Comparing Services

This past weekend I had the pleasure of leading music both at Imago Christi on Saturday night and at Noelridge on Sunday morning. It was the first time in a month that I’ve been to Noelridge, and with a month of Imago under our belts it was a good chance to draw some comparisons.

Look and Feel
At Imago we’re meeting at night in a 100-year-old sanctuary with lots of stained glass and insufficient lighting. At Noelridge we’re meeting on Sunday morning in a smaller 50-year-old sanctuary. Noelridge has a smaller, intimate, friendly feel to it; Imago has a deeper, more awe-inspiring feel. I think I prefer the relative expanse of Imago. We do need to do something about the lighting, though. (Plans are in process.)

Music
OK, the music was basically the same. At Imago I led on an electric keyboard with Dave playing guitar behind me. At Noelridge I led from a baby grand with another Dave playing bass and Tapuwa on the congas. I’m much more comfortable sitting down leading at the piano rather than standing up – partly I need a mic stand with a longer boom so I can situate the stand better; partly I’ve just mostly led while sitting down, and it’s a bit of an adjustment to stand up. Both congregations knew the songs pretty well. There was a bunch of sound generated by each congregation with the singing. I am struck, though, by how much more live the sanctuary at Imago is. Hardwood floors and a big high ceiling let the sound rattle around in a way that creates some presence. Noelridge with its low ceilings and carpet is dead by comparison.

Preaching
Same pastor, same sermon, pretty much. I don’t have recordings of either of them, and I was semi-distracted during the Imago service during the sermon (trying to decide what song to sing for a closing meditation), so I’m going on middling memories here. The Imago version was more concise and seemed targeted a bit more toward unbelievers in the audience. At Noelridge it went kind of long (which seemed OK, though). Still, quality stuff from John 1 both times.

Attitude
This is where there are two very distinct feelings between the two churches. At Imago, since we’re so new, everyone seems focused on finding the visitors/new people, greeting them, pulling them in. At Noelridge we have an established congregation, so it’s much more of a family feel – people have established relationships, and it shows. Noelridge is still very friendly to visitors, but it’s a slightly different feel. What I gather from this is that we at Imago really need to work on developing relationships among the core team and volunteers, getting us feeling more like a warm family and less like a band of volunteers.

Conclusions? There are good things going on both places. We both have work to do. We both have things we can learn. In both, the gospel is proclaimed, and so I rejoice.

The importance of training others

“…and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” (2 Tim 2:2)

Paul’s wise counsel to Timothy is applicable on many levels, and has a multitude of benefits. A few that I will mention today:

It about the message, not the messenger. Paul was a good example of this, not being jealous of others who gained renown preaching the gospel, but rather simply rejoicing that the gospel was proclaimed. Pride will tempt us to want to be “the guy” – the teacher and leader that people remember and look to. But what is of primary importance isn’t us, but is the gospel that gets preached. When we practice entrusting to faithful men, we are shedding a few of the (multitudinous) opportunities for pride.

The message must carry on after us. Paul himself knew that his days on the earth were short. To have his most effective ministry, he needed not only to preach to unbelievers, but also to teach the teachers who would reach the following generation. I have heard it said that your effectiveness as a parent isn’t shown as much in how your children turn out as in how your grandchildren turn out. For Paul’s spiritual grandchildren to be vibrant and mature Christians, he needed to make sure his spiritual children were well-trained.

You can’t do it all on your own. This is the big temptation for me, and was the initial thought that prompted this post. Just because you (or I) have the skills to do the task yourself doesn’t mean you should be the one to always do it. There is far more work to do than any one of us can handle. Finding and training others who can both assist and replace you is essential in maintaining health, sanity, and the healthy operation of any ministry.

Rich Mullins’ A Liturgy, a Legacy, and a Ragamuffin Band

If there was ever a “perfect” album to come out of the (largely mediocre) world of CCM, Rich Mullins’ A Liturgy, a Legacy, and a Ragamuffin Band was it. (Are the ‘A’s supposed to be capitalized? It looks funny either way.) This album is fifteen (fifteen!) years old this year, and yet still sounds as fresh and vital as when it was released. If you’re not familiar with the album, let me give you an overview. (If you are familiar with the album, you won’t mind the refresher at all.)

Split into two halves, the first half is the splendid Liturgy. Here In America is the Introit, or entrance. It is followed by the stunning text of (Isaiah) 52:10, the hymn of praise recognizing the beauty of creation called The Color Green, the supplicant’s prayer Hold Me Jesus, the bold restatement of the (Apostle’s) Creed, and Peace, helpfully subtitled A Communion Blessing from St. Joseph’s Square. Each song in itself is excellent, and as a set they reach the level of masterpiece. When, in Peace, Rich starts the first two verses with this juxtaposition

Though we’re strangers, still I love you
I love you more than your mask
And you know you have to trust this to be true
And I know that’s much to ask…

And though I love you, still we’re strangers
Prisoners in these lonely hearts
And though our blindness separates us
Still a light shines in the dark…

We understand immediately the tension of the Christian fellowship – bound by the love of Christ, and yet so frustratingly driven apart by our sinful humanity. It’s beautiful stuff from beginning to end.

