Thank you to the Presbyterian Record for publishing this version of my 12 Things I learned blog series.
12. I learned that…God is a generative, creative, grace-centered God.
You learn something about God when you try something new. The Psalm writers sing new songs. Isaiah, hopes for ‘a new thing’. Jesus describes a ministry around new wineskins. John sees a new heaven and a new earth. God is a generative, creative God.
And I’ve learned that in risking something new or creative, God’s grace comes to the fore.
Maybe it’s because we need grace so badly when we have no idea what we’re doing. Maybe it’s because when you see small signs of growth, you know they’re only by some miracle. Maybe it’s because when you see a community formed and growing, you glimpse something beautiful.
Grace gives this.
Who knows how long it might last. Churches, services, congregations, denominations, pastors, leaders, new energies have come and have gone since the beginning of the Christian movement. Everything is changing, all the time. So what then?
I want to enjoy the grace of the generative, creative, loving God. Every time I see it. And so far, nearly 10 years as a pastor, I have.
What a gift! Thanks to everyone I’ve met on the journey so far!
11. I learned that…It’s not rocket science.
Starting another service isn’t rocket science. It’s work, commitment, creativity, empowering others, and prayer. Chances are there are people in your congregation right now who would love to help get one started, or support it when it is.
And it’s not rocket science on how to connect with people. We know. They’re our neighbourhood.
If our neighbourhood is Seniors, then start a Senior friendly ministry – or find a way to include them in worship. I know shut-in 92 year olds with iPads. WebCast ’em Communion. If our neighbourhood is young families. Think soccer practice, day camps, registrations, crazy schedules and busy parents. Something that might fit them.
Whatever it takes to offer God’s Kingdom. Whatever it takes to invite people to the table. And whatever it is, it can be different to what you’re doing now, and it can be something that will connect to all God’s children around us.
10. I learned that…You need to have enough staff.
I’ve learned that church people are smart. People saw the need for more staff, if we were going to serve more people.
We raised enough money for a full-time children and youth Director, and thank God we did. It was smart. As more children and families have become a part of the church, we have someone there just for them.
To connect, encourage and invite.
And they’re amazing.
I think that without that extra staff person, it would be frustrating for new families and church leaders. Making those connections. Getting plugged. Finding ways to serve and grow. I don’t think they would stay and become as engaged as they do without that support and specialized ministry.
Have enough staff. Don’t start something new without ‘em!
9. I learned that…You need to have enough space.
The church were I worship isn’t one of those big city churches with sprawling, cavernous basements, a huge sanctuary and off the charts heating bills. And this is a good thing. But one thing I’ve learned is that another service (and more staff) means more space.
Didn’t see that coming.
And space, how we share and use, has been a stressor.
When you go and add 50 more adults and 40 more children, you are going to need to talk about space. No one really expected, I think, what would come of another service, and so we never really discussed it.
But we do now. There was one stretch where it came up at pretty much every meeting!
Now we know that it’s hard to have Communion at both services at the same time because the kitchen is cramped with Communion cups and coffee filters.
Now we know that it’s hard to keep separate classes for all the kids because adult education also needs to happen somewhere.
Now we know that it’s important to maintain a Nursery – we have babies!
Now we know we need a Space Committee (one of our most popular – enrolment is out of this world), and do.
Note for next time: talk space!
8. I learned that…It’s easy to feel guilty.
Sounds strange, but sometimes, as a pastor, you can feel guilt around your church starting another worship service.
Has my energy and time been taken away from those in the founding service? Has another service displaced or upset those who have been at the church a long time? Has the change in the shape of my week (very little home visiting now, a lot of coaching leaders, Sunday prep), been accepted by everyone at the church?
The change in schedule and time is a big one.
Adding another service is more than another 60 minutes a week! It’s wonderful, and it’s everything that goes with having the founding service: pastoral connections, leadership development, crisis visiting, links and planning between both services. In that sense it’s almost a church within a church for the pastor, I’ve found.
And I’ve learned that not being sure that everyone is OK with that and understands it, causes me some dis-ease, like I’ve let some people down.
Gladly, we have a God that we can all trust from the bottom of our hearts!
7. I learned that….When you start another worship service it’s easy to try new things
Maybe you remember being in meetings – long meetings – about whether or not to have a hymn after the sermon, or whether or not to share the Peace of Christ, or whether or not to change the way the candles are handed out Christmas Eve.
