issues.

Paul addressed congregational issues but he was inspired and had apostolic authority.

I believe we can critique the church in a way that does not distract from her beauty. There are two categories that the critique can fall into:

1 – Critique of local issues in a specific congregation

2 – Critique of general issues that are common to congregations

The first should be dealt with in person and not through a megaphone to the world. It involves actual relationships that need to be maintained and are not hypothetical. The second, I believe, is fair game for both public and private discourse. In both instances the goal of the critique should be to find a path to improvement rather than to vent or rant with no eye for improvement.

A followup question is this – How does one effectively critique a network of loosely connected autonomous churches? Is there a way to offer a better path forward for church leaders who have little to no incentive to make things better through change? And who gets to decide what is actually “better” for one church vs another? I don’t claim to have good answers to these questions. Maybe you do!

In all of these situations the person doing the critique needs to do some soul searching to make sure they are not doing this out of pride or spite. One can grow a following faster through talking about what is wrong over talking about what is right…bad news catches on quicker than good news (Bob Goff aside!). This is of the flesh and the critiquer needs to process this internally before moving forward.

Here are four questions you can ask yourself to make sure your heart is in the right place:

1 – Do I want to see this church (these churches) succeed or fail? If it is the second, don’t do it.

2 – Do I get any pleasure out of seeing the problems? If yes, don’t do it.

3 – Do I have any feelings of superiority in pointing out issues in others? If yes, don’t do it.

4 – Have I addressed these same issues in my own life and ministry successfully? Often we are most sensitive in others what we struggle with most ourselves.

I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith…

~ Philippians 1:20-25

Pact

At first I mourned our difference.
Now I celebrate it:
Like the bittersweet toast
Of two soldiers who go away
To war on different battlefields
Not knowing what of life
Or death the future brings,
Of sorrow or great joy;
But who know
The cause is worth the danger.

One thing that the Lord does not want us to do is to become comfortable—assuming that tomorrow will be just like today, like the scoffers of 2 Peter 3:4. This life is not a garden, it is a battleground. Any security we feel is only a foxhole—temporary and confining. When we meet together as a Body, it is to help one another recover from the war we’re all fighting—and to reassure one another that our Captain, Jesus, is worth the fight.

————————————

But the LORD came down to see the city and the tower [of Babel] that the men were building. The LORD said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.”

~ Genesis 11:5-7

Teach me
The words of your mouth
Let me think your thoughts
Let me dream your dreams
And if our speech is not confounded
If our language is
The same
Oh my love what we
Can build
For nothing will be
Impossible
For us

In Titus chapter two, there are two strong statements about the power of the tongue to both harm and to bless. On the one hand, we are warned to “avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and arguments and quarrels about the law, because these are unprofitable and useless” (verse 9) as well as told to avoid divisive people. But we are also reminded that what Titus calls “soundness of speech” (verse 7) is something that can unite us against opposition from outside. If we speak with one voice, so to speak, Titus assures us that criticism against us simply won’t stick because there’ll be nothing bad to say about us.

Dr. Latayne C. Scott is the recipient of Pepperdine University’s Distinguished Christian Service Award for “Creative Christian Writing,” and is Trinity Southwest University’s Author in Residence. Her newest book is Talking with Teens about Sexuality: Critical Conversations about Social Media, Gender Identity, Same-Sex Attraction, Pornography, Purity, Dating, Etc. with Dr. Beth Robinson (Bethany Books.) The author of over two dozen published books, including Passion, Power, Proxy, Release (TSU Press) in which these poems appear, she lives and writes in New Mexico. She maintains two websites: Latayne.com and Representationalresearch.com.

Many of us are convinced that the way we do church needs to change.  Better said, we are convinced that the idea of what it means to be the Church, or even a church member, is in need of an overhaul.  I’m not talking about the superficial, surface level changes that we often focus on.  The change we are in need of is not one centered on worship style, the name you put on your sign, or even the addition of a new and more engaging program.  What we need is a change that brings us back to the original mission and focus of the Church.  We need a change that reconnects us, not with the first pattern of the Church, but the original heartbeat of the Church.  What we need is to reconnect with Jesus’ call to be disciples who make disciples (Matthew 4:19, 28:18-20).