The second half is the Legacy: a reflection on life. It starts with the upbeat instrumental 78 Eatonwood Green, then moves into the challenge of being like Jesus (Hard), the challenge of living life away from family (I’ll Carry On), a child’s wonder at Christmas (You Gotta Get Up), the challenge and frustration of the world we live in (Mark Heard’s How To Grow Up Big and Strong), and finally the most beautiful picture you’ll ever hear painted of the tension of living in a country you love while simultaneously looking forward to the heavenly home (Land of my Sojurn).

Nobody tells you when you get born here
How much you’re going to love it and how you’ll never belong here
So I’ll call you my country, but I’ll be longing for my home
And I wish that I could take you there with me…

And the Ragamuffin Band? Well, they sound fantastic. From Rich’s clear piano and the cymbals mirroring the ocean’s crashing in Here In America, to the mellow electric guitar and fantastic drum fills in Peace, to the dulcimer driving Land of my Sojurn, the album has an organic acoustic sound that rightfully has become the inspiration for a younger generation of musicians. My first inclination is to say that it is lightning in a bottle, that it’ll never be captured that way again. But then I listen to the guitars of Andrew Peterson and Andy Osenga, the piano of Ben Shive, and the percussion of Todd Bragg and Garrett Buell, and I will instead be thankful that the musical and songwriting heritage of Rich Mullins has indeed carried on.

If for some reason you don’t already own this album, you can buy it at Amazon.

The Challenges of being a Young Leader

David Swanson of Parkview Community Church in Glen Ellyn, Illinois, has an article up on Out of Ur that really hits home with me. Being a 30-year-old elder who has been serving in some facet of church leadership for the past 7 years, I have run into these challenges time and time again. I’m looking forward to Part 2 where he promises to provide some suggestions. I’m all ears.

Read the article.

Creating the routine

The biggest adjustment this week in preparing for the Saturday night service is starting to think of it as a weekly routine. We’ve done other one-time events down there in the past, and it would be quite easy to think of last Saturday’s service as just another one-time event. Except that it’s not – I need to get music planned, get the worship team lined up and ready to go, get the lyrics prepared for the bulletin, all the usual tasks… again this week.

One thing I think would help in this regard is setting a regular schedule throughout the week for my planning and preparation. Something like this:

Saturday night: worship service.

Sunday: prepare sermon recording for website, listen to it again and evaluate.

Monday: make sure the website is updated for the week.

Tuesday: choose music for the following week and email to worship team.

Thursday: prepare bulletin.

Saturday: practice with the WT and do the service.

Repeat.

I think it might work. However it happens, I sure need a routine.

Church management software, Part 2

I’ve basically narrowed down our web-based CMS search to two programs: Church Community Builder and PurposeWare. I’ve worked with the online demo of CCB for a few days now and liked what I’ve seen. It is very feature-rich and detailed. My fear is that it might be too detailed and might scare away potential users. I haven’t seen PurposeWare up close yet; they will schedule a live demo for me with a sales person, but I can’t just go do it myself. No time to do it this week; I think I’ll set aside some time next week to get the demo.

Both companies have reduced pricing in place for church plants; PurposeWare says they’ll give it to us for free for a year, but haven’t told me yet how much it’ll cost after that. I have a price on CCB that I think we could handle if it’s the best choice. I’m shooting for next week sometime to get a decision made and get signed up.

Songs for the Inaugural Service

Imago Christi‘s inaugural service is just over a week away – January 5, 2008. As I noted previously, it’s a bit of a challenge to pick the music – something appropriate for the first service of a new church, setting the tone for services to come, and having something accessible for those who are coming who may not be familiar with the songs.

I’ve settled on these four:

Blessed Be The Name of the Lord (Clinton Utterbach)
Praise to the Lord, The Almighty
My All In All (Dennis Jernigan)
Jesus, I Come (with new tune from RUF Hymnal)

I think this keeps things relatively simple, yet incorporates some new and old lyrics of praise of the Father, praise of the Son as the Lamb of God, and a beautiful expression of the Gospel in the final hymn. I pray it will be a blessing to those who attend.

Contentment

I was reading Psalm 131 this morning and was struck by the picture of contentment painted in its three short verses:

O LORD, my heart is not lifted up;
my eyes are not raised too high;
I do not occupy myself with things
too great and too marvelous for me.
But I have calmed and quieted my soul,
like a weaned child with its mother;
like a weaned child is my soul within me.

O Israel, hope in the LORD
from this time forth and forevermore.

With two small girls at our house, this picture is a familiar one. When Laura snuggles up on my wife’s lap, she is the picture of contentment. She’s not worried about things “too great and marvelous” – she just wants to rest and to feel the love of her mother. She is secure in the arms of one who she knows loves her, will care for her, and will keep her safe. So she sits quietly, peaceful in the knowledge that she’s in good hands, and content.

As God’s people our hope and contentment is in the Lord. He can handle the great and marvelous things. I want to focus on resting in Him and trusting His goodness today.