Using A Liturgy

Liturgy in the church is something which can cause quite an argument. Some individuals have the view that without liturgy to guide worship, there has not been genuine worship. On the other side are individuals who view liturgy as a heavy burden from the ancient past which causes worship to be dreadful instead of energized. More than a few remain somewhere in the middle. In recent times, this has been a struggle played out among many congregations and within many denominations. Little surprise that there exists a broad spectrum of the type and amount of liturgy experienced throughout the church.

For those who may not understand the term of liturgy, it is the form which public worship takes within a religion, most often Christianity. The arrangement of the different elements of the worship service is prescribed and followed in each worship service with only a little variation. The actual words, music, and prayers may or may not change but the order and structure remains the same.

My experience in the church has been one in which there has always been some type of liturgy guiding the worship service. I have been in settings where it may not be as pronounced but it is still present. Participants in some worship settings in which I have participated may not even think about the liturgy being used or the basis for the choice of liturgy.

Like many aspects of the church, there are positives and negatives when it comes to the liturgy. First, some positives. The most evident one is that by using a prescribed liturgy, the worship participants who attend regularly know exactly what will happen next in the service whether they have a printed guide or not. In addition, many parts of the service are easily memorized since they are used every week. An example would be a liturgy which includes the Lord’s Prayer. The participants tend to memorize these words early in their worship experience and each week it remains the same. Another benefit to a liturgy is that for worship leaders and planners, it provides a guide for their work. Each week they know what elements they need to prepare. The leadership also knows the order and movement in the worship space.

Now, some negatives which accompany the use of liturgy. One negative is that liturgy can lull a participant into going through the worship service almost on autopilot. All the positives listed above regarding memorization and knowing what comes next can allow a participant to not even think about what is being done. Another pitfall of liturgy is that often the meaning behind the elements and the ordering of those elements gets lost. I mentioned earlier that some participants may not even realize that a liturgy is in place because they have forgotten or it has not been explained what the liturgy is and the reason for every aspect of it. Most liturgies have a theological, practical, and spiritual meaning to them but with time those understandings can be forgotten. The third problem with liturgy is that if someone is a new participant, the individual can become lost since regular attenders just move from element to element with little or no explanation. This can turn a newcomer off since they do not wish to feel ignorant or become very self-conscious of their lack of knowledge.

Much of the negative can be overcome. The key is that communication about the chosen liturgy must happen regularly both verbally and in print. Discussion around the meaning of what is done and why it is done in the prescribed fashion must occur with those who are regularly participating. Explanation of each element and the flow needs to be shared by the worship leaders and/or in whatever printed materials are used so that the newcomer feels she/he has a guide which empowers them to participate.

So here are the questions which I would like each reader to answer:

  1. Does your worship setting use a liturgy? If so, what is that liturgy?
  2. Do you understand why a liturgy is in place and what the elements of it might be?
  3. Is liturgy an aid or a hindrance to the worship experience?

Good Managers

Today I thought I would talk again about one of the words that is used in church circles but is often misunderstood. The focus word for today is stewardship. When most people hear this word they think about a campaign each congregation launches in late fall to get financial pledges from their members for the coming year. Based on those pledges then the leadership creates a budget. The problem with this understanding is that it is far too limited.

The word stewardship comes from the word steward. A steward is a manager of property and/or finances on behalf of another person. So stewardship is the act of managing. Based on this definition, one can easily see why the word conjures in the minds of many church members the image of a financial campaign. Yet this falls completely short of the Scriptural understanding of stewardship.

The concept of stewardship is first introduced in Scripture in the first chapter of Genesis. Here, as part of the creation story, God places all creation under the care and authority of humanity.

Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”

So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.

God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”

Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds in the sky and all the creatures that move along the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food.” And it was so.

Genesis 1:26-30 NIV

Here God is placing humans as managers over all which God just created. So stewardship includes the managing of creation.

Another aspect of creation is found in 1 Peter. Here the writer reminds us that we are to use whatever gifts (skills and abilities) we have been given to serve one another.

Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ.

1 Peter 4:10-11b

Not only are we reminded that we are to be managers of our gifts but also of the grace which we have received from God.

As you can see, stewardship involves much more than the annual fundraising for the church. Stewardship is an expectation and responsibility placed upon us by God. We are to be managers of everything which God has created and which God has given to us.

Hopefully the next time you hear the word stewardship, you will not only include your managing of money in a way that benefits God’s church, but also consider how you are managing the other aspects of life.

