Christ Community Church in Nanaimo, British Columbia, has just celebrated its tenth anniversary. We've also celebrated the good news that we've had a real surge of first-time visitors during the past twelve months: over two hundred newcomers have walked through our doors in the past year.
Our congregation has always had a vision for outreach. We've planned our services to appeal to non-churched or, more truthfully, rrdnirnally churched people. We've tried above all to bring people into a living relationship with Christ. But for some reason this year our efforts have been more successful than they've been in the past.
And we're convinced it has a lot to do with our new focus on prayer. During the past year Worship-Praise teams have met together weekly at Christ Community to pray and prepare for the following Sunday's services. We pray for God's guidance, for one another, and for known needs of the congregation and community. Most importantly we pray to be emptied of self so that the Holy Spirit can shine through and transform lives for the glory and praise of God.
Since we've begun "prayer preparation" time, a new spirit of oneness has come through in worship. First-time visitors whom we've telephoned as follow-up to worship say that they "sensed" something special that day and that our music particularly moved them—that they felt God's presence in music and message in a new way.
Since we began our new focus on prayer, we've also heard less criticism and discontent voiced among long-time members who at first felt somewhat uncomfortable with our more eclectic style of music and liturgy. There is more congregational understanding of the outreach vision which is our goal.
God's Spirit is at work among us. We believe that no one can properly lead in worship until she or he is first broken and open to the message for the week. So during the week worship leaders read through the Scripture passages together and sometimes hear a short synopsis of the sermon. We pray together, asking God to work through us and in us. And we rehearse litanies and hymns for the following Sunday. We also meet briefly before each service for prayer.
In our morning service, prayer take place through song, through prayers of confession, and through pastoral prayer offered by a worship leader or pastor who has been made aware of needs (through notes jotted on request forms or the work of our prayer coordinator). Prayer teams are also available after each service to share joys and burdens.
Many Reformed Christians have grown up, I believe, with a sense of a distant God. Think back to the language used in the churches of our childhood. Even the concept of God as Father was frightening to those from abusive or austere backgrounds. Concepts of power and might—unless balanced by concepts of love and freedom through Christ and the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the Comforter— leave one with a sense of detachment or fear of coming into God's presence.
As Trinitarians who have professed faith in the three persons of God with their separate functions, we often neglected addressing God except as an almighty and distant Deity. Addressing God as Father—as the God made flesh to be touched and to touch—and as the nurturer—the Holy Spirit who fills our being—gives access to God in a way that meets the multif aceted needs of the human beings who enter our doors. Prayer in our times of worship reflects our understanding of and our need for God's involvement in every aspect of our lives.