The last few weeks have been difficult–very difficult.
As we were inundated with scenes of violence and murder in various parts of the country and world, we were also faced with the harsh reality that fellow believers had contrasting views about what was going on. Our Facebook feed lit up with threads of pointed articles, rebukes, frustrations and overwhelming sadness. Thankfully, there were glimmers of hope from some who saw this as an opportunity to speak the comforting truth of the gospel.
Our church is blessed with a diverse congregation. We are located in a suburb of a large metropolitan city, so on Sunday mornings, we are privileged to see a wide range of races and nationalities represented. After the shootings of the week preceding July 10th, I wondered how we were going to address the situation within our own corporate worship. What should it look and feel like within a theologically conservative, but diverse congregation? Should I scrap the service I had already planned? Should we mention the shootings at all? Thankfully, earlier that week, the Lord had directed us to focus on a simple, yet intentional theme for our church body: “Look at Jesus.” I had noticed, that particularly during the summer, it seemed that our worship had become more rote, absent-minded and less engaging. Perhaps, it was the anticipation of the warm afternoons and times outside. Hey, that’s legitimate up here where winter lasts for 6 months! At any rate, whatever the reason for unengaged worshipers, we set out to plan a service that would engage our hearts and put distractions aside.
We began our service with a choir song, “So High the Price,” which immediately focused our attention on Jesus. The congregation then sang a chorus, “Open Our Eyes, Lord,” and afterwards we took the time to greet one another. Then I had the congregation sit down. Yes, that’s right…we sat down! We rarely sit while we sing, but this was different. Our people needed to be still and look to Jesus. We read two passages of Scripture: Psalm 119:18, “Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of Your law,” and Matthew 5:8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” We talked about making sure that our hearts were pure before the Lord as we come before Him and prayed silently for a few moments, asking for God’s mercy, comfort, and help. Then I publically prayed for our nation–that we would recognize that the ultimate problem in our society is sin and that the solution to that problem is our great Savior. The congregation continued to sit, while 3 singers led us in “Be Thou My Vision.” Afterwards, one of the singers read Colossians 1:21-22 (sermon passage) and Hebrews 4:16 “Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need,” while the piano and guitar lightly played and transitioned into “Behold Our God.” By the end of “Behold Our God,” it seemed like the congregational singing was going to raise the roof! It was glorious! Tears were being shed and hearts were engaged. For the offertory, we did a rendition of “He Will Hold Me Fast” that starts with a violin solo playing the melody of “Be Still My Soul,” then transitions into the song. The congregation sang along and they were reminded that “when I fear my faith will fail, He will hold me fast.”*
That’s how our church responded to our culture on Sunday, July 10, 2016. We allowed time to speak about the tragedy, the hurt, and even the anger that many people felt. We didn’t ignore the elephant in the room. We took the time to respond as a church – together – focusing our attention on the real need and the real solution, which is Jesus Christ.
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Here’s what I’ve learned:
1. Be willing to change or adjust your planned service order. When tragedies occur, the church body needs direction from its leaders on how to respond in faith to painful circumstances.
2. Take time to pray corporately about cultural issues. Think through potential responses to the tragedy, and pray that the church would hold fast to good responses and reject responses that are evil.
3. Don’t just mention the problem, but lead your people to the solution – Jesus! Throughout the Old and New Testaments, public worship has always focused on the gospel. The O.T. foretold the sacrifice that Christ would make; the N.T. remembers the sacrifice Christ made. The solution to every problem can be found in the gospel of Jesus Christ, and our public worship should always make Christ the central theme.
One day, Christ will return, and make all things right again. But until then, help your people each week to “look unto Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our faith.” (Heb. 12:2)
Brookside Baptist Church
*He Will Hold Me Fast can be found at http://www.capitolhillbaptist.org/resources/music/ The repeating melodic patterns in the verse make it especially easy to learn, and the rich doctrinal truths of eternal security make it unique in its subject matter.