Tonight was my first night of small group. I have not participated in an intentional small group for over twelve years, so it was interesting getting back into it. They are a great group of people.
During discussion of the Sunday sermon (which I did not hear since I am with the children every Sunday), a question was raised about the purpose of the church. Two words came immediately to me: mission and connection. I missed a third which I should have raised as the most important: worship. These are some thoughts which occur to me as I reflect on my long history in various kinds of evangelical churches, ranging from Baptist to charismatic with an assortment of other traditions co-mingled through the years.
Worship: Worship is about God, not about us. Or me. Or you. Just God. But why do we in the evangelical traditions twist it all around? Why the worship wars over style, and who gets to sing what part, and who gets a solo, or whether people should be allowed to express praise through dance, various postures, or rattling a cymbal? We miss the point because we focus on us, not God. We search for churches where we feel we can be comfortable with a worship style, and leave when the style occasionally accomodates a younger or older generation. We create traditional services and contemporary services, further dividing generations and styles of worship and perpetuating the consumer mentality among our parishioners. We risk becoming primarily consumers of style, rather than worshippers of God in substance. We are critical of those we do not understand, causing all affected to miss out on the whole point of worship. We need to get over ourselves and focus on God, seeking to glorify him in all we say, sing, and do. Worship should be an exaltation of the Most High, and a humbling of ourselves before him as we surrender our lives and our will to his purposes.
Mission: Newsflash. The mission field is here. Biblically. Practically. And it’s about time we understand this. When the apostles were dispatched in Acts 1:8, they were sent first locally, and then to ever-expanding territories, and finally to the uttermost parts of the world. That calling continues with the church today. For those in my local context, it begins where they live, work and play. For me, it is Portland, Oregon. Portland and its surrounding communities are my Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria where I am called to have a missional impact for Christ among the people. We also dispatch people abroad, all around the world. But it starts locally. As mission. Viable. Critically important. An integral aspect of the daily rhythms which characterize our lives.
Connection: I had an epiphany tonight. I have had all kinds of valid reasons which were preventing me from being an early adapter to our small groups. In the end, I decided to sign up for one of the groups and go, even though my prior reasons were ringing loud and clear in my thinking. So, go I did. And then when it was done and I reflected on the experience, it occurred to me I had been crying out for connection for years in my local situation. And when the opportunity was presented to me, I initially found reasons to decline. In the end, I went for it, recognizing that my initial concerns, valid as they are, can still be addressed in constructive ways while affording me opportunity to be with others. Already, I experienced a deeper level of connection with those in my group because we took the time to gather in a home and pray, read Scripture, converse, and allow others into our lives. And that was just the first session. Imagine what might happen if such gathering were to happen regularly? Oh wait, we meet again next week. And that is a good thing; a connecting thing.