From Services to Service
As I mentioned in an earlier post, we need to shift the principal focus and locus of Christian commitment away from Sunday morning to every morning, to every day, to life itself. One way of breaking ground in this tough transition from event-based Christianity to lifestyle Christianity is to emphasize that attendance at worship services should lead to personal and familial acts of service. In other words, our worship of our God should lead to living for our God by “loving our neighbors as ourselves.”
In fact, the basic shape of liturgical worship is organized around this premise. The congregation – mostly scattered from each other during the week – gathers together to remember who they are, to acknowledge the divine Other, and to be strengthened for service by Word and sacrament. Traditionally, it is the deacon, who is an icon of servant hood (more on that here), who dismisses with the congregation with a charge to “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.” Unfortunately, we could, to fit popular attitudes, change the dismissal to something like “Thank God it’s over!” or “See you next Sunday” or “Religious obligation done for this week” etc.
Communal worship is where God’s people are gathered together and then sent out as individual and familial “lights of the world” into their neighborhoods, schools, and jobs, as well as their family and friendship circles. After a week of living for Christ most of us have had some failures, have taken a hit or two or experienced some amazing moments of grace. It is then high time to return from our scattered lives to be gathered once again as the people of God. This cycle of being gathered and being sent can be found in the life of Jesus and in many the great renewal movements of Church history (As an aside, Dominican spirituality is particularly modeled after this pattern of gathering and sending, contemplation and proclamation).
What can we do in our worship services to highlight this reality?
- You will find in some churches the following sign above their exit-ways, “You are now entering the mission field (see here).” I imagine the effect of this sign depends in large part on the frequency of that congregation’s teaching, witness, and preaching regarding the call to Christian service.
- There are some congregations that are canceling their regular services one or more times a year to engage in volunteerism and service in their community (see here). I think this is on the right track, though there are some subtle dangers in the cancelling of worship services for other (more?) "worthy causes.”
- Perhaps a series of testimonies/faith stories from individual congregants that highlight the connection between worship and their service to others throughout the week
What ideas do you have?