Pastors, the Church is not our Personal Platform

By Karl Vaters

The church does not exist to give us an audience for our ideas, projects or egos. It exists to fulfill Christ’s purposes.

The church belongs to Jesus.

It is not owned by its denomination, its donors, its members, its staff or its lead pastor.

Jesus said he would build his church – and he’s not about to give up that ownership to us or our ideas.

As a pastor, this is a lesson I need to remind myself of regularly, so I thought I’d share that reminder with you as well.

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Why The Church Exists

The church does not exist to give us an audience for our ideas, projects or egos. It exists to fulfill Christ’s purposes. Our role is to equip the church members to enact those purposes, both inside and outside the church walls.

The church exists to make Jesus known, not to make pastors famous.

Yet we keep making the same mistakes over and over again. We (try to) take control because without our strong hand on the wheel (we think) the church will fall to pieces. The budget won’t be met. The membership won’t grow. The ten year vision won’t be realized.

The Pastor’s Role

This happens in churches of every size and type. From the charismatic founding pastor of the high-energy, non-denominational megachurch, to the long-term, patriarchal pastor of the traditional, centuries-old congregation.

We have big ideas. Grand projects. Exciting opportunities. And it’s tempting to use the resources at our disposal – namely the people, building and finances of the church we pastor – to bring those about.

But it’s not our job to get a group of people to agree with us and carry out our vision. No matter how good that vision might be.

As a pastor, it’s our calling to help the church body (re)discover God’s purposes together, then participate in them as the Holy Spirit leads us all.

If we want to build a platform, a project or a ministry based on our ideas, we need to start a parachurch ministry – or a for-profit business. Not use a church body to carry them out for us.

The Pastor’s Focus

The focus should never be on the pastor, but on Jesus.

  • • Not on the preaching, but the equipping.
  • • Not on the presentation, but the discipling.
  • • Not on the music, but the worship.
  • • Not on the building, but the gathering.
  • • Not on the platform, but the people.
  • • Not on the packed (or vacant) seats, but on the empty cross.

Always and only.

This article was originally published at: Christianity Today

Gifts from Worshipping in a Multiethnic Urban Church – Part 2 of 2

*This is part two of the article published in the previous post.

Most churches I’ve been to are designed for someone just like me.

As much as I enjoy the Caribbean flavor of our worship, it is a constant reminder that our service and programs are not designed to reach me—they are designed to speak the heart language and meet the needs of other people in our community.

That’s how it should be, of course. But it strikes me that for all of my life I’ve been part of churches that were actively accommodating to people just like me—people my age and my race and my socioeconomic status. And I never thought of our worship and programs as “how we do church.” I thought of those things as “how people ought to do church.”

The implications of this lesson don’t stop with my past church experience. It’s become clearer to me in recent months that the vast majority of ministry resources, even Christian resources more broadly, are produced with “me” in mind. I’ve enjoyed a privileged status for a long time and never really realized it. I feel it as soon as something isn’t tailored to my tastes.

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The gift that comes from worshipping in a service that isn’t designed for me is that it reveals the depth of my consumeristic relationship with church. This is not a fun lesson, but it’s an important one.

Diversity doesn’t just “happen.”

We thought moving to one of the most diverse cities in America would mean that we would find comfortable diversity everywhere. Boy were we mistaken. The longer I live in New York City the more striking it is to me how segregated the city is. Neighborhoods and even blocks divide along ethnic designations. Schools can be monocultural even in diverse neighborhoods. It’s harder than I realized to find churches in the city that are committed to radical diversity.

All our social and civic systems work against ethnic and socioeconomic integration. It’s possible I knew that intellectually before now. But living where we live and worshipping where we worship has driven the point home: diversity doesn’t just “happen.” It takes deliberate and uncomfortable intentionality. It takes a group of people who are happy to hear all the church announcements twice—once in English and then again in Spanish—happy to sing all the songs in two languages. It takes a group of people who are willing to sacrifice their preferences so someone who sits near them can hear God speak to them the way they need to hear him.

I suppose the real gift of worshipping in a diverse urban church has been the tangible hospitality. While our service is not designed to appeal to my tastes, I am frequently moved by how accommodating people are to make sure my family feels welcome. We have been the recipients of great grace and kindness. That grace and kindness has made this vast new city feel small and familiar.

