September 2012

As a full time paid solo pastor I have to say how important this book is. Not primarily because I’m keen on their ideas, though I am. More to the point, I have a vested interest in a mono-voiced system! All my training and skills, my passion for preaching, my desires to not ruffle feathers all point me toward mono-voiced church. For nearly ½ my life I’ve gotten my identity from this system, feeding on the competence I’ve gained and your treatment of me as a mono-voiced expert. Do I really want to give that up? Indeed, their book requires not just a new skill set for pastors, but a new humility, transparency, and spirituality as well. More than anything though, it demands I believe in and trust my people as much as these authors do.

iCare “First we were loved, now we love.” 1 John 4:19

I’ll admit I was a little anxious about our worship on Sunday. Not about our theme. I love the iCare theme our Worship and Community Life Teams have jointly crafted for us. And not about my Sermon, which, having read 7 books for this series and having over a dozen conversations with members about, fell into place very naturally and with much enthusiasm.

So what was I anxious about? I was anxious about you, and your role in worship. After months of talking in council, at Worship team meetings, Discipleship team meetings, at Community Life team meetings, and staff meetings we were ready to try something new! It was time to live into our stated value of Community and nurture one another face to face. And embrace our value of Discipleship and take responsibility for our own faith rather than what one person says. And embrace a more biblical vision of worship that is multi-voiced, rather than mono-voiced. So we formed small groups of 4 people in worship to dialogue with each other about God Ha! This has never been done! Of course I should be nervous! And perhaps you were too.

But check out this amazing list of images of our caring God that came out of our time, a list so much more rich and filled with wisdom than any list I could have EVER come up with on my own. Here’s just a sampling:

Mothering Spirit, He sings with me in all situations, Loving Father, Protector, Guide, Leader, conscience, God as my biggest fan and comforter, A wide shade tree, A large tree giving shade and providing food, A safe house.

How rich is that! Our teachers and experts in learning will tell you that it is a very different thing to “learn” by having someone tell you what to think than it is to “learn” by owning your own thoughts. In other words, you – the collective you of the 50 folks in our sanctuary – are smarter and more equipped to draw you closer to God than I am. That’s how we’re wired: we’re wired to learn in and with community.

So why oh why should we be anxious about a better plan that can empower you to connect more deeply with God than anything one person could conjure on their own? Perhaps we don’t need to be anxious. Let’s dig deeper.

Here’s two more lists for you, and I want you to choose which list you feel better about.

List A).            Passive, utterly dependent, no initiative, disempowered, non-participatory, declining, safe, familiar, what we’ve always done, passive consumers, Christendom church, dependency rather than maturity, individualism over mutuality, silence of everyone but the pastor, God able to speak through one, monologue.

List B).            Empowered, dignity, respect, gifted, responsibility, liberating, dynamic, energizing, healthy, active participation, engaged disciples, entire community is gifted, God able to speak through all,  Biblical, participation rather than performance, dialogue.

Which list do you feel better about, list A or B? There’s no wrong answer here, it’s genuinely better to say what is so for you. Now, which list do you think better reflects our God and what he desires for us? Both lists come out of Stuart Murray’s (author of The Naked Anabaptist) new book. List A is comprised of words that describe the way most of us in Christendom do church today and always have: mono-voiced. It’s the mental model we all think of when we think of “worship.” His book, The Power of All: Building a Multi-voiced Church begins on page one by stating clearly, “Churches have structured for passivity.” The mental model of “worship” is we sit, we listen, we hope those up front will help us create a private space where we connect with God, but we offer next to nothing, do nothing to build up the body off Christ, and function as passive consumers. Murray clearly states that this mental model (list A), as comfortable and familiar as it is to us, is not in any way based on Scripture, but on the traditions of Christendom.

List B, which is what we experienced on Sunday, describes a mental model Murray calls Multi-voiced worship, where everyone is treated as the gifted and wise image-bearing disciples that they are. And yes, its new! It’s also Biblical, and Anabaptist, and according to Murray, “a healthier form of church.” He says, “We believe multivoiced church equips the Christian community for mission, stimulates personal growth, encourages responsible discipleship, protects the community from many ills, and allows God’s Spirit freedom to accomplish so much more in and through the church.” It operates out of the narrative that “the whole community is gifted, called, empowered, and expected to be involved in all aspects of church life.”

So true! We have everything we need. And I mean everything. We have all the gifts, all the wisdom, all the creativity, all the passion we need as a congregation sitting in our sanctuary each and every Sunday. And it is not because you pay a pastor. It’s because you choose to show up, and function like the body of Christ in Houston.

This does not make me anxious. This makes me want to dance and sing and celebrate and share with anyone who will hear how deeply faithful, loving and wise our congregation is!

With that in mind, for this worship series we want to stay true to the format and feel you experienced Sunday: quiet times of solitude and writing, coffee, small group dialogue, and praying in small groups. Why are we doing this? This is a great question because, as I mentioned Sunday, we are largely a congregation of introverts. (note, we’re not doing this in the large group, we’re doing it in tiny groups)

We’re inviting you into deeper dialogue with one another because it builds friendship, respects everyone as having something to bring/teach, embraces different learning styles, is a more effective form of discipleship, provides  ownership, we can care for people better when we know them, everyone has something to say, we are all part of the community, if you don’t share you don’t get cared for, if you are not a little uncomfortable you can’t grow, we value community, transparency is the pathway to transformation.

You might not feel perfectly comfortable with this exercise, but please remember there are others in our midst who are deeply longing for this and may be finding it meaningful. We’re flexible and invite you to be as well as we test drive this for the next month. Find ways to engage that are non-anxious for you. If that means sticking with your close friends, please do so. But also push yourself to engage deeply, which might mean keeping a particular eye out for guests and welcoming them in to your groups.

So I might have been anxious going in to worship. But I was deeply energized while I was there. So join us Sunday as we explore what it means to care for our families. We’ll be praying over your prayer requests from Sep 9 at 8:45AM at church, and studying the excellent book The search to Belong: Rethinking Intimacy, Community, and Small Groups at 9:30. Please consider joining us!

Above all, “Do not be anxious about anything; but in everything by prayer and petition present your requests to the Lord, and the God of peace, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus (Phil 4:6-7).” For it is to this God that we give ourselves to in worship and in work.