Imagine going about your daily activities of life — school, shopping, work, dining — and suddenly the sky around you bursts into song: a voice here, a voice there, until the entire sky is filled with powerful harmonies singing repeatedly the same set of lyrics, delivering a message.
What would you do? Sit slack-jawed! Complain? Hide? Join in? Call the authorities? Utter a sentence starting with “What the…”?
The shepherds tending flocks on the silent night on the hills above Bethlehem faced this situation. In their case, “What the…?” may not have been an unreasonable response, especially since shepherds were considered lower than blue collars, and even though the “authorities” were the chorus of Heavenly Host and voices of angels who announced the birth of the long-awaited Messiah and calmed them with messages to not be afraid.
The composers of the earliest Christmas carols musically captured the range of human emotions, and the majesty of authoritative voices in their fully orchestrated scores. Two notable composers were Friderik Handel and Felix Mendelssohn, each of whom composed while embroiled in classic creative differences with other artists or financiers.
Handel’s now-beloved “Messiah” was controversial when he debuted it in 1741 as part of a commission to help get him out of debt. “Messiah” ends with “The Hallelujah Chorus.” which Handel simply called “Hallelujah.” He based the selection, not one the birth of Christ in Bethlehem, but on the Book of Revelation which prophesies the Second Christmas, the return of Jesus, for “Messiah” (which means God’s Anointed One, promised in the Old Testament), was created as an Easter presentation, not for Christmas.
However, over the years, “Hallelujah” has become a Christmas staple, enhanced by traditions which include the audience standing. This tradition began, not in reverence to the King of Kings, but in deference to King George II of England, who stood at the concert when the chorus began. Some say he stood to honor Handel, others say because he needed to stretch for health reasons (much like President William Howard Taft begat baseball’s seventh-inning stretch). With King George and President Taft, protocol was when the head of state stood, everybody stood.
Why we stand when the chorus is sung today isn’t always clear to listening audiences. But as you’ll see in the video of a flash mob in a Canadian shopping mall, it’s a tradition that has passed on and has meaning today.
Another missing element is understanding the meaning of the word “Hallelujah.” It’s a compound Hebrew word meaning “Praise” (“Halle”) Yaweh (“lujah”); Yaweh being one of the Old Testament names of God. (Another derivation is Hall-El-Ujah; “El” being a Hebrew designation for God.)
Of all the video versions of “Hallelujah,” this food court improvisation captures the beautiful vocal harmonies Handel created, the confusion the shepherds must have felt hearing the Heavenly Host, the spirit of being moved to participate in the moment, then, ultimately, turn to others to share what they say and tell the good news. In #CarolStory, the chorus emerges from the “Silent Night” Heavenly Host singing, “Hallelujah!” (“Praise Yaweh!”) to establish a conversation between the shepherds and angels that Charles Wesley expresses next with a little help from Mendelsohn. Sort of. As we shall see.
On November 13, 2010, unsuspecting shoppers got a big surprise while enjoying their lunch. Alphabet Photography Inc. of Niagara Falls, Ont. (Canada) created this video as a virtual ‘Christmas Card’ to its on-line customers and Facebook fans. The customers of Alphabet Photography Inc. passed it along to their friends and family. In a flash, the video had over 20 million views and was featured on many news and media outlets. Today the video has over 34 million views and has broken all world records to date.
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. — Jesus, quoted in John 14:27
When my pastoral season as a staff associate ended earlier this year, I was liberated from weekly responsibilities at my home church and allowed the liberty to visit other Services of Worship.
This is not “church shopping” as some call it. It’s been a working a sabbatical. These visitations brought with them new opportunities to commune with The Lord in assorted worship venues hearing other pastors preach, singing various styles of music.
Some places we went were just, “Where do we want to go this Sunday?” family choices. Many of the venues where we traveled were the outgrowth of presentations through our Kingdom Impact Theater Ministries.
