By Rev. Dale Cockrum | Inland District Superintendent
In August 2014, I met with the 15 pastors who had been newly placed in churches in the Inland District. It was an opportunity to reflect on my own practice of ministry and what I most expect of district pastors as they start their ministry in a new setting. Here is my sixth basic conviction about ministry…
6. I believe the most important hour of our ministry each week happens on Sunday worship.
I know there are people, in the church and out, who have written off worship as a meaningful experience of faith or at least as a potential way of reaching new people. It is true that more people than a generation ago are led to make a faith commitment because they first got involved in a small group or Bible study, or because they participated in a mission trip or community ministry alongside church folk.
But Sunday worship still is the first experience of your church for the majority of visitors, and the reasons they come, while varied, often include a deep need to meet the Transforming God, perhaps to express their gratitude, or to seek help for a crisis in their lives. And worship remains the center of our life as communities of faith; it establishes and expresses our identity. It sets us apart from other community service groups or clubs. It is time to renew our strength, remember who we are as followers of Christ, and recommit our lives to His service.
I mentioned Bishop Schnase’s excellent look at practices that create fruitful congregations, and I want to lift up here the practice of passionate worship. A couple years ago, a group of conference pastors met with Brian McLaren, an emergent church leader who has been working with church leaders to revitalize the church for a new era. Someone asked him what one thing we should focus on to improve our ministry. His response was to make the first 15 minutes of our worship services way better–to make them the most engaging, the most authentic, and the highest quality experience we can.
He talked of attending services, not only in mainline churches but in independent ones as well, large and small, traditional and contemporary, and of how often after the first 15 minutes, he wondered why he had come. And frankly, that’s been my experience in some of the services I’ve attended as a superintendent; churches and pastors could do more with that first 15 minutes to engage people and lead us into the presence of the transforming God, but they don’t.
Instead, the music, of whatever style, is badly presented and someone, often the pastor, reads every announcement right out of the bulletin. People stand and greet, at length, each of their friends and ignore the visitors they don’t know, and they share prayer concerns in excruciating detail (worship is no time for an “organ” concert–“this organ hurts” and “that organ needs surgery”).
I expect that you will lead engaging, life-transforming worship, better than anyone ever has before in your church. I want you to be shockingly good as a worship leader, and whatever classes you have to take, whatever continuing education you need, I’ll support it!
By the way, someone went on to ask McLaren what we should do after we get the first 15 minutes of worship right. He said, “Work on the next 15 minutes!”