“Joy is a net of love by which you can catch souls.” ~Mother Theresa
Ah, the worship wars.
The liturgy must be done this way. The pastor and the congregation must dress this way, and visitors must sit in these seats (or at least, not in these). The music must consist of this selection of songs, sung from this book, played in this way, using these instruments. Musical anthems must be performed in this style, at this point in the service, by this selection of people. The readings must be read from this version of the Bible, and the sermon must be this style, on these topics, and must certainly not be longer than this. Children and teenagers must come to worship (why, what is this world coming to, that parents don’t insist that their children stay in worship?), but they must not move or make a single sound.
We human beings do love our control, don’t we?
We at SRUMC have dealt with some of this, as most churches do at one time or another. That happens, especially during periods of stress and transition: when all around us seems chaos, we desperately try to grab hold of something and find control and predictability. Our newly-formed Worship Ministry Team talked about this when we began our work together a few years ago. We wanted to infuse our worship services with creativity and give them new life, while at the same time being gentle with those who were panicked by change. We prayed a lot, and experienced a lot of fits and starts. We made tremendous improvements to sound and video, created a liturgy that was intentional rather than merely familiar, involved more people in worship leadership. We experimented with music, art, drama, and preaching styles and had successes and failures. We have tried to make sure that our worship includes more – much more – gratitude and praise. In all of it, our guiding principle has been Psalm 100: “Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all the earth, and serve the Lord with gladness!”
All of it has been well and good, and important and necessary for our spiritual growth. But none of it truly is the reason why we have experienced such growth in worship attendance in the last year.
There are two reasons, I think, why more people are coming to worship at SRUMC. One is mission, and the other is children.
Our Youth and Young Adult Ministries leader, Shellie Seelye, is outstanding, and a huge proponent of mission work. We have a new adult mission group this year as well, which is doing a wide variety of simple local and national mission projects. Our Children and Family Ministries coordinator, Nora Schmidt, is amazing. Thanks to the work of these people, this year our youth group has almost doubled in size, our young adult ministry has tripled, our Sunday School attendance has skyrocketed, and more people are involved in mission and volunteer work than ever before. We celebrate all of this during worship, with prayers of commissioning, slideshows, Mission and Ministry moments, and announcements inviting participation. Our Children’s Moment during worship is intentional, and full of participation, laughter, and singing; our children’s ministry has a strong missional component as well. We have found that all of this is creating the joy – the deep, real, lasting joy – that we were trying so hard to create with worship alone.
We have a great deal yet to do, as we continue to grow in our faith together. But we have learned a lot! At SRUMC we emphasize together that worship does not begin and end on Sunday morning, but can fill every moment of our lives. Preaching the Gospel with hands and feet, rather than just words, fills our hearts and lives with deep and abiding joy. As God said to Abraham, “Know yourself blessed. Go to be a blessing!”