A quick definition: During the course of this article, I will use the terms legacy church and prevailing church interchangeably.  I use these terms to describe the church model which is currently predominant in North America.  The legacy or prevailing church leans primarily into an attractional model, in which we invite people to come and see what happens on Sundays, or at an organized, programmatic event. What the prevailing church has not done well or frequently is call and equip its members to go and be.

Many are convinced of this.  Some have even tried to begin moving the needle of culture within their respective local churches.  And while a few have found a measure of success, many have run into the proverbial brick wall.  We have discovered, yet again, that most church members don’t like change.  In spite of our best efforts to cast a compelling vision, at times in spite of hours spent in prayer, we receive pushback.  Often the intensity of the pushback we receive, not to mention the sources of that pushback, can be surprising.  I have heard this story more times than I can count. 

So, what do we do when we believe that we are being called into living out a better vision for the Church, yet as we look to the future, the road ahead appears to be filled with obstacles?  Some resign themselves to continuing the current pattern.  Some decide to move on, leaving behind the trappings of traditional church models, and instead choose to begin something new; this often leads to the establishment of house churches and other missional expressions.  To be clear, I fully support the house church movement, I simply believe it’s not the only way forward.  Still others, decide to double down, to lead through the murk of staying engaged with the prevailing church, because of the promise that something much better lies ahead if we can, through the grace of God, lead his people to embrace his mission once again.  I want to give you five reasons I believe, in spite of the difficulty, this is a journey worth saying, yes, to.

  1. First, we must recognize that our churches are full of church members, but not necessarily disciples of Jesus.  This should not come as a surprise, as in many cases we have been setting the wrong bar for years. As we have discovered this to be the case, we owe it to the people in established churches to share with them where we believe we have fallen short in both our messaging and our practice.  We must call people to truly follow Jesus.

Now, I know that someone will likely push back on some of what I have just said.  Ten years ago I would have.  If that’s you, let me tell you why several years ago, a shift took place in the way I think about these things.  I was reading through Mark’s gospel when I came to chapter ten and was once again challenged by the story of the interaction Jesus had with a very moral, pious, and wealthy young man.  I won’t recap the entire story here, but I will tell you what challenged me then, and still challenges me today.  At the end of the conversation, Jesus sent the man away.  “But he was a good man, and wealthy…” I want to say.  Don’t we want people just like that in our churches?  Yes, we do.  And Jesus wanted this man to follow him, he simply wasn’t willing to water down his message to get him to do so.  He didn’t minimize the cost of discipleship in order to win a new follower – even a wealthy and pious one. 

If the target is discipleship and not church membership, that means we may have some difficult conversations ahead.  But…if we are convinced of this, especially as church leaders, preachers and teachers, we owe our people our best effort to shift the dialogue.

2. I remember where I was the first time I heard someone talk about the need to find a “Person of Peace” in order to advance the gospel message.  Honestly, at that point, I had a limited concept of what this meant.  In his online Zume training, Curtis Sergeant, defines a person of peace as, “someone who is open to hearing the good news of Jesus and is excited to draw others into a conversation about him.”  Over the last few years, I have become convinced that finding these persons of peace is both strategic and wise. 

Think a moment about the way we have just defined what it means to be a person of peace.   Ok, now let me ask you a question?  Doesn’t this sound like many of the people who attend church services from week to week.  They are open to hearing the good news about Jesus.  They are even willing to drive to our buildings to hear that news.  They likely harbor some feelings of excitement as they consider engaging in conversations about Jesus.  But they have never done so.  And many, when asked, admit they wouldn’t know where to begin.   Our churches are full of persons of peace.  Now is the time to invest and equip this army of potential disciple makers.  As Jesus said in Luke 10:2, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” 

3. The Legacy church has an abundance of resources to contribute to the mission of Jesus.  This is true both financially, and as it pertains to people who have gifts and talents that can be used to build the Kingdom of God.  To illustrate this, I’ll tell you a short story about the church I’m blessed to serve.  We aren’t a particularly large church, currently a little over 600 in membership.  But every time a disaster strikes, whether it be the tsunami that ravaged India nearly twenty years ago, or the hurricanes that have battered the Gulf coast in the recent decade, our church has raised significant funds to assist in the recovery efforts.  We are the single sponsor of an organization that works to plant and mature churches in Latin America.  We give generously to local benevolent causes through our group of community partners. 

