Monday, September 12

Legacy church services through simple church eyes

We've been back in the USA for 70 days now. During this time we have had the opportunity of visiting some wonderful Baptist churches here in Texas. Texas Baptists are some of God's most precious saints on the face of the earth! However, after years of being immersed in simple church values and practices, it has become a personal adjustment to re adapt to the way legacy churches operate with their services, programs, practices and structures.

Here are a few observations coming from an "outsider" of going to church as is commonly practiced here in America.

Sunday Morning Sermon. Instead of preaching 30-45 minutes and then everyone going home and promptly forgetting all/most of what has been so conscientiously prepared, why not share a reduced 15-20 minute message and spend the balance of time allowing interaction by the congregation? This personal interaction with the message would bear far more fruit than simply listening to a good message. Depending upon the size of the church and seating layout, this could be done in several different ways:

1) The pastor could end with a few key questions that get at the heart of what he was trying to share. As people begin to respond back to the pastor a dialog could ensue amongst all those present. The pastor could facilitate the discussion as several share their wisdom and understanding from their rich experience.

2) People could be encouraged to break up into small groups and share with one another what they sense God is saying to them through what has been shared through the Word.

3) Ask people to share how they intend on applying what they have learned from the Word. What specific actions is the Spirit of God impressing upon them in response to the message?

4) 10-15 minutes could be spent praying for one another and applying the message within individual situations.

It is strange that week after week so much effort goes into preparing good Biblical messages, only to be concluded with an invitation which usually has nothing to do with what has been preached. Is church primarily about the message preached by the pastor? What happened to the exhortation by the writer of Hebrews, And let us consider one another, to incitement of love and of good works, not forsaking the assembling together of ourselves, as is the custom of some, but exhorting, and by so much more as you see the Day drawing near?


The offering. Instead of passing the plate while instrumental music plays in the background, or a "special" is sung, why not have someone testify how money given is actually impacting lives and making a difference in the Kingdom? For example, have the VBS Director come forward and share how the budgeted $1000 was spent and the impact this effort had on the lives of 200 kids. Share a few stories. Let people hear first hand how their giving is actually helping to make a difference in people's lives. Invite a missionary to share for a few minutes during the offering time what God is doing in their country and how the church's giving to missions is actually impacting Peru or wherever.

Sunday School. Instead of the goal being to get through the week's lesson, why not allow the Spirit of God to take us where He wants to lead us? Sunday School is the closest thing in legacy churches (in my opinion) to New Testament ekklesias--or has the potential of being so. Here we have the chance to really minister to one another through the Word in a smaller group setting. Yet, class after class, I have sensed that what matters is getting through the lesson, not on building up--encouraging--one another in the Lord. Sunday School seems more an intellectual, educational pursuit where we learn something from the Bible passage studied. There is nothing wrong with studying the Bible, but it could be so much more if we would allow the Living God to not only stimulate our intellects, but minister those studied truths into one another's lives.

Singing and praise. Maybe it's just me, but week after week, 70% of what is projected onto the overhead screen are songs I am hearing for the first time. I personally find it frustrating that all the songs are chosen ahead of time by the worship leaders and they are the ones calling all the shots from behind amplified instruments and microphones. My voice is dimmed and unable to compete with the electronic powers that dominate what passes as "worship" to the Lord. I am getting close to thinking that maybe the non-instrumental Church of Christ churches are far closer to the true spirit of worship with their a cappella singing than what passes for today's contemporary worship practices. As I said, maybe it's just me, but this is truly a struggle not being able to interact more with what is sung and hear from others what they are thinking/feeling as they sing to the Lord.

A possible solution? Un-program the worship times. Give worship back to the people. Yes it would be messy at first and some would not like it--it would be awkward--but after a few weeks of adjustment, worship would gradually return to being worship instead of what, seems to me, a programmed performance where we follow along with whatever is fed to us from up front.

Prayer.
Probably the most striking thing I have noticed after years of being away from legacy churches is the almost non-existent place of prayer in the gatherings of believers. Prayer is used more as a way to begin and close meetings, but I have seen little real praying when believers gather. Singing praise and worship songs is certainly a way of addressing our Lord, but there are so many other aspects of our communion with God that are going unaddressed in our gatherings: prayers of repentance/confession, prayers of united intercession and supplication, prayers for laborers (Lk. 10:2), prayers for wisdom/guidance/discernment, spiritual warfare, prayers for healing and for the sick, prayers for those who do not know the Lord, etc.

I suspect the reason prayer is downplayed is that prayer takes time. Maybe the problem is we have to cram everything in between 11am-12noon. There simply isn't time for prayer if we are going to sing for 20-minutes and listen to a 30-minute message. But then, is it any wonder we have such little spiritual power in our midst? Maybe we should reschedule church on Sundays from, say, 5-8pm to give us adequate time to deal with truly being the Body of Christ and all that implies.

