Dear You Who Is Leading Your Congregation in Worship:
You could be a pastor who is just starting out in ministry. Your nerves could be causing an epic amount of stress that is taking years off your life.
You could be a song leader who has been serving the church for years in this capacity. Your Sunday morning routine has been established long ago and now you go through the motions every Sunday in a sort of rote fashion that betrays your underlying passion for music.
You could be that Sunday School teacher who has been running your children’s ministry for decades. You love the kids dearly and to you, those kids are your worship, though you long for a few months break every now and then. (Seriously, just go ahead and ask for it.)
Or you could be that poor sap that just started going to church and accidentally let someone know that you played the drums in a garage band in high school. Yep, that was a mistake because next Sunday you are going to be drumming on that platform!
Or you could be an usher, a counter, a Scripture reader.
Whoever you are, I want you to know you have an incredibly important role each Sunday. I believe wholeheartedly that worship is the most important thing Christians do. When we do it well we preside over the ministry of reconciliation, drawing people closer to each other and to God. When we do it well, sins are forgiven and not just by God but by us. When we do it well we go out into a world to serve the least and lonely and poor and orphans and widows alongside our Creator. When we do it well we begin to see God at work in all parts of creation!
And when we do it bad. . .well, we bring ourselves under the wrath of God. We eat and drink and sing judgment upon ourselves.
For this reason, every Sunday morning I have my own routine. I have developed it over the last few years and it serves me well. I try to wake up before my children so that my peaceful house feeds my peaceful spirit. I walk to church while listening to the sounds of nature. They are the voice of our Lord inviting me into worship. When I get to the very edge of my church property, I stop. I look at the building and spend time breathing in and out. I do not move until I hear God wooing me into worship. I do not move until I step onto the property with a spirit of gratefulness and anticipation. I am grateful that God is calling me to worship and even chosen me, the least of these, to lead it and I anticipate that God will change hearts and lives.
When I get to the front door, I pray a prayer that goes something like this:
Heavenly father as I open the doors of your church may you draw through them those who need your love, mercy and grace. Upon entering, may they find fellowship, grace, power and love and after having found, may they depart through these doors having everything they need to do your good work in the world. Amen.
When I start turning lights on I pray a prayer that goes something like this:
As I light up your church, may you enlighten us. May you correct us, instruct us, equip us and pour your Spirit out upon us.
Then I sit in my office, light and candle and read Scripture or devotional material until the first congregants show up.
I am not saying this to brag but to confess, because all that participation, prayer and correcting my spirit is not enough. It is too quickly undone when the first angry congregant shows up and chews me out because the carpet wasn’t vacuumed or because a light bulb was left on or because there was a typo in the bulletin or because someone else is late or any number of things they perceive have all ready gone wrong an hour before Sunday School begins. Seriously, God is not so weak that a typo in the bulletin or some crumbs on the carpet will derail your whole Sunday service! They seem to believe so though.
With a few exceptions I have always tried to answer politely but inwardly my spirit of anticipation and gratitude is gone. It has been replaced by an angry frustration that people care more about carpet and light bulbs and bulletins than they do about worship and prayer.
That is my fault because I didn’t pray enough. I shouldn’t start praying for worship on Sunday mornings. I should start on Saturday nights like many of my other colleagues do. Actually I should start praying for next Sunday on this Sunday’s afternoon. And I should be inviting more people to join me in prayer.
Therefore, can I invite all of you who are leaders on Sundays to join me in prayer? You don’t have to walk to church but can I ask you to turn the music in your car off on Sunday mornings? Even if it is so called “Christian music” it is a poor substitution for the things God speaks in silence. Can I invite you to not enter your church’s building or worship space before you are grateful to God for bringing you to worship and excited for how God is going to move that day? As you enter the building, can I implore you to pray that God would draw people through those doors and into God’s presence? Instead of fixating on the tedious can I beg you to fixate on your fellow worshipers, whose hurts, needs and desires are far more important than anything else going on that day?
Maybe you can start small and try only one of those things this Sunday. Or if that is asking too much, can I instead just ask you to leave your fellow worshipers alone about all those dumb crumbs and light bulbs and bulletins? Our worship time is so incredibly important for those things to get in the way.
And if I can borrow from the words of Red Green, “I’m pulling for you. We are all in this together.”