I don’t say any of this to boast, in fact, I know many other churches could say the same.  And that makes my point quite well.  Many legacy churches are blessed with the resources to give generously to support the mission of Jesus through good works, church planting, and other initiatives.  The prevailing church is made up of people who truly care!  I believe most of these churches can likely do even more than they are currently doing, channeling both financial and talent resources in ways that specifically support disciple making locally and abroad.

4. God cares about the people who are members of the prevailing church.  This is true because God cares about all people, but also because he cares specifically about those who belong to him.  Many people have come to know God through the efforts of legacy church engagements.  Those same people have also been offered a culture which has led them to become primarily consumers of the programs churches offer.  This steady diet of church programming is a poor substitute for the real mission of Jesus, and as I have already mentioned, has struggled to create real disciples. 

Through the avenue of relational discipleship, we can begin to show and share something better.  I don’t think all the programs have to go, but we have to recognize that programs are not enough.  Yes, the legacy church has at times missed the mark, but the people in these churches are deeply loved by God.  Jesus came first to the lost sheep of Israel.  He longed to gather Jerusalem to him, as a mother hen shelters her chicks under her wings.  We should have the same heart for God’s people in our day and age, even if at times, we find ourselves discouraged with the current state of the Church.

5. To share this last reason, I want to tell you a little about my personal journey as a minister.  Three to four times during my twenty years of service I have found myself so discouraged with ministry and with the church that my first impulse was to walk away.  Not to walk away from God, but walk away from church as I knew it.  Each time, through a season of prayer, God has renewed my passion and commitment to the Church.  And each time, his message to me has been clear.  These are the people I have called you to love and to serve.  I don’t mean one specific local church; I mean the legacy church.

Some of us, who have come to see the present struggle for what it is, are going to be called, specifically by God, to work faithfully to see the current church culture transformed.  The key word is “faithful.”  Faithfulness to God’s call will not look the same for all of us.  Some may be called to launch a new thing, perhaps a home church or a missional community.  If that is you, be faithful.  Others will be called, like I have, to serve the prevailing church, and to work diligently to establish a disciple making culture within the churches we currently serve.  The current culture was established over a period of decades.  We should not be surprised if it takes years of faithful work to establish a new one.  Whatever God is calling you to, do it with joy and faithfulness.  Blessings, Paul

We can assess how we view and do church through a variety of lenses.

We can look at church through a pastoral lens – how is the flock being provided for, nurtured and matured? How is the flock sent on mission? How healthy are the sheep? Do they have easy onramps to spiritual growth and maturity? Does their conversation have the characteristics of maturity? Are leaders being naturally nurtured and developed?

We can look at church through a prophetic lens – What abuses are currently taking place in our churches that need to be addressed? Are those on the margins welcome? Do they feel at home? Are widows and orphans being taken care of or are they overlooked? Do we justify injustice in overt or subtle ways?

We can look at the church through the eyes of a clinician – What sort of congregational psychosis is taking place? Are there breaks from reality? How does the church cope? How does the church grieve? Does the church have a healthy identity and sense of purpose? How are the difficulties of congregational life affecting the lives of those who attend?

We can look at the church through the lens of scripture – this is probably the most important lens. Does the church line up in belief and practice with the early church? If not, why not? Which breaks from their orthodoxy and orthopraxy are acceptable and why? Do we capture their ethos and not just their forms and functions? Do we operate as the kind of church that looks like the Savior? Does the Holy Spirit have a welcome place in our discussions and decisions?

We can look at the church from the perspective of many more things than this…and often we get lopsided when we raise the banner of one of these to the exclusion of the rest. Certainly the biblical perspective loads into all the rest…how does one have a prophetic or pastoral or clinical view without some standard to hold things up against and make assessments?

