By Paxson Jeancake
Celebrating the Story God is Writing in Each Local Church
During my years in vocational ministry I have served in four different local churches, spanning the east and west coasts of the United States. Each one has its own set of strengths and weaknesses. Each one has a unique role to play in God's kingdom and economy.
I love the local church. Each and every weekend, it is my job to help tell not only God's Story, but also Our Story, the story of our local church. As worship planners and leaders we do this, from week to week, in a variety of ways:
Commissioning a team going on a mission trip
Interviewing artists about their work in a church art exhibit
Showing the pictures of a recent, city-wide outreach event
Administering the sacrament of baptism to new believers
Having students share about their growth in Christ
Sharing video testimonies about people's faith journeys
Spending time in prayer for our city, community, and loved ones
Hearing the stories from recovering addicts and alcoholics
Celebrating the new babies born in the past year
Recognizing the various graduates among us in May
We celebrate these various wins in our congregation - the places where we see God at work, bringing his kingdom through the different ministry areas of our church.
PLANNING WORSHIP that ExpressES Our Story
sermon series themes
One way a church expresses the unique story God is writing is through the various sermon series topics that are preached on throughout a given ministry year. Each year our leadership focuses on a theme for the upcoming ministry year (September - May). As we discern where God is leading us as a church, we develop a collection of sermon series that we feel will flesh out that theme.
This past year we focused on Kingdom Renewal and studied key passages from the Gospel of Matthew. We emphasized Kingdom Attitudes (The Beatitudes), Kingdom Prayer (The Lord's Prayer), and Kingdom Parables, for example. Two years ago we focused on being a Healthy Disciple, highlighting emotional and spiritual health as vital characteristics of being a follower of Christ.
Each local church must discern from week to week, month to month, and year to year what God is saying and where God is leading his people.
Prayers of the People
Another aspect of the worship service where Our Story is expressed is through the "Prayers of the People." We engage in this type of intercessory prayer about once a month. The way I have led this recently is to guide our people through a litany of prayers for the church, the world, our community, and loved ones. I utilize a printed prayer and guide us through these petitions while leaving room for pause, silent prayers, and extemporaneous prayers as well. I believe this is helping our congregation think beyond just our own personal lives and consumeristic tendencies. We are being given eyes to see a bigger story that includes global and local concerns and a heart that cares for the city and the kingdom of God.
We will regularly highlight a given ministry or event in our worship service as a way to celebrate what God is doing among us and/or to encourage people to participate. This is another great way to tell the story God is writing in the local church. For example, we recently started a recovery group for women who have experienced sexual abuse. We recognize that, as a body, we have a number of people who have been sexually abused and need a safe place to find hope and healing. To highlight this new ministry we had one of our own staff members (a female who experienced sexual abuse as a young girl and as a teenager) share her testimony and then offer information on the new group - providing very sensitive and confidential ways for those interested to get involved and be a part of this new restorative community.
We have other ongoing events throughout the year that we highlight: the LoveBrevard initiative where we partner with other churches to provide days and weeks of focused deeds of love and mercy throughout Brevard County; our Global Missions Weekend, highlighting the various ministry partners we support around the world; Lockmar Lights, a neighborhood-focused outreach event to kick off the Christmas season; Come Together events during the summer as a way to stay connected, enjoy a meal, and experience fellowship, worship, and testimonies as a church body.
Celebrating these events and initiatives in worship is a very intentional way to share what God is doing among us - a way to tell Our Story as a local church.
The songs that we sing as a congregation tell part of Our Story. The various psalms, hymns, and modern worship songs that we sing from week to week reflect and shape who we are becoming. I feel strongly about embracing treasures old and new in worship. Thus, we join our story with those from centuries ago as we sing classic hymns such as Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee, Praise to the Lord, the Almighty, Jesus, What a Friend for Sinners, All Creatures of Our God and King, and Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing.
We also join our story with the global church of today singing the popular modern songs and hymns of our current time such as In Christ Alone, Everlasting God, 10,000 Reasons (Bless the Lord), The Lion and the Lamb, O Praise the Name, and Good Good Father. Though these modern songs may not be around as long as some of the classic hymns above (though some will!), they are no less powerful expressions of Our Story as we shout aloud these new songs of praise and adoration in our current day.
Finally, we celebrate Our Story by singing original songs and hymns that come forth from our own local community of songwriters. In addition to embracing treasures old and new, cultivating the songwriters in our own congregation is another passion of mine. The Bible exhorts us over and over again to "sing a new song unto the Lord." The songs that are birthed within our church - as a response to God's Word and as an expression of a songwriter's own faith journey - are a special gift.
We find many hymn fragments from the early church scattered throughout the New Testament (e.g., Philippians 2:6-11, Colossians 1:15-20; 1 Timothy 3:16). The church has always expressed its faith through song. From the Old Testament psalms, to the New Testament hymns, to the new songs of today, the church was, is, and will always be a singing people. Music is a powerful gift that God has instilled in his people. It is an ancient and affective way to tell Our Story as a local expression of the Body of Christ.
As a final example, we share the story God is writing in the local church through the testimonies of our people. Currently, we are in a series entitled, Summer in the Psalms. Each of our teaching pastors have chosen different psalms to preach on throughout the summer. To complement this series we issued a call to our congregation to share their favorite psalms. We have heard the stories of our own people interacting with a given psalm and how it helped them through a hard season and also how it continues to shape and inform their lives to the present day. Cultivating a culture of storytelling in this way edifies us all and also brings glory to our faithful God.
The Formative Character of Worship
All of the above examples emphasize the idea of lex orandi lex credendi (mentioned in the Introduction to this series) and how the things we pray, preach, sing, and share together in worship help form and shape our perspective and our worldview.
God is writing a unique story in every local church. We do not need to compete with the mega church down the street or the hip church across town. We do not need to reproduce the story God is writing somewhere else. We should be concerned and engaged with the story God is writing in our local context and congregation. Part of our corporate worship should be about recognizing, celebrating, and telling our unique story.