Our nomadic Sundays included a suburban megachurch, an urban church plant in a high school cafe, an outdoor tent service on a shopping thoroughfare; our tucked-away home church; a renovated barn; an intimate suburban-city church merger with shoehorn parking; a renovated restart on a sprawling campus that added to Fitbit steps. We experienced old school Sunday jump-and-shout, a full-blown pop Christian concert, and a traditional stained-glass chapel with a friendly family instruction, “Mom, they’re Lutheran. They don’t raise their hands or move around.”
We found ourselves in the heart of a gay community; where English was a second language; where our presence virtually integrated the sanctuary; where the congregation was all-black; where it was a rainbow coalition. The pastors ran a spectrum from seasoned-and-running-the-church-for-decades to part-of-the-collection-replenishes-my-Proactive-supply. Yet, no matter where we went the Word of the Lord was solidly presented and, more often than not, we left a little beaten up from a spiritual workout.
CCB meets in the same location in which it was founded. In 1847. The congregation is 90 percent Caucasian, and perhaps 70 percent of that is AARP-qualified although none of them was around when the church began. Their younger pastor is a well-qualified theologian in the Martin Luther King title vein — a “Reverend Doctor.” The last name has a hint of French aristocracy. Most of the congregation, however, call the Reverend Doctor by first name: Zina.
Did I say Zina is female? She is. Maybe I should also mention Zina is African-American.
Barrington Community Church, built 1947.
Musicians Garlan Garner and Vikki J. Myers with Rev. Dr. Zina Jacque
If all of that seems too deep or pretentious, let me peel this back the way Zina might: She’s a big ol’ black country gal from East Chicago, Indiana, who doesn’t look black, who got a PhD in Boston, and is up here preaching to a buncha white folk in a Baptist church that was built before slave times…and they tell her she’s got 20 minutes to preach.
Ah, but what Zina does in those 20 minutes!
We first met Zina when we were co-presenting at an African-American History celebration at an African-American suburban church about four years ago. We’ve presented music and workshops at her church a few times since.
The 20 minutes we spent with Zina at Community Church this summer occurred a week after the riots in Charlottesville, VA, when a white man drove his car into a crowd of African-Americans who were protesting Confederate statues in the community. The driver, a self-described white nationalist, injured 19 people and killed one. A white female protester.
Zina’s sermon was a convicting confessional. A head-slapper. One of those that makes you just sit there and listen instead of taking notes. The notes will talk to you later. “Later” was this morning when I began reviewing my overnight newsfeed.
Two items on the feed caused a #holyspiritmoment smile of irony: back-to-back were the last YouVersion verses of the day that I had tried to post from my Kindle earlier in the morning but ran out of time before I had to be the wife’s Uber-driver to work. When I got home, I see that my verses of the day had been scooped by Ben Mitchell, an acquaintance through the Praise & Prayer Station Facebook Group I visit.
Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye. — Colossians 3:13 (KJV)
But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; — Matthew 5:44 (KJV)
Just below those verses was a Trump-Putin post with a friend’s rant and like-minded thread, the kind of which I’ve chosen to ignore. My blood pressure is borderline. Our budget cannot manage BP prescriptions. I scrolled to find mellower posts. This is what next appeared on my screen:
I can recommend good blood pressure monitors.
The post-er was Aaron Freeman, a long-time friend and fellow Chicago-based actor. Aaron is a well-respected comedian, who cut his improv teeth on the mainstage at The Second City, but established himself as a premiere satirist — in the Dick Gregory mold — when Harold Washington was elected mayor of Chicago in 1983. The landmark election and subsequent battles between the city’s first African-American mayor and the predominately white city council occurred shortly after the original “Star Wars” premiered. Aaron deftly parlayed the daily headlines into a long-running solo comic tour-de-force called, “Council Wars.”
Besides being actors, Aaron and I have a couple of other things in common. We both can be found dressed as Illinois Lottery balls in ancient commercials floating somewhere in cyberspace. We’re both African-American. We both study the Scriptures.
Did I mention Aaron is a satirist? Okay. Did I mention Aaron is Jewish? Ahhhhhh!
Actually, Aaron grew up Roman Catholic and converted to Judaism.