Who Is In My Pew?

Certain words which can be located on church websites, brochures, and documents elicit a cautious response from me. These words include: welcoming, friendly, and accepting. I am convinced that churches who use these words truly do think they appropriately describe their congregations. However, I have come to experience that these words usually have some sort of string attached. Let me be fair in saying that this is not always the case but tends to be true in my experience. I translate these words to include the string…

“Welcoming to everyone who is just like we are.”

“Friendly if you dress like us, act like us, and understand God like us.”

“Accepting if you are willing to be transformed into who we are as believers.”

Even those congregations where they strive to be what they claim can find it difficult to always live these words out and not have if’s attached.

Humans have some natural tendencies which play out in congregations. The first tendency is to gather with people who are like them. Often this occurs without much thought. When you walk into a room filled with people, do you tend to look for individuals who are around your age, seem to dress like you, and have other traits which are like your own? If you are honest, I think you would answer yes to this question. We seem to be drawn to others who exhibit traits with which we can relate.

The other tendency is that we get into routines. If we are in a place where we gather often, we tend to sit in the same place, talk to the same people, and behave the same way. We are comfortable in these aspects, so we return to them over and over. Like the first tendency, this all usually happens without much, if any, thought. This causes a reaction from us if anything upsets the routine.

If your congregation is one which desires to be welcoming, friendly, and accepting without strings. Here are some steps which you can take to move in that direction:

  • Always enter your building with the eyes of a visitor.
    • Is it easy to find your way around the building?
    • Where can someone go to get questions answered? (If you have greeters, make sure that it is obvious who they are and that they can answer questions.)
    • How do I know what to do and when to do it?
    • Am I bombarded by people or are there one or two who make me feel welcome? (One or two is the best answer. Inviting the visitor(s) to sit with them is a plus as well.)
  • Make sure your leaders demonstrate the building of an atmosphere which exhibits the words used.
  • Have regular conversations with those who often attend about how to interact with visitors.
  • Find ways to encourage the breaking of routines.
  • Bring diverse speakers to specific gatherings to help people learn about individuals who may not have similar traits as those who are present.
  • Encourage people to change “Who is in my pew?” from a question of frustration into a question that leads to getting to know a visitor better and gratitude.

I intend these to be some possible suggestions you might wish to try. They do not represent a special panacea to solve all the challenges of creating a place where all will find a place. However, it is much better to try to live into what we claim to be than to only say the words but never make an effort to make them reality.

Purpose of the Church – Part 3

If you have been following my posts about the purpose of the Church, you know that I have identified what I view the Church as not being and what I view the Church as being. (If you have missed them, here are the links: Purpose of the Church – Part 1 & Purpose of the Church – Part 2.) Today, I will share my final post dedicated to this specific topic.

At the end of Part 2, I quoted a passage from the Gospel of Matthew. Here it is again:

“And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”

Matthew 16:18-19

I indicated that the Church has the responsibility to look after the welfare of all people. But how do we live out being this Church? There are 7.7 billion people and a finite amount of resources. What aspects of an individual’s welfare should we be addressing? What do we do about those who do not even believe in God? How about people who are not Christian, do we have a responsibility to them? The Church exists for those who are members, does it not? Questions that are nothing more than a smoke screen of excuses.

Like a multitude of aspects of life, we tend to complicate that which is truly very simple. We spend so much time identifying the hurdles to whatever we may be called to do that we miss the opportunities which are right before our eyes. We think only within what we know and not what could be.

I believe that living as the Church means living where we are now. By that, I mean that we address what is around us and not what is out of our realm of touch. A friend of mine used to always do a benediction which included a line that reminded all the hearers that we are where we now are for a reason. If each of us who claimed to be part of the Church took a good look around ourselves, we would find individuals who have needs which we are uniquely qualified to meet. This does not require us to develop some new talent or skill, we already have been given that talent or skill to address that specific need. We may need to strengthen the talent or skill, or learn how to apply it better to the situation before us. Yet the core is already present within us.

Imagine if each participant in the Church applied themselves each day. The impact we could have in our community and neighboring communities could be tremendous. If this happened in every place and each day throughout the world where people claim to be a part of the Church, the Church would have a global impact which exceeds any of the world’s NGO’s today. The multiplied effect of individuals practicing this simple guidance could change the course of human existence.

