Renewal of a great Christian Church

I’ve been the pastor of First Saint Johns for five years now (wow, I cannot believe FIVE YEARS!) OK, I’m better now, anyway, First Saint Johns really is a great, old downtown, almost cathedral. A place where God is truly glorified and has been for 140 years. It is also the focus on a “Renewal” effort, in order to rebuild a great temple to God.
Due to that I have done a lot of study and experimenting and while this is a message to someone else who is helping on this, I thought I would share this with the blogosphere.
While it might look like First St Johns has been a stuffy, tradition bound church, actually First St Johns “traditions” have been changed considerably in the last five years. While you might assume it has always been a liturgical type of worship, when I started there it was much more a kind of “folksy” as it were, contemporary, really wasn’t feast or fowl. I did not come to First St Johns with an agenda for liturgical worship, but the more I studied and also interacted with other ministries I felt that this is the way we should go. There was a lot of study and thought that went into this, there were no snap decisions and has been handled in a pretty subtle way, partly so that I could learn to do this better (and yea, I have a ways to go). Liturgical worship is not part of my experience, I did not grow up in any particular Christian tradition and my first years were in the United Methodist Church, so it’s not based on an agenda, but in terms of how are we best serving. I certainly could be doing some things in an unconventional way, but there again, I think the repetition of liturgical worship is built in to the worship in order to reinforce the point of the worship for the day. I would agree worship may appear to have a lot “stuffed” in and I’m not sure that’s the best way to go, but I really think a little overkill is more effective and I think it is effective in terms of overcoming years of downplaying Scripture in the church.
There is the issue in terms of using unfamiliar language, I’m not trying to intimidate, with liturgical language. But I think for too long the church has not challenged people, that it has made it easy and not made it something that was something important and God’s glory but that was supposed to be easy and therefore not even worth trying to understand.
I’ve done a couple of worship services, and planning to do it again, that walks through the service and explaining what it was about and why it’s done, something I try to stress for new members also. I really don’t think it’s an issue of “alienating” as much as including people in something that they should come to recognize as something so much bigger, more meaningful, that God does really change lives, His ways are not our ways, be a part of something that is God’s and not something that the church is, again, doing to lower itself into the world, but to raise God’s children above the world.
As I said in my sermon yesterday, worship in a more ancient manner ties us to the ancient church and also as a common factor with Christians around the world. I have seen a lot of current research that finds a desire in people, who, living in a period of such fragility, that we’re in, failure of institutions around us, the desire is for something that is stable, that has survived the centuries, that reaches to a massive number of Christians. Something that is solid, has stood the test of time and will move into the future.
The more we build that, establish that and project that, the more people will realize what they are not getting in their lives right now. During the Pentecost period, we do, mix things up a little. But during the high seasons, I want to emphasize the sacredness of those times and remind people of the important points of Christianity.
The reason why I resist a lot of praise songs is that the emphasis is changed from Jesus to the individual. One of the members of the congregation made an interesting observation (and I’m not really sure he supports liturgical worship), but he said that he’s always counted the number of personal pronouns in “praise music” and the I, me, mine always seem to dominate praise music. Hymns were written to be another way to convey the message of that day’s topic, too much praise music sounds nice, but there seems to be either little teaching or rather superficial teaching. I would very much like to do more with praise music. We’ve been trying to get a First Friday function ramped up to showcase Christian praise, I’d like to do other times of praise music, Erin Bode was at First St Johns a couple of years ago for an evening event. Believe me I love contemporary Christian music music, I have an extensive personal collection.
But it also raises another issue what you and I think of as contemporary Michael Smith, Amy Grant, Michael Card, and what older members think of, Gaither Band, is not what people today think of as contemporary “King and Country” “David Crowder” Modisha, which I also happen to like, but I’m sure you can see that kind of music would not go over big with the majority of people in the congregation. Gaither Band, would not be a big hit with younger members. I really am interested in any suggestions and if it really comes to pass that it would be doable to do a separate contemporary I would certainly consider it.
My reluctance there would be something that other churches have found in doing separate services for awhile, is that it tends to separate the congregation, segment it, instead of bring it together. We may not be able to avoid that since I would very much like to implement a separate Spanish speaking worship, but I honestly believe that at this point, more liturgical worship is what younger people are looking for in terms of stability and other factors that I could go into and would actually unite everyone in one method, vs, doing something that would be more pleasing to one group and would not speak to any other groups.
While I realize that these conclusions are not going to generate a whiz bang. upturn, I do believe that it has stabilized the congregation and given it something that can be shared by everyone and they can bring something that is rather unique into the world as a whole.
One other factor for me is this, I really do have to pick a lane with this church. We have been enormously blessed, and we are in relatively good shape, but we do need to stabilize on a common ground and take that into the world and trust that God is going to use this unified outreach and bless it to His glory and grow His church at First St Johns

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