Aaron often comments on things of race, science, African-America and Judaism. He’s been known to irk people because of his wit. Sometimes he’s smarter than the average can bear. However, like any evocative public presenter — say, a Reverend Doctor, Aaron makes you think and if feeling an ouch occurs sometimes, so be it.
Everything from A(aron) to Z(ina)
So, let me break all of this down:
Aaron, my black-Jewish comic friend, posts a mind-blowing “photo” of Coretta Scott King kissing George Wallace, a five-term governor of Alabama, who made a national splash in the 1960s for his unavowed, eternal pledge to racial segregation. Aaron posts this photo with the heart-stopping caption, “How Alabama Negroes Came to Love ‘Their Hitler.’ ” He posts this two days after Roy Moore’s quest for a U.S. Senate seat in Alabama was denied largely because of the vote of African-American women. (If media can be trusted.)
Now, you may still be in that place I was when I saw the photo: Skip it, or bang out an immediate, vitriolic response and note really pay attention to Aaron’s comment that accompanied the photo:
Alabama black women don’t just punish racists, they forgive them!
Orrr, you can do what I did and click the Aaron’s accompanying link to get the rrrest of the story on YouTube, originally posted in 2016. I clicked from curiosity and because, knowing Aaron, I was hoping that the rest of the link didn’t have incendiary data to send me for lisinopril.
I survived. So might you. You need to watch this to make sense of the rest of this piece:
That video essay immediately shot me back to the August morning with Rev. Dr. Zina.
Her sermon is worth a sit-down listen. Remember, they only gave her 20 minutes; but it you want a quicker connection to Aaron’s essay, fast-forward to 14:04. My suggestion — request — is to listen in its entirety for full impact.
The combination of Ben Mitchell reposting the verses on forgiveness, followed by Aaron’s video, and Zina’s extended discourse must give us pause for meditation and prayer: as a nation, certainly as Christ-followers. Or even as Americans whose faith in God is confined to the Old Testament — the Hebrew Bible — wherein The Lord intones:
If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land. — 2 Chronicles 7:14
What is the sin of America which much be confessed?
What are the sins of Americans which must be confessed?
Where must we, who follow Christ, ask forgiveness in order for our sins to be heard?
As we reflect upon the birth of Christ, we must also prepare for His Christmas yet-to- come. What does Jesus say about qualifications and responsibilities of those for whom He is returning?
For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins. — Jesus, Matthew 6:14-15
A Word from Isaiah
All of which brings us to the post between Ben Mitchell’s verses and Aaron Freeman’s photo. The post about Putin and The President. Whenever Mr. Trump’s actions result in further dropping of his “approval” ratings, how do you respond? Do you get sucked into the morass of social harping, or retire to your prayer closet and pray for repentance? Do you pray for the president’s safety, recognizing far worse ramifications? Do you ask forgiveness for placing the government upon his shoulders instead of upon His Shoulders? What is the source of your peace on earth?
Admittedly, as Rev. Dr Zina says, “This is nuts. This kind of love is beyond my pay-grade!”
That’s the peace of the Prince of Peace that Paul says passes all understanding. Thus we must reflect and act upon her challenge: “We have to have confidence that our prayers and our hopes will make a difference.”
The A and Z of this is, if Aaron and Zina demonstrate how The Lord changed George Wallace, there may be hope for Donald Trump.
Says the Lord: “My ways are far beyond anything you could imagine…and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.” — Isaiah 55:8, 9 (New Living Translation)
The piano player phoned about 10 minutes before the call time.
“I just wanted to make sure I’m at the right place,” he said. “All I see is a barn.”
“You’re in the right place.”
The actors arrived at the big red barn about 15 minutes later, in time to see The Pianist at work. He grabbed a snow shovel and joined two other men, who may or may not have been attached to The Barn, clearing the sidewalks. Not because he had to. It’s just who he is. The extra hands were helpful because the temperature promised to only become more sub-zero, although no more snow as anticipated.
Except for the eye-watering atmosphere, the scene was picturesque: The fresh white covering over acres of woods made isolated crimson structure and its attached beige silo more robust. A Courier & Ives card-in-waiting.
