January 19, 2016

The Quarterback: Worship

I live just outside Hamilton, ON (Canada), a city of half a million that boasts one professional sports franchise:  the Hamilton Tiger Cats of the Canadian Football League. This year the Cats were favored to win it all, under the leadership of their star quarterback, Zach Collaros, until a season-ending injury took him out.

Suddenly I realized that the Cats’ chances of winning it all had deteriorated profoundl. It struck me that perhaps the quarterback is more important to a football team’s success than any other position in any other team sport. 

Worship is the quarterback of a congregation’s discipleship and faith formation ministries. Recognizing this role and intentionally providing ways for it to shine in this role will bless the entirety of a congregation’s life together.

It’s easiest to describe this role by providing specific examples.

  1. I serve as a youth leader in our church, and our youth group is thriving. One factor that contributes to its health is that our teens love Sunday worship. Our singing covers a variety of styles and is led gently with calm integrity. Several teens participate in our worship teams, and are subtly and warmly mentored there to lead well. The preaching is deeply biblical and down to earth, incorporating plenty of illustrations from “the real world” and complemented by understated powerpoint visuals that reinforce the main themes. Our worship declares to our teens, “you belong here. We are eager for you to receive the Lord’s blessing during our time together, and we’re eager for you to provide leadership as well.” This message spills over to set the tone for our youth group on Tuesday nights as well.
  2. Faith development research has discovered that life transitions are disproportionately significant in our lives, and worship provides simple but rich opportunities to honor these transitions and embed them within the Lord’s grace and mercy. These cover a wide range: a very brief prayer for the students leaving for university as they stand, a short graduation ceremony for those completing the “during the service Sunday school program” as they now worship with the community for the full hour, congregational prayers that highlight those going through transitions occasioned by the loss of a loved one, moving to a new community, retirement or the loss of employment. 
  3. Finding ways to highlight various congregational ministries during worship time. This highlighting can range from a “minute for ministry” description of its work to using a ministry as a sermon illustration to holding a “non-fund” offering, in which congregants are invited to bring supplies that will bless the calling of a particular ministry. In these ways, the work of a wide variety of ministries is incorporated within the worship life of a community.
  4. Receiving spoken, emailed or texted prayer requests. When a congregation’s prayer time is enriched by short accounts of the work of particular ministries, these shift from impersonal causes to life-transforming ministries. Similarly, when worshipers share their own lives through prayer requests, the connection between daily life and a community’s worship is strengthened. 

Recently a pastor on the west coast told me that his church, which holds worship services in three different languages, would soon be adding a fourth, and he would need to learn this language before they added this service. Noticing the startled look on my face, he explained: “I am the senior pastor. I need to speak the faith language and preach to this body in every language that is part of our community. Now I preach in three different languages every Sunday; it’s hard work, but I’m eager to learn the fourth as well.”

I was amazed, until I remembered the quarterback concept. He got it. He wanted worship to make an impact on every dimension of his community’s discipleship and faith formation.

What practices do you engage in to honor worship’s role as quarterback? What one practice might you add?