This article was originally published at: City to City.

Gifts from Worshipping in a Multiethnic Urban Church – Part 1 of 2

By Brandon O’Brien

When we moved from Arkansas to New York City, we settled in Washington Heights in Upper Manhattan. Our decision to live in Washington Heights was determined primarily by economics. I just could not imagine paying so much rent for so little space somewhere like the Upper West Side.

So, completely naively, we moved into the Heights and immediately became ethnic minorities.

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In addition to being white in a predominately Dominican neighborhood, my wife and I also have two adopted children. Both of them are ethnically different from us and from each other. We are quite a sight. And we’ve received our fair share of stares in the last several months—not just in the Heights. But the one place we feel totally normal is at church.

We worship in a new church called Christian Community Church of the Heights. Our service is bilingual—with music and announcements in both Spanish and English and a sermon delivered in English and translated live for Spanish speakers. The congregation is majority Latino but very diverse. In fact, the congregation reflects the ethnic diversity of the neighborhood (60-something percent Latino and 40 percent “other”). There are as many or more trans-racial couples as same-race couples.

Being surrounded by diverse families is a gift in itself, for a family like ours. We’ve received several other gifts by worshipping in a multiethnic urban church. Here are a few, presented as lessons learned. I’ve learned, for example:

Hips can be used in worship.

I’ve raised my hands in worship. I’ve bent my knees in worship. Doggone it, I’ve even clapped and swayed. But never before have my hips been tempted to involve themselves in worship. And it shows: they are very bad at it.

There’s a serious point in here somewhere. Style of worship is more than a matter of taste. Different musical forms open different possibilities, even theological possibilities. For example, I’ve sung the song “Blessed Be Your Name” in many churches in the last fifteen years. In all of them, the tone of that song has varied from reflective, even repentant, to triumphant. But when I sing it over a Caribbean bass line and rhythm section, a new possibility opens up. The song becomes positively celebratory.

In this case, musical style is a reflection of deep values and cultural personality. Our Dominican brothers and sisters know how to party, and they know how to bring that party to church. I never thought I could sing, “You give and take away” with a smile on my face. The fact that I can do it now is a gift from my diverse congregation.

*This article will continue in the next post.

Contempt

By Ken Childress

1 Chronicles 15:29 (NLT) – “But as the Ark of the Lord’s Covenant entered the City of David, Michal, the daughter of Saul, looked down from her window. When she saw King David skipping about and laughing with Joy, she was filled with contempt for him.”

Finding a place of worship is a wonderful experience. Sometimes a place of worship is found under an old tree near a stream or lake. Sometimes in the middle of a noisy work place. Sometimes in a church service. I often find a place of worship and solitude under massive oak trees in a cemetery not far from my growing place in Northwest Indiana. It is a very quiet place and sometimes it seems you can almost hear the voice of God speak to you through the trees.

On this particular scripture, David was in a celebration mood. He had gathered together nearly everyone, including generals, priests, singers, high ranking officials, and common folk – all came together to celebrate the placing of the Ark of God. It was a huge celebration – singing, dancing, trumpets, harps, shouting and more. The noise must have been an awesome thing to hear. David was getting into it as the celebration came closer to the Temple and the tent where the Ark would be placed. Suddenly, Michal, Saul’s daughter, sees David dancing in the street. The word says her heart filled with contempt. I could think of reasons why, but that really is not the point I wish to make this time.

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The point today is this, God’s people were celebrating and she withdrew into a heart of contempt. For whatever reason she missed out on two things. One, she missed out on a wonderful celebration of worship to God. She missed out on a passion and the awesomeness of this wonderful day. She missed out on a visitation of God’s Spirit on His people. What a terrible thing to miss – all because she had contempt for David. Second, she was probably not silent about her contempt – contemptuous people rarely keep these things to themselves. Amen! In sharing any of her contempt with anyone, she rained on the worship celebration parade and poisoned the minds of any with whom she talked.