That The Pianist pitched in reflected the aura emanating from The Barn, manifested in the two men who were already at work when The Pianist parked. The manifestation continued through Shoveler No. 1, George, who stopped shoveling to greet and hold The Barn door for the entering cast. He was especially elated to meet The Singer, who would be presenting a solo during the Service of Worship. He had heard a recording of the song she’d selected and made an offer.
“I play drums,” he said. “May I sit in?”
While The Singer, The Pianist and George The Drummer entered The Barn to rehearse, stabilizing harmonies in the sanctuary; The Director climbed into the loft of The Barn for an overview of staging and recording possibilities. Ten minutes later, as George The Drummer assumed his mile-mannered George The Shoveler identity, The Director descended the loft and went to talk with The Pastor in another part of The Barn, the silo — The Pastor’s oval office.
“Lark (n): A lighthearted, fun, carefree episode. Often unplanned, a lark can happen when you are feeling adventurous.” — vocabulary.com
Atop the circular stairs, The Director gazed out the window into the white field glimmering under the eastern rising sun. The view was pastoral. Placing himself where The Pastor studies at his desk, it was easy — and helpful — to envision the serenity and inspiration of this view on a lush, green day. At -6 outside, this was not that day.
Yet Minus-6 or 98.6, that the view exists is a miracle. The Pastor, Lamarr Lark, is not the first of many connected to The Barn, who will use that phrase, “a miracle.”
“I remember standing out in the field,” NOW he could flash the smile that rivals the snow for gleam. “I was…I was crying…and I was…..”
Mad at God?
“I couldn’t understand.”
During this brief chat at the top of the winding staircase that supplanted an office door, Pastor Lark recounted the short, intense history of Connection Church, the church he had been working to plant in the country – farmland – an hour north of Chicago. He had no idea how apt “planting a church in the country” would be.
Lark and the team had purchased a large acreage of farmland, the centerpiece of which was a rickety building slightly older than Abraham: a 136-year-old barn.
“You would not believe what it looked like. I said, ‘God, what are you doing?’ ”
RAISE THE ROOF
Lark had a vision for a church. This wasn’t it. When a real estate developer offered cash for the property and a quick closing date, the complex Lark envisioned sharpened. “I had the spot and the property all picked,” he said. Something sleek and modern. Custom-made. Something economically feasible with bells and whistles to intrigue families of the Media Age, families with whom he interacted when working in corporate America nearby, families curious about The Word but scattered about where it’s hard to meet new neighbors. This vision was clear.
Before closing occurred, village officials nixed the deal. The developer’s plan for a new multi-house residential complex was incompatible with zoning guidelines. No sale. The Barn became a white elephant. Lamarr wept.
And submitted. Rather than a barn razing, there was a barn raising.
“God’s plans are not our plans!” Lark’s smile was praiseworthy.
IF GOD WERE A CARPENTER
As God unveiled His plan — in His time — He provided new vision, blueprints, capital, partners, and workers. Like George the Shoveling-Drummer. Like Brenda Lark, The Pastor’s Wife (First Lady of the Oval Office Silo). Like Mike the Carpenter. Lamarr preaches from the pulpit. Mike preaches from the carpet. (Or, he would if there were any. The floors are hardwood. So are the walls. And the beams. Almost everything.)
“We didn’t want any drywall upstairs,” said the soft-spoken Mike. “We had to shore up the beams, keep the wood. We didn’t want any pressed wood. I’m a carpenter. Carpenters are craftsmen. I always wanted to pass what I know on to someone else. God made that happen.”
Among the volunteers was a college-age lad, a medical student who latched on to the intricacies of carpentry.
“Carpentry is one of those professions that used to have prestige, like the pastor was saying. Sometimes people see me and ask, ‘Are you still pounding nails?’ They don’t mean it bad, I’m not somebody to make an issue, so I say, ‘Yeah, I’m still pounding nails.’ But it means something to be a carpenter.”
He didn’t say so, but like any good preacher, he left room for interpretation and personal application. On this last Sunday before Christmas, standing in the middle of a rehabbed barn with a nail-pounder gave new insight into the fact that Mary’s husband from the line of David the Shepherd was a carpenter who taught the craft to his son.
