Gatherings @ Hope: Before the Service

Over the next 11 weeks, I will walk through what we, at Hope Presbyterian Church, do on a Sunday morning. I’ll go through a “typical” Sunday, highlighting the elements of our service so that we can grow to better appreciate those elements, but more importantly, to push us to a greater knowledge and love for our Lord, Jesus Christ.

When I was a kid, my mom and dad would battle with me every Sunday morning at 8:30. It was the same routine, every week, going something like this:

8:30 – “Matthew. Wake up. It’s time to get ready for church.”

8:34 – “Matthew. Let’s go. Get ready for church.”

8:40- “Matthew. You better be getting ready.”

8:45- “Matthew John. I will not say this again. Get out of bed and get ready for church.”

It’s an odd thing. We lived less than three minutes away from the church. I enjoyed going to church. Singing. Seeing friends. We always seemed to arrived early. Got a good seat. Talked with people before the service began. Drank coffee. Why was I so hesitant to get ready for church?

I think it was because I didn’t know it needed preparation.

And to be honest, I think that is how you view it too.

You probably think that you don’t need to come “prepared for worship” on a Sunday morning. That you can just show up. Listen to a sermon. Give your offering. Skim the bulletin. Get out.

Getting to church before 9:35 (let alone 9:30) isn’t really popular. But it isn’t healthy for a few reasons:

You’re Probably a Consumer Rather than A Participant. Church, and a church service, isn’t about being “good”. It isn’t about “getting something from it”. It isn’t about the worship band playing your favorite song, the pastor preaching on your favorite passage, him giving you three simple and easily remembered points and getting out. A consumer of church says, “What can you provide for me so that I can get that feeling of satisfaction.”

Church is actually marked by the common fellowship of believers serving and loving one another radically. The church has been charged with being intentional in relationships to one another to serve, not be served.

When I was a kid, singing my favorite songs at worship was why I went to church (because I loved singing, not because I loved God). A service was good or bad based upon the music. As I got older, I started to serve within the church, which required me to show up before the service. I had to be there to lead and work alongside other believers. I was serving, not being served. What defined the quality of the service had changed.

You Probably Aren’t Inviting People To Service. I’m not trying to guilt you. That is not what this is about. Frankly, I have a hard time inviting people to service. But here is what I do know: when you are engaged in an event, when it has importance and value, you show up on time and you tell people about it. How embarrassing would it be if your neighbor down the street, who you just invited to church, showed up before you did? They would have no idea where to sit. The one person they felt comfortable with isn’t there, so they are surrounded by Bible-thumpers feeling uncomfortable. But, like I said, that whole scenario doesn’t happen if you are 9:35 church service family.

But what happens when you show up before 9:30 (say, 9:20) and greet people, you start to connect with different people, you start talking about how your neighbor is coming to church with the person beside you (because you’re anxiously awaiting their arrival). You’ll have a spot for your co-worker. You’ll be able to introduce them to the people around you, to Pastor Alan or Tim. To Jan. To your small group leader. They will move into the fold a little bit easier if they start to know other people. And evangelism becomes a team sport.

You Probably Don’t Know That Many People At Church. Because you sit in the back, or in the same spot every week, and don’t move around to see how many different people there are in this church! From all across multiple counties! You probably know their face, you might even remember their last name from a conversation one time, but you don’t have fellowship with them. You don’t know them on a deeper level. Your conversations could probably be charted as being repetitive every week.

But what happens when you show up early? You dig a little bit deeper with different people. You read the bulletin before the service and have something to talk about! You can plan with the family beside you what event you can go to, and how you can pick up their kids on the way there if they drop them off on the way back.

You Probably Aren’t Prepared for Worship. When was the last time you, personally, prayed before the service? When was the last time you just sat down, in a quiet place and just prayed? Not for a meal, not for a specific need, but for you to draw closer to the Lord? When was the last time you reflected on your temptations and struggles with sin?

I think being prepared for worship is remembering the Gospel. Come thou fount has those lovely words that we often sing but not to often realize to be true: “Prone to wander … prone to leave thy God I love.” If this is true, if our default is that you and I are like stupid sheep, walking away from God over and over, throughout the week, are we believing that just by showing up on a Sunday morning that I can be in a relationship with God?

A relationship with the Lord is marked by pursuit and love for Jesus. Preparing for worship simply means recognizing that we are prone to wander and that for however long the service is, I am here, trying to love the Lord, love my neighbor around me and trying to pursue a relationship with my creator.

I believe we all can grow in these four areas. I stink at getting to know people. People know me (guy on staff with the beard up front who acts like he is a teenager) but I stink at sitting down next to people and just talking if I have a million other things on my plate (which on a Sunday, I do). I’m failing in joining into fellowship with our church because on Sundays, I’m much more Martha than Mary.

Martha had to get everything done (Luke 10:38-42) so that dinner with Jesus could be good. Like Martha, I run around upstairs and downstairs trying to get everything set up, making sure the service is ready and finalized. But Mary, Martha’s sister, just sat at Jesus’ feet. She was focused on him, intent to learn and grow a relationship with him.

So, maybe this coming Sunday, you get to church at … dare I say 9:15? Do you know that a group of us prays before the service? You could join in! Did you know that there are slides that highlight events before the service? You could have talking points! Did you know that the worship band plays a song they are trying to introduce in the coming weeks at 9:25? You could learn a new song to sing!

Maybe, you could take those 15 minutes to find a new seat, strike up a conversation to the person next to you, and deepen the fellowship of this church before the fellowship time. Maybe you take those 15 minutes and reflect on the past week. Where have you seen God working? Where do you need him to show up?

See you bright and early …

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  1. Pingback: Gatherings @ Hope: Call to Worship | matthewjmcdermott

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