Part 1 of our new series explores what it is that we actually do on a Sunday, the importance of this time of the week and how we might actually make it “work”. But what does “doing church well” actually mean?
Sunday mornings look different all across the world. From cathedrals to coffee shops, conference centres to cinema complexes, the church gathers to worship together. Whether in an ornate building with iconography and incense or in the shade of a large tree or tent, God’s people all come together to offer their praises in community. They gather to live out the Acts chapter 2 model of Christian community. From all walks of life they come, one in heart, one in mind, one in worship.
Say Versus Do.
Maybe we’ve been guilty of saying “not in my church!” It’s not at all surprising — complaining can be one of the church’s most treasured and annoying hobbies . If we are completely honest and humble with ourselves however, it’s easy to see where we’re falling short on a Sunday morning.
This doesn’t mean that we don’t have a deep desire to worship together as family. It doesn’t say that we don’t have exceptionally well programmed meetings. It doesn’t even say that we don’t have strong church leadership and exceptional lay volunteers. What it does say is that beneath all of the programmes and activities, many of our churches are just not doing Sundays well. And really, it shouldn’t come as much of a shock. After all, you see it every Sunday.
You see it when the musician deliberately walks the long way around the pews to avoid walking past the sound engineer they are annoyed with about their foldback monitor mix. You see it when the couple in the fourth row turn and grumble to each other that they have been standing for 5 songs in a row. You see it when the congregation can almost recite the words of the altar call invitation verbatim, and sit back with arms folded, waiting for the final song. You see it when the worship leader stumbles through a prayer full of clichés, starting with the last line of the previous song and finishing with the first line of the next song. You see it when a mother snaps at her 4 year old in the car park, telling him to “just behave for once so we can go into church and learn about Jesus”. You see it when the open-mic testimony period includes three minutes of testimonies and 8 minutes and 47 seconds of uncomfortable silence.
Our Baggage and “Perfect Worship”.
There is one sense in which we can’t do church well. We all come to Sunday morning with our baggage – our hurts and regrets, our worries and guilt, our hang-ups and preconceptions. We come as self-focussed people, and attempt to join with the rest of the congregation in heart and mind enough so that our eyes are lifted towards God in community. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it clicks and we are made fully aware of God’s presence as we focus our attention on Him, but many times it doesn’t. Many times we can’t lift our eyes quite enough, we can’t seem to leave our baggage, and we can’t help but get caught up in petty squabbles.
If God had wanted perfect worship, He wouldn’t have asked us to do it. The Angels are far more capable of it than we are. God knows our shortcomings and failings in worship far better than we do. In fact, Scripture reveals to us that our attempts at perfecting worship are often displeasing to God (Amos 5:23 – 24, Luke 19:45 – 46). So we need to ask ourselves why it is that we are meeting in this way. What are we hoping to accomplish? What is the point and the power of Sunday?
Here are some illustrations that may help:
1. Abram (or Abraham, as he came to be known), received a promise from God, who appeared to him (Genesis 12:7).
As a result of this encounter, Abram made an altar to the Lord. Now Abram built a lot of altars throughout his life, as acts of worship to the God who had appeared to him. Throughout the next two chapters, we see that Abram also went out from these altars, and pitched tents wherever he went. As he went out into the world, he pitched tents to live and work in, and built altars to worship and seek God’s face from. Dave Bilbrough comments that wherever there is an altar (a true act of worship), there will be a response that eventually leads us to actively engaging with the world around us. This is one aspect of the power of Sunday.
2. King David was bringing the Ark of God back into the City of David (1 Chronicles 13:8 – 14).
The Scripture records that they were “celebrating with all their might” (emphasis added). As a result, it all went horribly wrong. Someone (Uzzah) took matters into their own hands (literally), and paid for it with his life, as God struck him dead because he had laid a hand on the Ark. In 1 Chronicles 15:1 – 29 they tried again. This time, they did it the way God wanted. They offered sacrifices every 6 steps along the journey, and succeeded in bringing the Ark into the City of David.
3. Here’s an example from the New Testament: Jesus came to the town where Martha lived, and she opened her home to Him (Luke 10:40 – 42).
Mary, her sister (who later anointed Jesus feet with perfume) sat at Jesus feet, listening to what He said. Martha was bustling around, distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. Eventually, Martha was so flustered that she came to Jesus and asked “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!” Jesus responded “Martha, Martha, you are upset about many things, but few things are needed – or indeed even one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her”. By choosing to spend time at the feet of Jesus, in communion with Him, Mary had made the better use of her interaction with Him than Martha, whose arguably good deeds robbed her of a personal interaction with Jesus.
So what is the power of Sunday? Why is it so important to make our Sundays work? It is our Altar that fuels our tent-building engagement with the world around us. It is our sacrifice every 6 steps that ensures that we are bringing the Ark back into the City of David according to God’s plans. It is our choice between sitting and listening at the feet of Jesus or bustling around getting the meal ready. And it is important.
Nancy Beach sums it all up beautifully by saying:
“Something very significant can happen when the body of Christ gathers all together on Sunday morning. Those weekly services define what matters to a church and its leaders, what they will focus on all week, what part of God’s word will challenge them, and how they’ll experience God’s supernatural presence and power. When Sunday mornings inspire, envision and equip those who attend, a buzz of excitement is generated that feeds all the sub-ministries and events. If church leaders become complacent about carefully preparing the hour on Sunday, they jeopardize the church’s entire life and mission.”
This is a big deal.
Keep an eye out over the coming months for the next article in our series. Coming soon — “Making Sundays Work — Planning”.