The one thing we don’t want to do is bury our heads in the sand and act like everything is okay, all the time, even when things are not. I have heard people say on many occasions that we should never critique the church in public. I hear that sometimes because I have been known to do that…and it is the reaction I get from some. They say it puts a black eye on the church. But what I really hear in that, could be wrong, is that those discussions make people uncomfortable and they are looking for things to say to make it stop. What really puts a black eye on the church is to have no approach to assessing the health of the church…no paradigm for a conversation on how things are going and how to improve. I would rather the world see us trying to improve than ignoring our problems. How about you?

Which perspective do you lean toward in your assessment of how things are going? Feel free to add more categories and descriptions…they are legion.

Table. Word. Communion. Gathered Worship.

“Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name;
bring an offering and come before him!
Worship the Lord in the splendor of holiness”
(1 Chronicles 16.9)

Let us go to his dwelling place,
let us worship at his footstool

(Psalm 132.7)

A Story

In the late 1990s, I had an experience that I have related many times. I had studied with a lady and eventually baptized her into Christ. I remember not long after her baptism she came to me and asked me to “teach me how to worship.”  It was one of the most unexpected questions I had encountered in all my years as a Christian, years in “Christian” colleges and even full time ministry. 

I literally had no idea how to respond. But I told her to just go to church. That was the beginning of my discovery of the Psalms. I have since become convinced that worship is – even public worship – among the most important, and blessed, “activity” a human being can participate this side of eternity. In fact I believe we have “communion with eternity” as we gather in God’s Presence. But at the time I had very little conception of “worship” before this newborn Christian threw me for a theological and existential loop!

My conception has continued to grow as I have both participated in worship and studied. The first presentation I gave at the Pepperdine Lectures in 2001 was on “Desperately Seeking SPIRIT-uality.” Much of that was about my “discoveries” resulting from that conversation. My discoveries were new to me but had been known by many long before I was born.

But I do not want to talk about theology per se today. I want to talk about a few practices (that are rooted in biblical theology) that have helped me (even if no one else) prepare my heart and mind for public worship with the Gathered family of God. I believe these practices can enrich us whether we gather in a backyard, in a house church, or in a traditional building. The location does not matter rather it is gathering with God’s People in the power of the Holy Spirit. Further, I do not reduce worship to the Gathering because worship covers all of our life. But I do believe scripture teaches something profound takes place when God’s people are gathered together in the Spirit. I want to share some habits that have enriched my participation with God’s family.

My personal story with God is deeply intertwined with the people of God’s journey. It is the story of consciously choosing us over me. This remains challenge.

Preparing My Attitude

I have found over the years that one of the biggest hindrances for my enjoyment of the worship and basking in the presence of God (with his family) has been my attitude.  It is amazing how my attitude impacts my receptivity of the wonder of God in our midst.  When someone has been hypercritical it is easy to milk a grudge.  Sometimes it is not about me but I will hear a brother or sister say something negative about [insert subject or fellow disciple]. This can really negatively impact my worship of our Abba with them

Jesus knew what he was talking about when he said when you go want to join worship and then remember your attitude sucks then go find the person you have a problem with before you worship (Mt 5.23-24; The Psalms of Ascents are all about this).  One of the reasons for this is because a bad attitude toward the family of God – any single member of it – can and does inhibit my enjoyment of God.

Living in the World of Private Worship

I have found over the years that my “expectations” for worship with the corporate family of God has risen through constant worship of him as part of the rhythm of my life.   You, of course, expect a preacher to say this.  But it may surprise you that many preachers personal worship – be it Bible study, prayer, singing, etc, is (like a phone battery) in the Red Zone! I was one, and I still wrestle with that beast. 

I am not a creature of discipline by nature. I tend to be on the laid back side. I have had to force myself into certain patterns of life that have become the bedrock of my walk with God.  So what started as grudgingly, getting up at 5:30 everyday to read the Psalms has grown into something more akin to a date (to use an analogy).  For me cultivating Psalm reading and prayer (lectio divina) each morning actually makes me hungry for the people of God.  It is weird but oh so true. 