So, what are some of your thoughts? How can we be the church, be God's people; instead of going to church and doing church?

19 comments:

Darrell Kilcup, DC said...

Guy my oldest son is courting a wonderful gal who follows Jesus and whose family has attended a legacy church forever. He attended the church service with them over the weekend. It was the first time in about 7 years that he has been to a legacy church. As a family we teased him! We told him to raise his hand and ask a question or ask if they could sing a song or share something God had put on his heart. We laughed at the thought! When he came back we asked him how it went. Then he told us the funniest part. The message was, "Getting out of your little groups". The irony was very funny to us! If the pastor REALLY wanted people to get out of their little groups and start to reach out he ought to lock the doors of the his church since THE CHURCH is PROVIDING most of the little groups that those people are involved in.

Your post is kind. I hope someone will take it to heart and attempt what you have suggested.

Most of what you suggested I can imagine working in a small (under 100) legacy church. However as it gets bigger the logistics of doing most of what you suggested become impractical.

As one young man that God used us to "save" and disciple for the past 3 years and who is now a disciple maker and a church planter said on his first visit to a legacy church, "They do good things but it is all so wrong"

Aussie John said...

Guy,

I don't know what the situation is elsewhere, but I do know that to even suggest such things, in some areas in this country, will raise such a hue and cry about "we've never done it that way before", or, "modernist".

Ryan said...

Guy, I've been back in the US from several years overseas for about 7 months now. I too am "obliged" to attend a legacy church. Reading your post made me feel as if somehow you had access to my mind and wrote down everything I've been thinking and feeling for the past seven months. Even if no one else agrees, I surely do.

Greg Bailey said...

Guy,
One of the biggest problems is that "church" has become the largest spectator sport in this country. People want to be entertained.

Another problem may be that people have so packed their schedules that they are not likely willing to add more time for discussion, spontaneity and moving of the Spirit.

Your suggestions are helpful, however, and I would love to see my congregation implement them!

J. Guy Muse said...

Darrell, John, Ryan, Greg:

Thanks to each of you for your comments. I want to emphasize the distinction between the people in these churches and the structures they operate under. Legacy churches undoubtedly do a lot of good things, but I fear that we have fallen into what Steve Smith makes refers to in "T4T" when our good ministry tools and structures threaten to become the very enemy of what is truly essential. It is not about what we like or enjoy or comfortable with; but what does the King have in mind? More often than not, it is the very opposite of what we like, enjoy, or are comfortable with!

JRo said...

Guy,
As a young man who has a Bible college degree and having never been out of the states I find this topic tough, intriguing, important, and personally it rubs me wrong...in a good way.

I have some friends who discuss this regularly...not specifically what you have addressed in more detailed topics but in the church as a whole and breaking from "Americanization" if church...its hard...so, thanks for your post. It was encouraging.

JRo

J. Guy Muse said...

JRo,

Thanks for stopping by and for the comment. I am glad it has been some "food for thought." I too think a lot about these things. When the good gets in the way of God's best, then is "it" really good?

Bob Cleveland said...

My only comment is that I'm posting a link to this on my Facebook, too. And maybe on my blog.

You may not have all the answers, but man, do you ever see what needs to be seen and ask what needs to be asked.

Tim A said...

As a fellow organic believer, it seems you are seeking to offer some suggestions to help legacy faith folks add some beginning steps of participation without changing anything substantive about their church.

If legacy saints give personal expression from their pew it would merely be an off-the-cuff remark. Organic expression is that which is prepared during the week, like the preacher does. They are still miles apart in their foundation. The power of the "off-the-cuff" remark is not even close to the power of the week long prepared expression. In the long run, this would not grab the hearts of God's people. They would say this is meaningless and go back to their old ways and claim they tried being organic but it didn't help anything. Helping saints do a very shallow version of organic will only hinder, not help.

Organic faith is a completely different approach to 24/7 life with Christ. We should not offer it to legacy saints as just a few tweaks in their current habits.

We only help believers when we offer the whole package, and not as a program change but as a complete life change.

I completely understand your interest in trying to find ways to help institutionalized believers grow out of their shallow, self preoccupied faith. It is a VERY difficult trap to get them out of. I, myself am still seeking to throw off parts of it.

Tim A said...

Should not our efforts to function organically be driven by a new Biblical understanding of what God's call is to do to reflect His glory, not be just a programming change to reflect some good ideas? This means starting with teaching organic theology. Our function should follow our understanding of the truth. Their current understanding of what is said to be true will not support the extra thought and effort that goes into your suggestions.

Nige said...

well said.

what is a "legacy church"? never heard that term before.