One thing about starting a new service is that everything is new, so you can easily try new things! Basically anything, anytime you want!
For example, at the service we started we offer Communion by intinction. The theology of journeying with Christ is well reflected in standing up and walking with others to the front of the church and back to get your bread and wine. It’s also great to use our feet in worship!
During the Great Prayer of Thanksgiving, there was a month or two when I actually invited people to make with their arms the sign of the section of the prayer we were on. For Creator – arms over your head in an earth circle. For Saviour, a cross. For Spirit, something else. Tried it. And as is our greatest, most trusted litmus test in the Church – no one complained!
I invite people to bring their coffee into the service. Great.
We add or take out a song mid-service. Great.
I use a new Statement of Faith most weeks. (Always looking. Please send!) Great.
A bi-lingual French/English opening prayer and Psalm. Perfect.
When everyone is new, there’s no set way you’re disrupting or offending. The flip side is that it can take longer to build in traditions that ground us. Either way, starting another service can bring huge freedom in worship expression. And being able to try new things anytime is, well, basically amazing.
6. I learned that…A lot of people connect with Jesus Christ through the personal
Presbyterians in the past have prided themselves on the cerebral. I am a child of this heritage in the sense that I studied for 10 years, Ph.D. included, before being ordained. Our worship tends to rely on thinking, and for very good reasons (Google the etymology of hokus pocus!).
One of the things we tried almost from the beginning of the service we started was once a month to have someone stand up and talk about God in their life.
I learned that as a pastor I could talk until I was blue in the face about how much Jesus loves you, but when someone else stands up and shares personally from their life, about where God has been, how they have experienced suffering and healing, mercy and grace, the listening in the room goes to a whole new level. And rightly so.
Over the years, the stories I’ve heard from people now in the congregation continue to astound me. People from Europe, Africa, Asia, the U.S., Canada, the Maritimes, out West, Montreal, all over, have shared. A living testimony. It puts exegesis and careful sermon writing in a whole new light.
You want to see the resurrection? Ask some people to stand up and talk about the risen Christ’s presence with them in their lives. Wow.
5. I learned that…Like any change at your church, not everyone will adopt it.
I don’t think anyone has left our church because we started another service. But like any change, I’ve learned that not everyone accepts it when a church becomes one congregation, with two worship services.
Like the newcomer who once explained to a pastor how someone apologized to them for the ‘other people’ (eyes rolling) who were coming and jamming up the church parking Sunday mornings!
Any transition in a church can be tricky.
But by God’s grace, and a credit to the founding service, 99% who were there when the other service started see themselves, I think and hope, as positive, faith-filled, pioneers.
For the first two years of the service, a husband and wife who had been part of the founding service in the 1960’s and were now in their late 80’s, would be there every Sunday afternoon at 4:30 p.m. and sit in the pew. And no matter how bumpy the service, or limited the attendance, or bad the weather, they could come and say ‘great service, I think this is wonderful.’
Risking change, though most but not everyone will embrace it, is part of the church.
In our case no one, me the pastor included, knew where it would lead. But it has been a wonderful journey of change and transition with God. And it’s never been boring!
4. I learned that…It’s easy lose track why you start another service
Before we started another service at our church, we had speakers and congregational planning nights to discuss the whole topic of where God was calling us and what God’s future might be for our church.
One speaker challenged us by saying – ‘ok, why do you want to start another service’. It was easy, he reminded, for the mindset to flip from ‘we want to start another service to be a blessing to the community and invite others in’, to ‘we want to start another service to fill our pews’.
The flip, which is so easy to make, is from doing something to fulfill our needs instead of doing it with other people’s needs in mind.
Even today, 5 years after starting the service, which has had a top attendance of 82 children and adults, with tonnes of new households now part of the church, I still hear comments along the lines of, ‘I’m glad we started that service – where would we be without it’!
Well, it doesn’t matter. We started it as a mission, as a blessing, as a way to welcome people into community and God’s kingdom. It wasn’t ever for us.
Strangely though, in a God-way, the whole thing has actually flipped around. And not by our doing or thinking. We started it to be a blessing to families in the region, but now that’s it’s going, it’s a blessing back to us and has become the church itself.