I admit this was no magical transformation overnight. Few things in life are instantaneous. Rather I liken it to the beginning steps in a running program.  When you first start out if you run a hundred yards you you feel like you are about to die! But you keep it up and soon a hundred yards doesn’t even make you sweat.  Then it is three miles and your whole day is in a rhythm. Daily time in the Psalms, Bible reading and prayer give my mind and my heart a set of glasses through which to see the activity around me. God is yet working. The story of God’s relationship with creation has not ended. This has nothing to do with preaching but with worship.  I have to give James A. Harding the nod for this.

Private worship for me includes singing. I never did this before before 2014. In fact, I did not start this until after my retreat with the Nuns at Santa Rita Abbey that year. I have taken our hymnal, Songs of Faith and Praise, and just started singing. I began to sing and chant the Psalms (not just read them) as Paul tells us to do and Jesus did. It is amazing how singing helps stress and refocus our vision. Singing pulls me into something bigger than myself.  When I am singing, I imagine Revelation 4 and 5.  I imagine myself surrounded by the angels, those weird looking creatures, and all of creation before the throne of God.  I hear music in my head (cf. Pss 19.1-4; 148; 149; Rev. 5.13; etc). I hear the chorus singing the words that I am.  I have found that praise of the Lord in my office, on my bike, and under the stars makes me hungry to praise his Name with those who wear his name.

A Thursday Ritual

This next practice, like the singing, began as well in 2014.  When I was living in a trailer in the church parking lot for a good portion of this year (there is a long story here!) I found myself in a situation, as they say. I loved my church family. But I was not happy with some of the church family. Actually it was not the church but leadership of the church. It was a challenging season of life.  One night, which happened to be a Thursday, was a particularly stressful one. I walked from the trailer to the door of the church building. I walked in and I literally hollered “God I am so stressed out! Answer me! Deliver me!”

It dawned on me I had shouted Psalm 120.1, a Song of Ascents. I did not consciously quote it but that is what came out. The Psalms of Ascent hides the individual within the corporate and hides the corporate in the individual. Before that sister asked me to help her in the late 90s, I would never have known that. I had almost no understanding of this before my life with the Psalms.

Soon, as long as I was camping in the church parking lot, I spent many nights walking down the class room wing, walking up and down the aisles in the auditorium, going into the sound booth, into the nursery, into the gym, into the teen room, into the office wing and I recited the Songs of Ascents (Psalms 120-134).  I took out Zion and Jerusalem and inserted the name of my congregation. 

This has evolved into a Thursday ritual that I do. I see my journey and my church family as linked together as a mother to her baby. So on Thursday’s, in specific anticipation of Sunday, I walk all over the building of our congregation and I pray

WE [not I] life up our eyes to the hills,
from where will our help come from” (Ps 121.1). 

I go by the nursery and pray

Lord we are glad when the parents say
‘Let us go to the house of the LORD!” (Ps 122.1).

I walk into the sanctuary and I pray

If the Lord had not been on PV/Gunnison/Eastside’s side,
when the enemies of your family attacked us,
we would have been swallowed alive!” (Ps 124.1-3). 

I walk into the elders room and the office wing and I am praying

Abba how good it is when your family can gather before your table in unity,
what a testimony to the Spirit and the death and resurrection of your Son” (Ps 133). 

On Thursdays I walk about the whole building. Sometimes I stop in specific pews where some family habitually sits and I pray Psalm 134

Come bless the Lord with me all you family of God” (vv. 1-3). 

Every week since that evening in 2014 Psalms 120-134 has been prayed – in my own fashion – up and down the halls, the sanctuary and all over the building (symbol of the family) in Tucson, Gunnison and Antioch.  I have to confess this has done incredible things for my love for my family. This has done amazing things for my experience of worship with the Family of God. Loving Zion means loving those who are my brothers and sisters and Gather at his Table. I realize that even when I am by myself that I am never alone when I come to the Presence of God.

Praying the Sermon

I am not a homilitician. I am not Jerry Taylor.  I am not Fred Craddock. I am not Mike Cope.  I am not Fate Hagood. I am not David Fleer.  I am not Martin Luther King Jr.  I am not anybody special. I know this.  The odds against me are pretty high indeed.  The mere fact that I have not been divorced once but twice is enough to make some folks not listen to a syllable I say.  I am painfully aware of this. 

