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“decentering” the Sunday service

One of the thoughts that emerged from reading the EFC as well as an article and a few blog entries is that it feels to me as though we Christians (generally speaking of course) center our lives and our “ministry” on the Sunday service and anything that comes from that - small groups, bible studies and prayer meetings primarily.

In the churches I have served, most of the money and time of the volunteers and paid staff is to essentially “serve” the Sunday morning service. Volunteers are needed to teach sunday school, hold babies, greet visitors, set up chairs, clean bathrooms, guide cars into and out of parking spaces, run sound, play instruments, sing, keep the books, design and print the bulletins, guide people to seats, counsel, answer phones, set appointments. Money is needed to pay for heat and electricity for the building, pay the staff, buy books for the small groups, pay the mortgage/rent, buy toys and curriculum for the kids, update the chairs, renovate the fellowship hall …. and on and on and on. One can easily imagine how quickly a church consumes every last drop of it’s resources (monetary and otherwise) by SIMPLY EXISTING. Never mind how much more is required when a church starts adding additional programs/ministries.

I’m going to post the graphic of this at some point but since it’s relevant I wanted to mention it here even though I haven’t uploaded the image yet.

I recently created a “perpetual calendar” of sorts to visually represent where my husband’s time goes in the course of a month. I used my husband because his schedule also represents accurately the other “lay ministers” in our congregation (youth, children, etc.). My world is a bit more atypical in many ways.

A. works a full time non-church job on top of running our weekly Sunday service and everything that goes with that. On top of that, our body is a sort of sub service of our greater church at large, so we have all the leadership responsibilities that go with that as well.

All but 5 days of the month (mostly evenings and weekends) are consumed by church stuff - meetings, social gatherings, phone calls to defuse conflict, leadership meetings, bible studies, meeting with the senior pastor, etc.

Which means that unless he wants to abandon his family, he has virtually NO time to simply live, as a normal human being, out there in the regular world, being missional.

So is the answer for him to become a full time paid staff person? Well, short of the fact that it’s impossible right now (30 people does not a pastor’s salary pay), I don’t actually think that would help much nor is it what we want anyway (for many reasons).

Here’s why, we all know people who look around a cluttered house and ruminate on how much cleaner it would be if only their house were bigger right? Only to find them a few years later in a bigger and more cluttered house? I don’t think A. needs more days on his calendar, I think he needs the opportunity to better use the days he has currently at his disposal.

Because we are part of this greater church body, making any sort of change is hard, but we try. We often refuse to attend meetings and bible studies and prayer meetings because we put a priority on serving our community and living “out there”.

This is more than simply priority or an issue of time management. This is an issue of DNA - the very cell structure of our communities of faith. The very purpose and intention of the Body of Christ…as communities and as individuals.

Looking at that calendar really got me thinking. What if we thought about the Sunday morning service as our servant rather than us as a servant to it? How’s that for bad sentence structure? hehe.

Mark 2:27And He said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath. 28Therefore the Son of Man is also Lord of the Sabbath.”

Our “church activities” should be for the purpose of serving us and our mission to “the world” (i.e. the world outside the walls of our churches). They should serve to equip us, provide a center for accountability, be a time for us to gather together in corporate worship, allow us to use our gifts to edify one another…for the ultimate purpose of taking up the call of Christ.

Luke 4:18“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he anointed me to preach the Gospel to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free those who are oppressed, 19 to proclaim the favorable year of the Lord.”

Our “church events” should launch us into orbit, into the great commission, they should not BE the orbit.

Corporate worship is wonderful. I believe we need the “local body” more than ever. Teaching is wonderful. God speaking through his vessels in the form of prophecy is wonderful. Manifestations of healing and miracles are wonderful. Bible studies and prayer meetings are wonderful. But if those things, going on inside the church, are what we live for. If those things are what consume our time, money and energy, I fear we will miss the point entirely.

Steve Sjogren says this to church planters:

Don’t go to start a church…go to serve a city. Serve them with love, and if you go after the people nobody wants, you’ll end up with the people everybody wants.

Don’t go to start a church…go to serve a city. Wow. What if church planters like us had this as their first mission? To serve a city. What if a community’s first encounters with a “new church” was selfless acts of service? What if people entering seminary have as their expectation that they will have to structure their lives and ministries in a way that puts the community at the top? What if the global church were just as valuable in our minds than our local church body? What if when people heard the word “church” they thought of cleaner streets, less violence, care of orphans, widows and the poor, schools empowered to do good, beautified neighborhoods, elderly shut ins cared for by young people….what if?

[tags]pastors, church, time, externally focused church, ministry[/tags]

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  1. Julie Clawson — January 29, 2007 #

    I love your thoughts here. A lot of this is stuff we have/are considering with out church plant. The goal of serving a city is so odd that a lot of our city officials really don’t know what to do with us. Having a church offer to help the schools just shocked the local superintendent.

    One issue that we have had to consider as we try to figure out structure and balance of time as we “are” the church in our community, is the need for a front porch. We can be out there serving, but there needs to be a front porch where people can come to gather, relax, have some lemonade, and be part of a community in a way suburbia has forgotten. We struggled with the concept of a regular worship service, but now realize we need to have that welcoming stable and safe place in addition to other ways we serve the community.

  2. Ari — January 29, 2007 #

    thanks for sharing your experiences and thoughts. I absolutely agree, we need to have that place that brings us together to “sacrament” together (yes, made up phrase *smirk*) and learn and grow and teach and rest…they certainly had it in the “first church” and I think we need it just as much now.

    I like your front porch imagery, that’s cool.

  3. Michael — January 29, 2007 #

    Brilliant! Simply Brilliant!!

  4. Paul — January 30, 2007 #

    awesome dreaming…

    I think church can get as crazy as you describe - and i love your thought about sunday serving us not vice versa…

    what if sunday is a place of gathering where we can be encouraged, [re]connected, encounter/practice a serving ethos before we go back out again to serve our communities…?

    maybe we need to sacrifice a lil on quality to free up more time to invest in communities - including our marriages :)

  5. grace — January 30, 2007 #

    This was a great post, very encouraging. I’ve read it several times already. I’d love to hear more of your thoughts on how you envision your community serving the city.

    I also appreciated Julie’s front porch comment. I think that some type of public presence is still important.

  6. Ari — January 30, 2007 #

    Thank you grace. our community is very new but we have done much already and are working this month to plan more.

    Thanks Michael :)

  7. molly — February 3, 2007 #

    OH MAN, this is an awesome post…
    I can so relate to the life of someone on “full-time” staff, as that is our life (well, my husbands). I am not sure it’s been a positive experience at all, though certainly very positive God-glorifying things have happened through-out. We’re just trying to stay afloat right now…it’s a “suck-you-dry” kind of lifestyle… I can’t WAIT until he’s done (this summer) and we can try and put the pieces of our lives back together again.

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