For some time I’ve promoted small group ministry as a primary means of discipleship. And I think this is helpful. But what I’ve been reminded through Kennon L. Callahan’s, Small, Strong Congregations (Jossey-Bass, 2000) is that the weekly worship service is a primary sort of small group. As he writes: “For a small, strong congregation, worship is the gathering of the family. It’s not that worship is a function, and that small groups are another function. Small, strong congregations don’t think in a program, function, and activity manner. They don’t view worship and groups as separate functions and departments. Worship is the gathering of the household, the family, of God.” (p. 157) I like Callahan’s perspective. True, sometimes we need a “program” to gather people. But more often than not in a small, strong congregation, the people gather themselves. And the primary gathering is the worship service. Now, that’s not to say that small groups aren’t important. They are. And that’s not to say that small groups just happen. They don’t. They take intentionality. But they’re more likely to happen if we gather in the sanctuary on a regular basis. So, the worship service as the primary family gathering is, you might say, the primary small group. So, I would encourage you all to attend your main small group! Attend the worship service! And through it, feel God’s blessing and love, be discipled, and develop meaningful relationships with your brothers and sisters in Christ.
I was raised in a contemporary evangelical church, similar to Wolf Creek Community Church, although smaller. It was a wonderful church. I’m thankful for my evangelical heritage. But as a young adult, I met a young lady (now my wife!), who belonged to a Christian Reformed Church (CRC). This was my first exposure to the CRC. At first, I wondered about the more “fixed” liturgy. I grew up in a “free church” tradition that was a bit more informal. But it didn’t take me long to really appreciate the CRC, and it was the Reformed worship service that really drew me in. At this little CRC, I encountered the living God. He was bigger and more beautiful than I’d ever known Him to be. And He spoke to us! The Reformed worship service is a drama and a dialogue. We enter the sanctuary, which is like God’s throne room. So, how do you act in the presence of a king? With respect and adoration. With appropriate moments of reverence and celebration. As I encountered this Great King, I realized my sinfulness. So I was invited to confess my sins and receive God’s grace all over again through His Word and Sacrament. Then I responded with joyful praise, thanksgiving and dedication. I find this sort of dialogue between God and his people during the worship service beautiful and formative. I confess: the God I knew growing up was smaller, and he didn’t seem to say as much. Nor did I feel his grace to the same degree. But all that changed when I encountered God in the Reformed worship service. I know that as a community church we don’t emphasize our Reformed heritage that much. And understandably so, as we want all people to receive the gospel, not just people who grew up in the CRC. But in the area of worship, I’d like to pay tribute to our “tribe,” and honor those who have gone before us, and continue to lead us in worship. In my opinion, there are not too many things more beautiful and formative than the Reformed worship service.
As you may know, it’s the season of Lent, the season before Easter when we try to slow things down a bit and be more reflective. We do this because we want to be ready for Easter—the biggest celebration of our Christian Year. So we take some time for self-examination. How is your relationship with the Lord? How is your relationship with others? As pastor of a local church, I’m also taking time to reflect on pastoral ministry, and the overall ministry of my church. How am I doing as a pastor? Are there certain things I can do to become more effective in ministry? How is the church doing? Are there certain things we can do become a stronger, healthier church? To this end, I’m reading a book by Kennon L. Callahan called, Small, Strong Congregations (Jossey-Bass, 2000). Callahan observes that most churches are small. And that’s okay, because God uses small churches to do his Kingdom work. The question isn’t so much about size as it is about fruitfulness. One important way for a small church to become strong and healthy is to have “one excellent mission” (p. 34). Happily, Wolf Creek Community Church has a purpose statement: “to reach out and enfold people for Jesus, together becoming devoted disciples of Him.” Very good! But what is our one excellent mission? How do we fulfill our purpose in the community? Is there one thing the Lord is calling us to really focus on in the second decade of our life as a church, so we can serve this community exceedingly well and make many devoted disciples of Christ? The Lord is leading us on a wonderful (Lenten) journey. Let’s continue to walk the Emmaus Road together (see Luke 24)!
Once again we’ve come to that time of the Christian year when we begin to set our eyes toward Easter. This is what we do during the Season of Lent, which is the forty days before Easter Sunday. As Henri Nouwen writes: “Lent is a time of returning to God. It is a time to confess how we keep looking for joy, peace, and satisfaction in the many people and things surrounding us without really finding what we desire. Only God can give us what we want. So we must be reconciled to God . . . The season of Lent helps us in a special way to cry out for God’s mercy.” (Quoted by Ruth Haley Barton in “Season of Returning: A Leader’s Journey into Lent” in eReflections, Feb. 21, 2014) So, how will you intentionally return to God this year? One thing I feel called to do this Lent is a bit of fasting. To deny myself a bit of food, so I can devote the time I would have spent eating to “feast” on God’s Word. How will you return to the Lord this Lenten season? I invite you to take some time today to reflect on that question and receive the Lord’s guidance. Perhaps the following prayer by Henri Nouwen (A Cry for Mercy) will help you in this reflective process: