An updated post from something originally appearing in March, 2009…
Lately, I’ve had a lot of time to think about what it means to expect God’s presence in all that we do “at church.” I’ve heard people talk about being at a fairly typical church meeting thing, and “then God showed up.” This may assume that he wasn’t “showing up” at previous meetings, or it may mean that he was there all along but an awareness of his presence finally broke in on the assembly.
When leading worship, I have often — though not every time — begun by following the traditional concept of invocation; inviting God’s presence into our time together. Or at least, sort of. I take it as a given that God is already among us, especially on Sunday morning. He never misses our church service, right?
So I’ll begin with something like,
“Lord, we don’t presume to invite your presence because after all, you said you would never leave us nor forsake us. Furthermore, we sometimes say that this building is your house, a place set apart for your worship, so we know if you’re omnipresent, you’re everywhere, then certainly of all places you are here. No, instead, we ask you to help us have an awareness of your presence, an awareness of a presence that already exists, but we’re too distracted to realize. Open our hearts. Meet with us today in a special way. Amen.”
The fact of the matter is however, that some things the church — as opposed to The Church — does are purely perfunctory. And I think a church business meeting, or a church clean-up day are good examples of that. Unless of course, you are committed from the beginning that this business meeting is open to the possibility of God breaking in and doing something greater.
Basically, the question I want to ask is, “What if we spiritualized church?” Yeah, seriously. What if we decided there were no task-only, business-only events, but lived out each time we gathered together as moments full of eternal possibilities? What if…
- What if every item run through the church photocopier had to have a ministry value, even if it was just a verse tacked on at the end?
- What if every church spring cleaning day was seen as a teachable moment, the way Jesus taught as he walked along the road with his disciples?
- What if every mail-out and every church newspaper advertisement kept its seeker appeal, but still contained the DNA of the gospel?
- What if every church business meeting was more like a town hall forum where old men (and women) could prophesy and young men (and women) dream dreams?
- What if every time there were announcements, they were viewed not as commercials, but as opportunities for greater fellowship, greater teaching, greater service?
- What if every time there was a collection or offering, it was truly viewed as an act of worship?
- What if your tax receipt for those donations was accompanied by a note of thanksgiving, or a teaching on how God delights and will reward our cheerful giving? (Update: Saw this done recently, and it was awesome!)
- What if every pot-luck lunch was actually more like the upper-room meal Jesus shared with his disciples?
- What if every salesman, tradesman, public sector worker, etc., who came in the front door of your church was told, “It’s no accident that you came in just now…” and then heard a piece of the particular good news that he/she needed that day?
- What are the “What ifs” that your heart longs for?
That’s what I mean by “spiritualizing Church.” Yes, God is there with us all along, but we need to leave him a place to break into our program.
Quick example. Before we got married, I was a performing Christian solo artist in southern Ontario. I worked alone. One time, a friend of mine who was a professional, recording-studio quality jazz bass player offered to do a concert engagement with me for free at a local church. To maximize his talents and contribution, we rehearsed the songs with some instrumental ‘bridges’ in them so he could do a few improvised bass solos.
But when we actually got out before the audience, I got distracted and started playing the songs the way I normally do, moving quickly from verse to chorus to verse. At the end of the first set, I realized this and told him, and his reply was, “I was trying to find an opening, but I couldn’t find a place to jump in.”
I think that’s how the Holy Spirit would say it to us today. I was there, but you didn’t leave me any room in the program. (See this post, Blocking Peoples’ View from exactly three years ago, for another way of describing this.)
Nobody is saying that God isn’t with us. But we need to see the spiritual possibilities each time we get together, even if it’s just to rake the leaves on the church lawn or clean the church kitchen. And just think, if we were really focused on doing this, we could actually invite our neighbors to “help out” in our church clean-up day, and they might actually see Christ in the most seeker friendly of all possible environments.
It would also revolutionize the way we do things outside of church. We would be spiritualizing or God-focusing our entire lives. Nah. That’s way too radical.
…After committing to write this piece a few days ago, I came across this today from Kaybee, a regular visitor here, on her blog Important to Me. She looks at the way we approach our local church as a sign of what our expectations are. Do we expect that God is really waiting to meet with us?