5. Social Concern/Mercy
A friend who is a pastor was sharing a conversation with someone visiting his church who asked where the church was headed and what the future would look like. His response, which I found interesting, was to look at what is happening and you will see his vision for the future. Who we want to be is what we’re doing right now. Our future is in some ways being fully expressed today or is latent, underneath the surface but in someway present. As we move forward with our efforts to begin Grace Pres. Worcester it is helpful to look at how the biblical purpose of the church can be fulfilled even as a church is beginning.
Worship, can be seen as the goal of beginning a new church. Funds are raised, people are gathered, vision is cast, logistics come together and finally there is a worship service. All through this process the foundations are being laid for worship and you finally arrive on that first Sunday.
I’d push back against this picture because in the bible there is the healthy tension between worship as an event and worship as a life long expression of faith. I think of Psalm 95 which speaks of God’s people gathering to praise him, which is what we might associate with a church service:
Oh come, let us sing to the LORD;
let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!
Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving;
let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise!
For the LORD is a great God,
and a great King above all gods.
In his hand are the depths of the earth;
the heights of the mountains are his also.
The sea is his, for he made it,
and his hands formed the dry land.
Oh come, let us worship and bow down;
let us kneel before the LORD, our Maker!
For he is our God,
and we are the people of his pasture,
and the sheep of his hand.
But then there is Romans 12 which describes worship as a daily activity,
I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
There is so much to “worship” and from the beginning of any effort to begin a church there must be worship. In both of these passages there is a recognition of God’s nature (creator, king, holy, powerful) and his mercy towards his people. Beginning a new church flows from a recognition of these attributes of God and is an expression of faith that he is merciful and committed to drawing his people to himself. Every single step of the process can be an occasion for worship.
Especially though, as a group comes together worship must happen. There must be a growing sense of the greatness and mercy of God which sustains through sacrifice and trial. Through studying God’s word together, learning about his mission, praying for the work of the Holy Spirit, sharing stories of his leading and provision the group should experience his grace together more and more. In planning, reaching out, giving financially, and making sacrifices of time, relationships, and emotional energy the group responds together in faith – worshipping God. We appropriately associate worship with singing but there are many expressions of faith that arise in the process of church planting which are worship and should be experienced as such.
On the other hand, there is the appropriate longing to worship together in a church service. Something unique happens as we hear God’s word, sing, pray, give, and participate in the sacraments together. I believe that the longing for this corporate worship grows as we experience more of his greatness and mercy together and increasingly give ourselves to his mission. When you transition from all the forms of worship that occur in the early stages to the worship service that is the fruit of much of these labors, is a question of wisdom tied to many factors. For us, it is quickly approaching and we look froward with excitement to our previous expressions of worship leading to further worship.