“Carpenters are creative. Everything was created through Jesus.”
The Barn has endless sermon possibilities.
IF WALLS COULD TALK
“Somebody was telling me that the walls could preach a sermon,” Pastor Lark interjected into his message. He continued noting that the whisper of the walls remembering the process of cleaning the building in preparation for the carpenters. “Some of you remember. When we dug out the downstairs, the SMELL from the horses! Imagine…THAT is the barn where Jesus was born…”
Cleansed of its horse dung, porous rafters, and unstable foundation, the remodeled basement is the Connection connection. The drywall is painted stark white, offset by hand-crafted wood trim. It’s an adaptable open, modern space where children play, teaching may occur, food consumed, TV viewed over the fireplace.
“That wasn’t supposed to be there,” said Pastor Lark. Then came Mike, who added two other places that weren’t “supposed to be there:” the kitchen and, upstairs, an entry hall into the worship space.
“You know, it’s easier for some people to come to ‘The Barn’ than to come to ‘church,’ “ says Mike the Carpenter, who moved from a church he had been attending for almost 20 years to answer a cry he heard in a message by Pastor Lark. “People have baggage about ‘church,’ but when they come here, and get to see what we’ve done they’re more open to hear The Word.”
Although weekly services began in September 2016, the official grand opening won’t be until Spring 2017 as Easter approaches. Until then, building within the building continues. The building of relationships — among the members and within growing local communities in Lake County and across the county lines.
Crossing county lines doesn’t mean just across the road into Cook County. The mission of Connection to be a multi-cultural church is more than an advertisement on a side of a barn which is why Lark – an African-American leading a small, mostly Caucasian congregation – is partnering with Rodney Patterson, also African-American and pastor of historic Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church on Chicago’s South Side, a predominately black congregation, to worship and study Scripture together. The fellowship hall is the workshop for building that relationship. It’s a room of transformation– a carpenter’s 2 Corinthians 5:17.
HANDWRITING ON THE WALLS
The fellowship hall walls are covered with poster-sized sticky notes, the residue of brainstorming sessions. They are a blueprint teaching the members how to interact and engage with people who drive from nearby communities, who have different church experiences or Bible knowledge. To emphasize the teaching, the sticky-noted mission statement discusses an edit between “A diverse community” to “an inclusive and equitable” community. That vision, Lark said, is not his, but His. “We want Connection to reflect a heaven that says ‘every tribe and nation.’ ”
At the same time, he knows he is dealing with humans — real people, sinners, who have personal issues that must be addressed, Biblically. Like Paul’s church epistles, these sticky notes have specific instructions. One challenge is developing a corporate, proactive sense of serving as exhibited by The Carpenter and The Drummer (who not only played drums on the rehearsed special song, but unexpectedly — miraculously? intuitively? Spirit-fully? — provided improvised drum underscore in the scene performed before the sermon). Part of overcoming the challenge is discipling through action and language.
Illustration: “I don’t like the word ‘volunteer’ in a church setting,” said The Carpenter. “A ‘volunteer’ doesn’t have the same commitment. It’s about ‘servanthood.’ ”
Another illustration hangs on the walls of the oval office. Above The Pastor’s desk, the post-it note outlines guidelines for developing a Ministry Team proclaiming boldly: “Come and See Orientation Engaging a Non-Believer” leading to TEAM Time:
SHILOH IN THE SILO
On the opposite wall are outlines for practical application of TEAM Time. “The Worship Experience” speaks of “unity fellowship” an important element in a church culture where “worship” is often a synonym for “music.” (Toward this, Connection jobs-in musical ensembles or individual worship leaders rather than depending on a set musical team or style. Perhaps something else Pastor Lark had not planned.)
“The Worship Experience” plays out in the Sunday hour, however, it’s especially applicable as the guideline for the burgeoning relationship with Shiloh entitled, “Let’s Talk About Race,” a series of six dialogues including themes of socialization, reconciliation and transformation. Part of the process includes “unity fellowship” worship experiences in the home church’s neighborhood. Shiloh is scheduled to visit The Barn in February — African-American History Month. Among their collaborations is a semi-annual joint Service of Worship alternately hosted on their home sites, meaning – a trip to the South side and a trip to The Barn.