I like the way you have tried to contextualize some of the lessons learnt in simple church to a western congregation that might not be quite ready to go that far.

looking forward to seeing you in February as we are coming to visit.

J. Guy Muse said...

Bob,

Thanks for the repost on Facebook and Eagles' Rest. In making these observations it is important to me to emphasize that I do differentiate between my brothers/sisters in legacy churches, and the traditions/structures that have grown up around them that need to be overhauled.

J. Guy Muse said...

Tim,

Your points are well taken and I understand where you are coming from. In our own experience of trying to work with legacy churches, we believe change comes in tiny steps. It is more a process that usually does not happen overnight. There are many legacy/traditional-type churches that are open to change, but that change comes slowly. It is like the old proverb, "How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time."

J. Guy Muse said...

Nigel,

Legacy church is the term we are being encouraged to use since "institutional churches" and "traditional churches" don't always see themselves as institutional or traditional.

Frank Doiron said...

I have to agree with Tim A. I know a lot of wonderful Christian people in the traditional church yet I know so few who are willing to change. I believe the foundation of these churches is a "temple, sabbath, sacred place" mentality. Making "organic like changes" on the outside is not changing the core beliefs of what church really is.
I don't doubt there a lots of people who would be overjoyed at cutting the sermon from 45 minutes to 20 minutes but that does not change the core of what you believe church to be.
We have been part of churches that made those kinds of changes but the core belief was unchanged. So nothing really changed. We were even part of a church that met every two weeks in the home. After 7 years we went back to a tradition understanding of church. That happened because their core beleif was a "sacred place-sabbath mentality.
I remember what Maurice Smith keeps telling us, "you don't change a structure until you change a value"

Slow changing churches rarely make the complete change. I am sure you can find a couple that have. For all the changes that have happened over the last 50 years, the basic core hasn't changed. (3 or 4 songs to a half hour worship time, hymns to choruses, pews to soft padded chairs, Wednesday night bible studies at the church to mini churches in the homes on Wednesday night, getting the youth involved in the worship band, having a reponse time after the sermon (which has been tried in many churches) all these incremental changes have not changed the core foundational belief of why we meet in the first place.
Where I disagree with you is that these incremental changes will lead to value changes. That at some point because of these changes they will say Hey, let's go all the way." I believe it will rarely end up that way.....

a better question to have asked is, "If a church really wanted to change it's core values what could they do to move towards that end. Then I could agree with some of what you have said." Yet if the changes come too slow they will have forgotten why they wanted to change in the first place.

traveller said...

This is something I have been observing and studying for about ten years in the US, although I know live in Africa for the past year.

It is my belief that legacy churches will not change. It is more likely they will eventually just die. At one time I wanted to see them change but think it is better for them to die.

It is interesting though that many people in the under 40 age and some over 50 do see the change coming. Most of them are willing remain in their legacy church and watch it die. A few are embarking on a simple church path with others. This is evidence we are in a transition period which will be uncomfortable and uncertain. But what an interesting time to live.

J. Guy Muse said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
J. Guy Muse said...

Frank and Traveller,

Welcome to the M Blog, and thanks for the good comments. I agree with what you both (and Tim) have written. You're "preaching to the choir" and I'm loving it!

You write Frank, I know a lot of wonderful Christian people in the traditional church yet I know so few who are willing to change. The "so few" are becoming more and more, at least in our Ecuadorian context. I find this true especially amongst younger believers. Most of us (and I dare say you, me, Tim, and traveller) at one time were very much a part of legacy churches. Most of the people we train in Ecuador are part of legacy churches. For me, we cannot ignore and walk away from these brothers. They are part of the church as well.

Paul himself would start in the Jewish synagogues, but soon end up leaving when things heated up. Usually "a few" would follow him out of the synagogue and continue to explore the Gospel message.

I have written elsewhere about the 80/20 ratio, where we give 80% of our time/energy to those who "get it" and 20% to those who don't. In this way we aren't completely ignoring brothers who don't get it, and at the same time giving the bulk of our time/ministry to those who do. Thanks again for your thoughts. I hear you!

Tim A said...

I don't think anyone here is saying ignore legacy driven saints. Their faith is weak. We are to help the weak.

I am saying show them the truth before you ask them to tweak their programming. Only the truth will set them free. The truth is in the Word and in expressing your 24/7 life with Christ with fellow believers. It must start on the inside, not on the outside. I suspect Equadorians have a greater possibility in making the transformation out of legacy traditions because of what James said about those who are poor can be rich in faith. They have a greater basis for seeing they should not be pooling 99% of their giving to buy a weekly hired Bible lecture and call it "giving". They can see that 100% of their giving can be giving when they teach, equip, and build up the household of faith as well as reach the lost with mutual participation driven by the Head of the church, our High Priest instead of out legacy substitutions for that.