Another positive reality of the Church living out its purpose is that when two or more individuals join together to follow this plan, their efforts are even stronger. This is why the Church exists as a community of people on a journey of faith together. Jesus said, “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” (Matthew 18:20) I believe that Jesus was not only talking about being together in worship or in a class, Jesus was talking about gathering to live as the Church. We support and strengthen one another as each of us lives out our purpose within the Church. The Church gains its purpose from the ones who join together in looking out for the welfare of all people.

If this is truly the attitude which we take as the Church, then all the excuses mentioned above drift away. The resources needed have already been provided. The belief system of the one in need has no bearing on our actions. The ones who claim to be members of the Church are having their needs met as they join in fellowship and work with each other.

Purpose of the Church – Part 2

In my most recent post, I shared my view about what the Church was not. This begs the question, “What is the Church?” In this post, I will be focusing upon what my definition to the Church might be.

As I was discussing in the last post, I clearly do not see the Church as a building. The gathering of the Church takes place in a building at times but the building is not what defines the Church. I shared that the Church is people; people in relationship with God and in relationship with one another. People who are on a journey which we call life and entwined in that journey are relationships. The Church acknowledges that this journey is communal in nature. We discover together, we learn together, we experience together, we fail together, we succeed together, we laugh together, we cry together, we live together, and we die together.

The Church is where we experience life together. Here is where support should be found. When one of us faces struggles or uncertainty, the Church surrounds that person and walks alongside. When someone is searching, the Church shares in the search by sharing experiences. When an individual is feeling attacked, judged, mocked, ridiculed, the Church embraces that person. The Church looks out for every individual but does not control or manipulate them. The Church shares the wisdom gained by experience but does not impose that wisdom on the person but lets the person use that wisdom within their own story.

One of the misconceptions that I encounter in the Church is the idea that the Church is God. I believe that this misconception comes from the interpretations of Jesus’ words to Peter in Matthew 16:

“And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”

Matthew 16:18-19

Too many have seen this as Jesus giving the Church license to judge people, exact punishments, and demand certain behaviors. Instead, I see this as Jesus indicating the responsibility of the Church to look out for the beneficial welfare of all people. This does not mean that the Church usurps God as the supreme authority.

I plan on doing one more post about the purpose of the Church. The last post will be sharing thoughts on how the Church lives out responsibilities given to Peter in the passage from Matthew 16.

Purpose of the Church – Part 1

Why does the Church exist?

This is a question that has been asked by numerous people over an endless number of years. It is a question which challenges church leaders, worship attenders, church members, and those who do not wish affiliation with any type of church. Yet, I find this to be a very fundamental question to understanding life as a Christian who has spent a majority of his life associated with the Church. So where to begin?

I have chosen to begin with a list of what the Church is not. Before I give you this list though, I wish to explain why I capitalize the word “church” at times and at other times I do not. The generally accepted rule of thumb is that if the word is being used regarding the name of a specific congregation, you capitalize the word since it is part of the formal name. If you are using the word to reference the entire body of Christ on earth, then you capitalize the word. If you are using the word as a generic term then you do not capitalize the word. Now on with the list.

What the Church is not:

  • A place to go to be “saved”
  • A place for only perfect people
  • A place to be “fixed”
  • A place to be part of the in-crowd
  • A place to be noticed
  • A place at all

You may have other items to add to the list but I wish to spend some time on the last item which I have on my list. I think it is a mistake to view the Church as a building or a location. While church buildings have specific locations, this is not how I see the Church. There is a song which I learned as a younger person, “We Are the Church,” written by Richard K Avery and Donald S Marsh. In this song, Avery wrote this line of lyrics: “The church is not a building place, the church is not a steeple, the church is not a resting place, the church is a people.” This stanza from the song is at the core of how I understand the Church.

Beginning with an understanding that the Church is a people, gives us a launching point to discuss the question of why the Church exists in the first place. This also helps us to see why it is so difficult to understand the Church and how imperfect the Church really can be at times. People are not always the easiest to understand and definitely lack full perfection. Yet, for me, this actually allows me to breathe a sigh of relief. I can cross perfection off my list of requirements if I am going to be associated with the Church. I also have the freedom to experience the Church in a multitude of ways.

Now that I have laid out for you what the Church is not, we can move on to examine what the Church truly might be and what is its purpose. I invite you to join me on this exploration. In my next post I will be giving my definition of the Church. I would also like to hear your thoughts and opinions on this subject so please leave comments and questions as we journey this path together. Hint: the thought of a journey together will come into view again.