The idea, Lark explains, is that in an era of increasing racial tensions in the U.S., it’s important to demonstrate that the gospel of Christ is for all; that worship is more than musical style, but a place of preparation for regeneration; that Christ, more than the ballot, is the hope for the nation. Saying this in his message, The Pastor paraphrased a public official who had recently spoken of feeling without hope as the country changes leadership. The Pastor looked to the walls of the resurrected barn on which hung a symbolic cross of resurrection.
If the walls could preach, they’d say THAT resurrection was as likely as the expected Savior of Humanity being introduced to the world in the guise of a baby in the din of a stable. If walls could preach they’d say THAT birth was as likely as a dingy stable being resurrected into a chapel. If the walls could preach, they’d say either of the above would take a miracle.
If the walls could preach, they’s stay it was no lark that the The Pastor stood in the middle of The Barn talking about the birth in the dingy stable. They’d say it came from a silo mentality.
“Then Boaz announced to the elders and all the people…” Ruth 4:9 (New International Version)
It’s the snarkiest of times, it’s the most troublesome of times. It’s time for the church announcements, the bane of a worship planner’s planning. What a to do!
You could mention them at the start of the Service of Worship, like the pre-show curtain speech in theater . But then, the people don’t hear them. They’re getting settled waiting for the real show to start: the music; the real worship, you know? Or for the music to stop. That could be another 10 minutes. More people would be in the audience to hear them. But then…?
If the announcements are in the middle of the service, either before or after the sermon, they interrupt the tone set up by the music to receive the message, or the reflect on it afterward.
If they are after the decision-making, maybe tied in with the offering, they run the risk of being dismissed as a superfluous afterthought. These days with so many announcements being produced as mini-movies, that can be demoralizing, running the risk of an unhappy video ministry. On the other hand, even the most Oscar-worthy announcement verite risks a thumbs down, no matter how well done. In some circles, the idea of movie announcements in church is as sinful as the organ, drums and guitars have been (are?). At best, they become the annoying white nose between the sermon and the parking lot release; at worst, they are akin to audio-cranked, strobe-paced TV commercials that blur the line between the kingdom and the world —
“We interrupt our Worship of God to bring you this news about us.”
Even if the next-to-last item in the itinerary before the day’s exodus, there’s visual cacophony– often boisterously written on the congregation’s faces — of hearing a James Earl Jonesian announcer (the Voice of God?) intone, “We return you now to our regularly scheduled Service of Worship.”
That leaves a gamut of announcement options. These vary according to the church’s size, resources, expectations and clock-watchers: keep them short in passing; interweave throughout the elements, just don’t do them. Let people read the bulletin or go online. Enough with the tongue-in-cheekiness.
However they’re presented, however much creativity and energy are spent, even if they’re diligently absorbed by the most steadfast listener, the question remains: do our “announcements” fit the idea of a Service of Worship which is focusing on God?
The answer, as with each element of church ministry, is found in this perpetual query from a mentor pastor who lassoed freewheeling, unending brainstorming with this earth-bound retort: “Toward what purpose?”
What is the purpose of church announcements?
Simply tradition? A news and prayer update of the calendar or congregation’s lives that we’ve always done, or that everybody else does? The stuff that church bulletin typos comedy is made of? Or is there something about this sharing of information that actually is — or can be — connected to the overall atmosphere of collectively honoring God? Having wrestled with this dilemma for several years, I’m comfortable that there is. Church announcements are as essential to corporately worshipping God as psalms, hymns, spiritual songs, and the sermon. Perhaps, in many ways, more so.
As a presenter and visitor, I’ve experienced the good, the bad, the ugly of “announcements.” Our tendency is to rush through the items, as if necessary evils (emphasis on the final word). There is also the tendency to languish, as if the presenter is self-possessed. I’ve been accused of both.
