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Worship That Loves and Cares

It doesn’t matter how many beautiful and well put together worship services you’ve crafted. What truly matters is how you’ve chosen to love and care for those whom God has entrusted in your worshipping congregation.

4 weeks down. 2 weeks to go. And as the weeks march on, the birds begin to sing a little louder, the sun is making it’s morning entrance just a few minutes earlier each day, tiny buds are beginning their annual springtime ritual. As the weeks march on my inbox gets busier, the contents of my minivan look like a Lenten graveyard, and my anxiety level about the Holy Week checklist rises like an annual, liturgical ritual.

I was having a conversation the other day with a seasoned and wise pastor whose wisdom and guidance I have come to deeply appreciate. While talking through this season, he threw in this line: “You know . . . at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how many beautiful and well put together worship services you’ve crafted. What truly matters is how you’ve chosen to love and care for those whom God has entrusted in your worshipping congregation.”

I just finished Howard Vanderwell’s book called Caring Worship, which I highly recommend if you haven’t already had a chance to read it. The opening chapter sets the stage well for something you and I likely experience on a weekly basis. It’s Sunday morning and you park in the empty lot and unlock the doors, hit the lights and start scurrying around knocking things off the morning prep list. People start arriving, headed to Sunday school, the coffee kitchen, to the sound booth. And as these people walk in . . . people you know so well, you not only physically see them, you see the burdens or the joys they carry into worship with them. You know what they’ve been through in the last year or even in the last week that makes it difficult to walk through the doors of the building and be surrounded by God’s people. You know that their friendly smiles and surface interactions with others are masking overwhelming anxiety or depression. You know that marriages are crumbling, teenage children are using, parenting is defeating, career demands are crushing. “You know . . . at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how many beautiful and well put together worship services you’ve crafted. What truly matters is how you’ve chosen to love and care for those whom God has entrusted in your worshipping congregation.”

With 4 weeks down and 2 weeks left to go in Lent, some of us are starting to feel the anxiety of being in crunch mode. What if, for an hour or two each week leading up to Holy Week, we all commit to close out of our Google Doc windows, keep the hymnals shut and shelved, give the inbox a breather, and instead open up our church directories. Pour through and look at the names and faces, knowing and praying over the burdens that they carry into worship. Simply spend intentional time studying these pages in silence, allowing the Holy Spirit to move and stir your planning and creative energy. Pray that this same Spirit works through you as you plan worship that is pastorally sensitive and caring. Then plan the familiar services of Holy Week that you likely have 10+ years worth of similar services already stored with a specific care for the needs of these people. As you plan the remembering of Jesus’ long road to Calvary, where he suffered so we would suffer no more, endured that we might be free, died that we might live eternally, think of the spots along that long road where your congregants sit in darkness, waiting for redemption and fulfillment this Easter season. As you pull out the basins for Maundy Thursday footwashing, pray for those who are humbled by their need to be served day in and day out. As you practice that impossible key change, play through it in prayer for those in the midst of difficult transitions. As you order the lillies and iron the white banners, pray over and rejoice in the blossoming and newness of life already on display. If we all commit to that this Lent and Easter season, what will that look like a month down the road when the season has come and gone? “You know . . . at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how many beautiful and well put together worship services you’ve crafted. What truly matters is how you’ve chosen to love and care for those whom God has entrusted in your worshipping congregation.”