Becoming Active Participants

Someone recently introduced me to the website www.challenge.gov. It is a list of competitions set up by 80+ agencies across federal government. Its tagline is “Government Challenges, Your Solutions.” These are real problems that need creative solutions from us, citizens of this great nation. It’s an opportunity for people to make a difference on the government level not just by voting in their candidates but by stepping up, using their gifts, insights and intellect to make real change.

Right away I saw this as a metaphor for the type of church that will thrive in the decades to come.

More Community, Less Corporation

Many of us grew up in churches that aren’t that different than how we view government. You vote for a new pastor every four or six years and he’s sort of out there doing stuff, but you’re never really sure how the church or the pastor affects you day to day. But the church that will thrive in the years to come is one that is more of a community and less a corporation or traditional governmental agency. One in which parishioners truly serve the body of Christ and their neighborhood in the spirit of Ephesians 4:11­14. And that means that many of us pastors and worship leaders may have to do a better job of empowering the apostles, prophets and evangelists.

This might be preaching to the choir, as I’ve observed that many established churches in more suburban and rural areas have this beautiful community I long for. One in which people in the pews take great ownership of their walk with Christ and the health of their church. So I guess what I’m asking is that you come into the cities and into our young churches and into the places where large portions of society are moving, and teach us. Teach the younger generation what it means to commit to something, to serve in a church unselfishly, to use the gifts God has given you and to embrace the neighborhoods in which God has called you.

But this is a blog at Reformed Worship. What would this mean for us on a Sunday morning? How do we encourage this type of Spirit­led, lay­driven ministry in our corporate gatherings? Three ideas come to mind.

Embrace the Historicity of the Church

First, we should embrace the historicity of the church not as a trend or something to attract young people but as God’s faithfulness handed down to us today. A few years ago, I was attending a lecture by our own James K.A. Smith here in NYC. As he spoke on the power of having weekly communion, I looked over my neighbor’s shoulder. A lead pastor, he was typing an email to his worship guy, “We have to start doing communion every week — starting tomorrow!” Decisions made in haste tend to be unmade hastily. It had this feeling of, “This is what’s cool now. Let’s jump on the bandwagon.” So that when we hear a compelling speaker lecture us on the advantage of having communion once per year, we’ll try that. Better to pursue faithfully the traditions of the church that speak to today’s context. We’ve served communion at every worship service we’ve ever had at Dwell Church. It has reminded us of the gospel and nourished us for service to the world. We don’t plan on going in another direction anytime soon.

Involve Lay Leaders

Second, we’d be wise to have even more lay leaders involved in our services. When we consider the massive shifts in worship over the past 30 years, lay leaders are involved more than ever before. But it depends on your church. I’ve visited many large, influential churches in New York, Florida and California over the past five years. At only one did a see a layperson read scripture, give announcements or lead a prayer of confession. Many churches have professionalized their services.

Be the Church

Third, pastors need to preach far more often from this message: ‘We don’t go to church, we ARE the church.’ I know it’s a cliche but it still isn’t connecting. Again, perhaps it’s just my context but this is a message that I believe we need to shout from the rooftops.  Consumerism in the church of Jesus Christ is getting worse, not better. When believers take ownership of their own journey and approach church with a spirit of service, instead of being served, we will see more powerful times of worship and a greater impact on our world.

May we step up, as millions of citizens have done through www.challenge.gov. May we not sit back and be consumers but active participants in our churches and neighborhoods.

Rev. Peter B. Armstrong was born and raised in Olympia, WA, and educated at Calvin College and Fuller Theological Seminary. He and his wife Lily moved to NYC to start Dwell Church and served there from 2010-2016. On January 1, 2017, Pete began a new calling, serving Parklane CRC in Portland, Oregon. He enjoys running, playing bass and exploring the Pacific Northwest.