It is two weeks later, and I am still soaking in the afterglow of our January 30 Celebrating Together worship service. So many of you who participated in that service have shared your own feelings of the rich and meaningful time we shared together as we worshipped the Lord. Unity emerged as a priority when we did our Future, Forward, Faith visioning process. This worship service was the first time that we implemented one of our Future, Forward, Faith priorities in the area of congregational unity. For it to have had the impact that it did on so many of us is a cause for celebration in and of itself.
As we continue to live out our Future, Forward, Faith priorities, we will have other occasions to be together in worship. Already I have a hard time imagining our next occasion for all-church worship being as powerful as our time together was on January 30. Yet, I believe that it can be if we anticipate it with the same spirit that was very evident as we prepared for Celebrating Together.
The togetherness and warmth that we felt that day did not happen because we decided to schedule a worship service for everyone at the same time in the same room. For us to expect a similar outcome in the future simply because we put such a service on the calendar would be an invitation to disappointment. Several important factors contributed to the success of our Celebrating Together service that we would do well to remember as we look forward to future times together.
First, the cross of Christ was lifted up, and the worship of God was the priority of the day. When we put God first, everything else has a way of taking care of itself. When our foremost concern in worship is to worship God, we will have the kind of worship experiences that we had together on the 30th. That day was a good day not because we made unity or togetherness a priority. It was a memorable day not because we worshipped in a particular style or sang certain songs. It was a good and memorable day because we made the worship of God our first priority.
Second, a good number of people spent time praying for this worship service. Nothing prepares our hearts for worship together like time spent alone with God in prayer. The sincere and heartfelt prayers of many people were answered as we were Celebrating Together.
Third, there was a feeling of trust and mutual respect as we gathered for worship. There was trust that our special worship experience was simply a special worship experience. It was not a proposal to do worship in a different way. It was not Phase One of a five-part plan to change the time or the style of our worship. The peace born of trust was evident that day. Close companion to that trust was respect. There was a mutual respect for each other and each other’s worship preferences. The service was not an effort in any way to convince anyone to worship differently. On the contrary, there was an acceptance of the fact that we all have different ideas and opinions about worship. The service was not meant to change any of those ideas or opinions. Rather it acknowledged them and respected them.
Trust and mutual respect are essential ingredients for unity. Without them, unity would have little or no chance. With them the possibilities are limitless. For us to have respect for one another’s worship preferences, and to be able to trust that a special service is not intended as a criticism or a correction of our personal preferences, is an indication of a spiritual maturity. A person’s ideas or opinions about how to worship are often deeply personal. To speak of them in disparaging terms is in some way similar to making a derogatory comment about someone’s ancestry. At the same time, when someone shares with us their thoughts and ideas about worship, we ought to always recognize that we are being entrusted with something of great personal value to them and to respond accordingly. The gifts we offered to God as we worshipped together at one time in the same place were offered in an atmosphere of trust, with an attitude of respect for God and one another that made for a sweet, sweet spirit.
A fourth factor that contributed significantly to the good worship that we experienced together on January 30, was a genuine desire on the part of all involved for every part of the service to be as good as it possibly could be. There was no part of the service that was hers or his, theirs or ours. Each element of the service was offered by us to God in worshipful praise, and received by the congregation in the same spirit.
Finally, there was much hard work done to prepare for our all-church worship service. The coordination of it all was no small task. Many people prayed, prepared, practiced, and rehearsed in order to get ready for the service. Their diligent efforts and the spirit in which they were offered made for a joyous day of experiencing the power and the presence of God together.
We ought never to take our walk together with God for granted. We experience God’s peace for us, and the unity of God’s Spirit among us, when we make God our first priority, when we prayerfully prepare ourselves for worship, when we cultivate trust and mutual respect, when we desire God’s best for one another, and when we use the gifts and abilities that God has given us to the best of our ability. One way to think of church is as a collection of relationships. Relationships that are important to us require us to be intentional in our care and nurture of them. Church is no different. As we relate together, serve together, and worship together in this faith community to which God has called us, an important responsibility we all share as growing and maturing followers of Christ, is to be as gentle with one another as God has been with each of us.