But “sermonizing” is tough work, especially if the sermonator is serious about their task. The only people that do not think so have never done it.  Usually by Thursday I am hoping to be done with anything that has to do with my sermon on the coming Sunday.  So I pray not only about my sermon but through it.  The notes I have assembled, sometimes as much as a term paper, I pray them and offer them to God.  I seek obedience to God’s word in my own life. I ask God to guide the words and to give the words that need to be said.   On Thursday afternoon I go through another ritual that I have come up with over the years.  I offer my sermon notes to God as a holocaust.  Normally this means I would burn them as part of a sacrifice.  But since that would set the fire alarm off I go to the paper shredder machine in our office and I pray a prayer between me and God. Then I shred those notes one sheet at a time and I implore God to accept it as a sweet and pleasing aroma to his glory.  By this time I have internalized my notes I hope (I do not preach with notes).  But I ask the Lord to take those words, and if they are pleasing, to accept them as an act of worship. I pray that the Spirit will take them and feed them back to me like Ezekiel for his own family on Sunday.

So I have come to conceive of the sermon on Sunday mornings not as me lecturing to a captive audience. Rather the sermon is an opportunity for the whole Gathered family of God, including myself, to feast upon nothing short of the manna of heaven.  Proclaiming the mighty acts of God … it is a corporate act of worship.  

The Incalculable Value of the Family

The final thing I do each week is remind myself over and over and over again of the inestimable value of the family of God.  I can experience God in many powerful ways and do. Yet nothing compares to the time I am with God’s family in the Lord’s Presence. It is the Psalms, again, that has impacted my “doctrine of the gathered people” in the presence of God.  Psalm 16.3 records the ancient worshiper as saying,

How excellent are the LORD’s faithful people!
My greatest pleasure is to be with them!”
(TEV). 

With this I have come full circle to my opening above.  Through my own journey each week I am convinced that God desires me to not only experience blessing but to be a blessing to his people.  My experience of God helps the whole assembly.  My attitude helps the entire family see God.  My singing is impacted tremendously if I am convinced the angels are singing in fellowship with you and me.  My entire outlook on the Gathering is conditioned by that Psalm 16.3 text.  When my “greatest pleasure” is to be with God’s people, lost in worship, that will have a tremendous impact on what I experience on any Lord’s day no matter who is leading singing or how badly the sermon stinks. 

So making sure my attitude is right helps me worship with the family.  Spending time with God in worship during the week orients my whole life to the Lord as a sacrifice of praise. My Thursday Songs of Ascents ritual and offering the sermon as a sacrifice to God seeking the Holy Spirit’s power and blessing. And finally making the decision that the greatest thing in my life is the family of God.  When these are combined then Gathered Worship with the family of God is very rich.  It is rich because I am bringing the best I have, not only to God, but also to my sisters and brothers.  I seek to bless them with the overflow of God’s wonders in my own life. 

My journey has been a long one. Along the way I have learned from many. I shared koinonia by coauthoring a book with John Mark Hicks and Johnny Melton about themes in this article (A Gathered People: Revisioning the Assembly as Divine Encounter). But God’s Spirit has continued to open my eyes to the treasures of God’s inheritance among the saints who are pulled into the Presence of God becoming the very temple of the Spirit.

Believe it or not this theme was selected in November 2020 and rolls out a year later, days after Facebook made their re-branding announcement to the name Meta.

The etymology of “meta” is Greek and it usually means something like “with” or “after” but in English it has come to be known as something that is self-referential. So meta-cognition is thinking about how you think. Meta-church is reflecting on what church is all about. It is the conversation under the conversation. Like on a computer, you see a graphical user interface but underneath it all is the hardware and software…the wiring and ones/zeros that make it all actually work.

In the month of November let’s talk about the operating system of our churches…the things behind the scenes that we don’t even realize are there but are integral to maintaining and perpetuating church as we know it. The reason for this is to understand reality and to cast a healthy vision for the future.