I’ve been hearing some of my fellow parishioners say lately that they just aren’t having their worship needs met. Others are refusing to say anything, but I can tell from their hangdog expressions in the narthex following worship that something is amiss. Could it be that they aren’t happy with recent changes that have taken place? I’ll try to explain…
The United Methodist Church employs a concept called itineracy in making pastoral appointments. This means that, to serve as an ordained minister in the church, one must agree to serve where one’s bishop decides. In theory, appointments are made according to the greater need of one’s jurisdiction. And needs change as demographics change.
Recently, our little church in a suburban city of the greater Dallas/Ft. Worth metroplex, lost our pastor of four years to a “greater” need elsewhere in the jurisdiction. For weeks after the move was announced but before his last sermon, there was great sadness, even anger among us. We had grown to love him, his wife, and their two adopted, mixed-race children. He was a gifted preacher, an excellent administrator, and an inspired, tireless, leader. He did all he knew how to do… all that God gave him to do. However, our new pastor, I judge, owing to demographic changes in our community over recent years, is more “ethnically appropriate” for our church. She’s black.
Our little church had long prided itself for being, in the Methodist tradition, an open and accepting congregation, but even more so than most; we intentionally promoted diversity and celebrated a multi-ethnic identity. Unfortunately, it isn’t everyone that can comfortably wear this identity. Founding members were leaving as the church became more diverse. People were not pledging or honoring pledges once made. The same tired ten percent were doing eighty percent of the work. In short, the church was slowly dying. The pastor and lay leadership tried everything. We even hired an expensive, well-known church consultant to come evaluate things and to advise us on what we needed to do to turn things around. He had some good ideas. But the bishop, it seems, had a better one. And, after just two Sundays with our new pastor, it’s already apparent to many of us that the majority is quickly becoming the minority. Things have indeed turned around, but in a way and so rapidly that few of us anticipated.
Despite our new pastor’s pledge to honor who we are as a multi-ethnic church and to not make changes too rapidly, change is of what what we are all most aware. Things now are less contemporary, more traditional in a way, but also more charismatic. Some, I fear, are already beginning to look elsewhere to have their needs met. It’s called “white flight,” folks. But, I ask you, is having our needs met what worship is all about? I think not.
Although I have surely enjoyed worship on many occasions, the purpose of worship is not for our entertainment, or even for our enjoyment. Its purpose is to glorify, honor, praise, exalt, and please God in return for His having given us His Son, our salvation.
The following has been liberally borrowed from the On-line Interactive Church (http://www.bible.ca/interactive/worship-1-purpose.htm).
“The nature of the worship God demands is the prostration of our souls before Him in humble and contrite submission. James 4:6, 10 tells us, ‘God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble. Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up’ (Interactive Church).”
Our worship of God should, therefore, be a very humble and reverent action. “Jesus says in John 4:23-24, ‘But the hour is coming, and now is, when true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth, for the Father is seeking such to worship Him.’ God is a spirit and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth. It doesn’t say that we can worship God anyway we want, but we must worship Him in spirit and in truth (Interactive Church).”
In her sermon today, our new pastor told us that God did not call her out of her comfort zone, a place where she had few administrative responsibilities, to fail in this new charge where she feels the weight of many great responsibilities. Previously, she called upon us, all of us, to pull together to make manifest God’s Will for our church to to be a true place of reconciliation in a diversified community. But we can’t do this, folks, not if we can’t get over our own comfort level issues. We can’t do this if we’re more worried about having our needs met than we are worried about seeing others’ needs met. So, if a more ethnically-rich worship service is what is needed to pull our African American brothers and sisters out of their homes Sunday mornings, I say, “Bring it on.” If a more ethnically-rich worship service will help to transform seekers into committed, involved disciples who are willing to share in leadership and contribute to the many missions and ministries of the church, then I say, “Bring it on.” Making disciples for Jesus Christ IS our mission. Let’s get on with it.
I will be humble and reverent. I will worship Him in spirit and in truth, and I will honor my pledge to continue supporting our Freedom to Follow capital campaign, at least until others are in place to take up the slack. If you’re part of my congregation and you’re not exactly comfortable with the changes taking place, I humbly challenge you, in the spirit of Christian brotherhood, to do likewise.
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