It's where we've been raising our family, and what He has used to grow and stretch our hearts and minds to know Him more. I've been pushed gently and not so gently out of my comfort zone.
It's not a perfect place and it's full of imperfect people who love God wholeheartedly but sometimes screw it up. There are lots of reasons that I love this place and these people and a single post would be waaaay to long so I'll probably share some things in a series of posts. I hope it will get you to thinking about your church and what you love about it.
One of the top things for me that I love about our church is our liturgy. Every church has a liturgy (an order of service) whether it is formalized or not. Our liturgy happens to be what most would consider "formal." It's actually known as a covenant renewal service. The layout and progression of the service is designed to reflect the Gospel.
We begin with a call to worship. A call to leave our earthly concerns and thoughts behind and turn our hearts and minds to the One who is worthy. This generally includes a hymn, a short word of exhortation, a call and response greeting between pastor and congregation, and a Scripture reading that calls us to worship. It concludes with a brief prayer that God would cleanse the thoughts of His people so that we're prepared to worship Him rightly.
Of course our sin prohibits true worship so secondly, we are called to confess our sin. There is a tremendous blessing in corporate confession that is missed in a typical "alter call" at the end of a service. Another aspect that is shared during this time, is the minister declaring God's forgiveness. Not that he is granting the forgiveness, but he is declaring the faithfulness of God in fulfilling His promise to forgive those who have confessed their sin.
The third element of our liturgy is considered a time of consecration. Together, as one body we typically confess either the Nicene or Apostles creed. There is something so very unifying about declaring what we all believe without hesitation and with assurance. It connects us to the Saints that have gone before us and anchors us. During a certain time of the church calendar we actually sing one of them and it is one of my most favorite things in the world. Because we believe that the Bible is one story with Old and New Testament connected, we have a Scripture passage read from both which relates to the theme of the sermon. The pastor also reads a passage from the Gospels. The first two readings are done from the pulpit but as the Gospel is read my husband moves among the congregation...a beautiful symbol of the way Christ, the Gospel in flesh, moved among us. After the preaching we have a pastoral prayer during which our prayers and petitions as a church are brought before God. This is also a time during which we pray for a specific congregation in our community. Again, I love this because I've never been in a church that was willing to pray on a regular basis for other area churches, including ones of a different denomination. We are also given a few moments to pray in silence before standing together and singing the Lord's Prayer. Then, in response to God's faithfulness, we offer our tithes and offerings.
Because we have been called to worship, and because we have confessed our sin and He has changed us through the reading and teaching of His Word, we are invited to come and eat at His table. Every. Single. Week. Oddly enough, this fourth component of our service causes people the most angst. Generally argued against as being too catholic as if that somehow explains something. But just about every church I know of sings every week, prays every week, and takes an offering every week. We don't reject those based on possible bad teaching and misunderstanding...why would we reject Christ's table?
Because our service has already led us to a place of confession we do not look at this as a time of morbid introspection. We are already prepared and ready so it's a time when we remember His death and celebrate the life we now have together in Him. Not only do we enjoy this meal together each week, but we talk during it. Speaking freely with one another, as well as participating in the passing of the peace. As we pass the bread we say to each other, "The Lord be with you" and upon receiving the bread we respond with, "The Lord bless you." With the passing of the wine/juice we say, "The peace of Christ be with you" and upon receipt we say, "And also with you". I'll be honest, this part of our service was very awkward at first. But it quickly became something that added depth add richness to our communion with each other. It takes a very hard and bitter heart to hold aught against husband or wife, child or sibling or friend and at the same time bless them in the Lord and declare that the peace of Christ be with them.
Singing is a major part of our service and is threaded through the whole day. (There will be a separate blog post about singing and music.) At this point in our service we stand, and hands raised sing the doxology, praising God who is the source of all blessings. We recite a prayer of thanksgiving together and sing a hymn of response for the renewal of God's covenant with His people.
Now we turn our hands outward, and with voices lifted we sing,
Glory be to the Father,
And to the Son,
And to the Holy Ghost;
As it was in the beginning,
Is now, and ever shall be,
World without end.
In our area this type of service is not common, especially in a Baptist church. But true worship should reflect the gospel interaction between God and His people, not a specific denomination. Each aspect should highlight the relationship between the believer with God and each other.
Not every church service must look and sound like this. But the components...the call to worship, the call to confess our sin, the consecration of God's people though His Word, the communion with Christ at His table and with each other, and the commissioning of His people to go and declare His authority as LORD and King to all the earth...these are the foundations of worship that is rightly focused.
May you look for, and find them, in your church as you worship.