In every March issue, Reformed Worship offers resources and reflections to celebrate the ascension of Christ and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. Those festival days are worth celebrating by offering joyful worship to the Lord. We also reflect on the implications of those feast days for doing the work of the Lord, to exercise the power given us by the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.
Connections Between Worship and Evangelism
In this issue we concentrate on worship issues in local congregations—urban, suburban, and rural—who are beginning to see themselves as mission churches and view their neighborhoods as mission fields. Just how is a North American congregation to relate to the increasingly "foreign" culture in which it is placed?
Craig Van Gelder (p. 3) starts off with a provocative assessment of the church in a postmodern, post-Christian, postde-nominational world in which we have lost "the home-field advantage"; the church and the world no longer have many points of contact. The disjunction is very evident in our worship, which is the most public aspect of our congregational life. Van Gelder writes from wide experience as a consultant for churches who are beginning to consider themselves as missions and for pastors who are beginning to view themselves as missionaries—something new for most older congregations who traditionally sent missionaries "away."
As soon as a congregation begins to view its worship through the eyes and ears of its closest neighbors, they begin to ask questions about worship. Edith Baje-ma, a worship coordinator at an older church, reveals her congregation's questions and struggles to reshape an identity more in terms of mission to its setting in the inner city (p. 6). David Beelen, a pastor in a newer congregation that started out as a mission church, takes up Ba-jema's questions and challenges all of us to offer "costly" worship to the Lord.
Such costly worship is risky, as Mary Ann Wierks writes (p. 14). The issues she is facing in a church-planting situation have carryover to any congregation, new or old, if it has any vision of itself as a church in mission.
Preaching is certainly part of that costly and risky witness to the power of the gospel to change lives. Kenneth Koeman (p. 38) takes several questions that Jesus asked and suggests ways that sermons can ask them of us, whether we are unconverted or undergoing daily conversion. That kind of preaching bridges the gap between a worship service and an evangelistic service; we all need evangelizing, every week.
If we are to take seriously our witness, there are other aspects to our worship that we should try to view through the eyes of someone not familiar with "how things are always done here." Mark Lem-menes (p. 16) reflects on praise choruses, probably the most dominant new musical style in churches today—to the delight of some who long for something fresh and simple in worship, and to the frustration of others who love their tradition and find praise choruses taking over. Douglas Kamstra offers helpful suggestions for improving the effectiveness of the church bulletin (p. 10).
In an interview (p. 23), John Bell, from the Iona Community in Scotland, challenges "mainstream" Christians to reach out to the increasing numbers of youth who find the church irrelevant and culturally remote from their everyday lives. What I found particularly fascinating was the story of his gradual shift from his work in a youth street ministry to a focus on worship and church music. Bell is convinced that our worship, including our hymnody needs to address concerns such as unemployment and abuse. When worship is reformed, our witness on the streets will bear fruit, because only when those from.the street become united with the worshiping community will we bear witness to the power of the Spirit to transform lives and show others "how we love one another."
Resources for Children, Ascension and Pentecost
Also in this issue are several resources to make worship more meaningful to children. Shelley Cochran provides helpful guidelines for children's messages (p. 29). Accompanying that article is a brochure (see p. 30) that worship committees may want to develop to help parents teach their children about participating in worship. All the Hymn of the Month selections are accessible to children as well as to smaller congregations during the summer months. And finally, a mini-musical on the story of Abraham will delight children and adults alike.
Children of all ages will enjoy learning about one congregation's celebration of Ascension Day with kites. Beyond that, we have included service resources for Ascension Day and a hymn festival for Pentecost.
Jim Schaap's piece on baptism tops off this edition of RW. Issues of worship and evangelism, of covenant children and prodigal sons and brothers, come to focus in his poignant reflection on a pastor who faces a difficult decision within his family—a decision that affects his entire ministry. It's the ones we love the most that trouble us the most when they are not united with us in Christ.
When we as congregations deepen our love for our neighbors, both nearby and faraway, we too will be led to struggle harder so that our worship may bear witness to the peace of God and the love of Christ through the power of the Spirit. "Jesu, Jesu, fill us with your love."