I’ve attended services where there are no announcements, announcements from the audience, music video announcements, Reader’s Digest bulletin sample announcements, “apologetized” announcements (where the speaker repeatedly makes excuses for what needs to be said), ABC announcements (where every line of the bulletin is read to the congregation).
However, a few months ago, I had an announcement epiphany while, of all times, listening to the pastor’s sermon. Imagine.
You see, as a staff member, my Sunday mornings are often spent fine-tuning details of the service and balancing those with parental responsibilities. When I have platform duties — like presenting the announcements — there are times when my focus is hazy. The slightest technical bobble distracts me. I mentally truncate the list of items to mention…because of the game clock. Or the pastor makes a salient point that opens creative floodgates.
On this particular day, I had no responsibilities but the family news, including no family tasks. So-freed, I allowed myself to become a congregant — to sing, reflect on the scriptures, absorb the message, and make connections. One pastoral point stayed with me as I went forward to spread the news. So much so, it took a moment to speak…and discover: All three verbal items were related to the day’s message, our church mission, our vision. Each had an inherent purpose for being read. They weren’t separate. We were doing these acts of service because of who we are as a church committed to Christ. It was incumbent to express this to the audience, including those people who had never been to our church before. The 3-5 minutes allotted me (the length of a song) now became, not a time out, but time to engage and to challenge; to allow the listeners to remain connected for the elements following — our financial offering, a celebration song, God’s benediction blessing.
Since then, I’ve been developing a more intentional template. A guide for “sermonized announcements” that at least allows my sense of worship to remain attentive and inspired in the midst of ministry-threatening busyness. The template works for a church our size (the 150s) and may have merit elsewhere. It’s a guide to interacting with the congregation, whether through showcasing acts of service, greeting the audience, presenting events information, or giving instructions for the offering or communion. The template allows the challenge of putting the moment in spiritual context and trusting others participate because they understand the “commercial” through Christ’s eyes.
“For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:45)
Can we get our listeners to view the announcements as an opportunity to serve God? And once recognizing that opportunity, can we encourage members and guests to become active participants?
“…faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” (James 2:17)
Making too much of this announcement thing? The point is to dispel the misconception that worship starts and stops with music. It’s the entire time. Our overhead projection that introduces this sequence is called, “Worshipping God through Offerings and Acts of Service.” It’s important to underscore these concepts, particularly among guests whose idea of church may be “they’re always asking for money.” And to remind everyone why the church exits. These items don’t need to happen at the same time. They are, however, a checklist to review when deciding what information should be shared in corporate worship. So, the template is something like this:
Acknowledge the audience — regulars and guests;
Point out information that needs to be written: for example, names & addresses on a communication card;
Give brief instructions to complete card and offering envelope;
Express the church’s mission and vision;
If you have a Welcome Packet, give summary of content, highlight special additions and where to get one;
Connect the mission and vision to this sequence of worship;
Connect to a sermon point if possible; or scripture; maybe note “This is why we do these events…”
Point out the bulletin and refer to key items of the day to be addressed before leaving, and those to read at home;
Invite the audience to a special activity not listed in the bulletin such as a class; when possible, highlight a topic;
Mention any available sermon support material — a CD or order, web connection, or study notes;
Pray, giving thanks for participation and reminding that contributions today underwrite ministries as the ones mentioned;
Invite your offering collectors to begin.
The sequence may seem long, yet has purpose based in research:
Long-time attendees may go through these motions by rote, forgetting the importance of ministry service.
Newcomers don’t know the “rules” and may feel out of place. In anticipation of growth, assume each week has new people.
If you have a video or audio ministry, telling people about the existence of this media for further study on today’s topic is more ministry uplifting and less commercial.
A special class invitation may pique the curiosity of a person who would like further study but doesn’t know what’s going on.
If the repetition annoys regulars, ask how many times they’ve seen their favorite “I Love Lucy” rerun. Research also points out it takes several “touches” or reminders for people to latch on to a concept, especially to comprehend a church’s mission or vision. One church mentor has said, “About the time you’re tired of hearing it is the time the people start getting it.”
We return you now to your regularly-scheduled reading.