Not a pretty picture and yet one often repeated in modern day history. I can think of many times we rain on someone’s parade of worship celebration simply because we think they are just a little over the edge with enthusiasm. Or maybe they are just a little too loud in their singing and celebration mood. Or maybe they are singing songs we don’t enjoy. Or they are dancing and we don’t dance. Or maybe – we are jealous because we have not had a visitation of God’s Spirit for a long time personally.

I hope we are not like Michal. It would be well to watch in awe as God brings His Spirit down on an event or a person and rather than be contemptuous of that moment, join in the celebration. How may visitations do we miss because of a spirit of contempt?

 

 

Our Great, Great God

By Scott Armstrong

“Sing joyfully to the Lord, you righteous; it is fitting for the upright to praise him. Praise the Lord with the harp; make music to him on the ten-stringed lyre. Sing to him a new song; play skillfully, and shout for joy” (Ps. 33:1-3).

(Read Psalm 33:1-12)

Let’s experience these words of worship together for a few minutes…

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As we start this psalm, we are instructed to make music to God, sing to Him, play instruments, shout for joy, and use every possible form of music to praise our Lord (vv.1-3)!  Why? Let’s count the reasons. We worship Him because this is the God:

Who is Right and True (v.4). He is always fair in his decisions.

Who is Faithful (v.4).  He keeps His promises and can always be trusted.

Who Loves Righteousness and Justice (v.5).  He does what is right and correct and delights when others do the same.

Who’s Love Never Fails (v.6). His love will never run out; he loves every person, every moment, in every situation they are in.

Who is Creator (vv.6, 7, 9). Out of nothing He dreamed the world and spoke it into existence. Out of nothing He created a masterpiece such as you.

Who is AWESOME (v.8). His greatness deserves our praise. In light of His               astonishing grace, the whole world will fall on their knees and worship Him.

Who is in Control (v.10). The nations and rulers and kings of this world are not in charge; He always has the last word.

Who is Constant (v.11). Through the ages of time His promises will never change and His will shall be eternally accomplished.

In the light of these reasons, we can see why the writer sings, “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord, the people he chose for his inheritance” (v.12).

How will you praise such an incredible God today?

A Mighty Fortress

By Dr. Clark Armstrong

One of the great byproducts of the Reformation was that the people started singing. The chants of the monastic era, which had been almost entirely in Latin, were the only music of the church. But suddenly the common people came alive like the early church singing hymns, psalms and spiritual songs (Col. 3:16) in their own languages. It greatly changed the worship of the Protestants and the people have never stopped singing!

Martin Luther wrote many hymns for the church to sing. But we would do well to think about the words of his most famous hymn. It is called “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” taken from Psalm 46. It has motivated soldiers going into battles. It has empowered many Christians who felt themselves to be experiencing great spiritual warfare as well. It always seemed to encourage the believers in the church that I came into as a Christian.

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You cannot leave any verse out of this hymn because it is a classic account of the struggle between good and evil, light and darkness, even God and the devil. It builds up with dramatic overtones until its grand conclusion. One of my favorite lines is a simple one. Speaking of that dastardly devil, it says “One little word will fell him.” One day in church as we were singing it, I realized what that little word was. See if you can figure it out.

A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing;

Our helper He, amid the flood of mortal ills prevailing:

For still our ancient foe doth seek to work us woe;

His craft and pow’r are great, and, armed with cruel hate,

On earth is not his equal.

Did we in our own strength confide, our striving would be losing,

Were not the right Man on our side, the Man of God’s own choosing:

Dost ask who that may be? Christ Jesus, it is He;

Lord Sabaoth, His Name, from age to age the same,

And He must win the battle.

And though this world, with devils filled, should threaten to undo us,

We will not fear, for God hath willed His truth to triumph through us;

The Prince of Darkness grim, we tremble not for him;

His rage we can endure, for lo, his doom is sure,

One little word shall fell him.

That word above all earthly pow’rs, no thanks to them, abideth;

The Spirit and the gifts are ours through Him Who with us sideth;

Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also;

The body they may kill: God’s truth abideth still,

His kingdom is forever.

ClarkA1.jpg*Dr. Clark Armstrong is a Missionary Professor at Asia-Pacific Nazarene Theological Seminary in Manila, Philippines where he has served with his wife Connie since September 2013. Previously he served as a pastor for 32 years in the United States.