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The Sweet Spot of Christian Ministry

“At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless;
Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is,
But neither arrest nor movement. And do not call it fixity,
Where past and future are gathered. Neither movement from nor towards,
Neither ascent nor decline. Except for the point, the still point,
There would be no dance, and there is only the dance.” – T.S. Eliot

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Neither arrest nor movement. That phrase always troubled me, as I read Eliot for the first time. I was a student in the Torrey Honors Institute at Biola University, in La Mirada, California. How could something not be still and not be moving at the same time? Neither arrest nor movement.

Today, as a Pastor of Worship Arts in the Denver area, Eliot’s words still ring true. Over the years, since my time as a student, I have at times oscillated from arrest to movement and back again. It’s an easy thing to do in life and an even easier thing to do in ministry.

In ministry, we often feel caught between two extremes regarding our work. On the one side of the pendulum is the goal of a fully reliant walk with God. After all, it was Paul who said, “it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose” (see Philippians 2:13). On the other side of the pendulum, is a healthy desire to impact the world for Jesus Christ. We work hard and feel like it is our responsibility to offer all we can to the Lord in His service. As James reminds us, “faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead” (see James 2:17).

Could it be that Eliot’s riddle has a grasp on Christian living and Christian ministry that finds the sweet spot between arrest and movement?

In his book, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, Eugene Peterson argues that the Christian life falls somewhere between the Western Paradigm of working increasing amounts of hours in order to get ahead and the Eastern Paradigm of remaining absolutely still in letting go of the world. Peterson argues that, like most things, Jesus won’t that easily be put in a box. Instead, the Christian both takes up his cross (Luke 9:23) and has a burden that is light (Matthew 11:30).

It is there, cross in hand and with an easy yoke, that we find the sweet spot of Christian ministry. The Christian jumps into the river of God and joins Jesus in the work that He is already doing. It is both reliant on the work of God and offering our firstfruits. It is, as Eliot said, neither arrest nor movement. And there, we find the dance.

There is an interesting parallel to the weekly worship services that we have at Greenwood Community Church. There are some weeks in which I enter the services feeling like we have absolutely worked our tails off preparing for what will surely be an awe-inspiring worshipful time. And some of those same weeks, the congregation comes away with a resounding “meh.” There are other weeks in which I have entered the worship services feeling as though we didn’t quite have enough time as a band together to work out all the details, or I wasn’t quite sure that the “right” songs had been selected. And some of those same weeks, I have been greatly encouraged by the ways that God has moved in the hearts and lives of the people of the church.

So what do we learn?

There is a sweet spot of Christian ministry that lies somewhere between arrest and movement. It is not reliant on self; it is reliant on the work of God. But, it offers the best of what is available and it prayerfully asks God to do what only He can do and use what “we gladly bring” to the Newborn King.

It is, as Bob Sorge has written, the pursuit of jumping the very river for which God has created His children. Of the river, Sorge says, “We have been fashioned in such as way that the river of God alone will satisfy the deep longings of the human spirit” (See Sorge’s Following the River). Let us be clear that the river flows from God Himself at His very throne (Revelation 22:1). It does not originate from us, but we are invited by God Himself to take the plunge!

May each of us today, find the sweet spot, not only of Christian ministry, but of our very lives in Christ as we offer ourselves freely to work that Jesus has already begun!

 

The Global God and His Children of Every Tribe

“In reality, all congregations are ethnic.” – Sandra Maria Van Opstal

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In her new book, The Next Worship, Sandra Maria Van Opstal challenges worshipers and worship leaders to a new understanding of how to glorify God in our diverse world. She asks the questions, “When the church invites others to the table in worship, what assumptions do we make about what is and is not normal?” and “What happens when a diverse church glorifies the global God?” These questions (and the other questions she raises) are much needed questions to be discussed, as the people of the world (and the church alike) can often seem to have grown increasingly polarized from one another. Primarly, we get stuck in a narrow perspective of who are God is and who we are as His church. We tend to think that everyone thinks and acts like we do and we even fantasize about a God who looks like us! We forget that the church down the street (let alone across the globe!) can have significantly different approaches to worship that we do and as a result, we tend to insist upon others “doing church” or “doing life” the way that we do. This problem, in itself, reveals our need for a God who is other and has created a vastly diverse Creation to reflect His image. For this reason and others, Van Opstal’s book is timely and needed.

The church where we worship, Greenwood Community Church in Greenwood Village, Colorado, is increasingly waking up to these questions, as we seek to be formed as a body of Christ-followers that invites men and women (and children and youth and the elderly) from every tongue, tribe, and nation into a unified corporate expression of the worship of Jesus Christ. This is no easy task, as the potential divisions are endless. The devil, who seeks only to “steal, kill, and destroy” (John 10:10) has been creating divisions since the beginning. And, Melkor sang a new melody of discord in Tolkien’s Middle-Earth origin, the devil has continued to sow discord in the world to this day. It is for this reason that Paul warned the church in Rome, I urge you, brothers and sisters, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them. For such people are not serving our Lord Christ, but their own appetites. By smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of naive people.” (Romans 16:17-18). In this way, to watch out for this division is really the first step among many. 

The problem, after all, is not God’s. Instead, His children have continued to make a mess of his creation after millennia of the Good Father providing His children with gifts. As Frank Burch Brown argues, this warrants an approach that is both inclusive and discerning. (Note that discerning does not, here, mean non-inclusive). In his book, Inclusive Yet Discerning, Brown writes, “The mere fact that God’s created beings use very different languages in prayer and praise is presumably no problem for God, of course. We can safely assume that God, who is said to know all of us better than we know ourselves, has no personal need of translators. The problem is ours. The very moment we tell the whole world we want to praise God together, we must necessarily rely on our own language, culture, and concept of God. But that may be alienating rather than inviting, and it threatens to undercut the experience we are most hoping to share—the experience of being united in praise of God. How can we even know whether we are all praising the same God, given that we are speaking different languages and may have rather different ideas of God to begin with?” – Frank Burch Brown

So, how can we know if we are praising the same God? The starting (and finish) line is found in the greatest commandments ever given: loving God and loving our neighbors as ourselves (Matthew 22:36-40). And, as you might recall, we are given a stern warning in Scripture of the consequences of loving God and hating our brother or sister. As we seek to remember Christ at the table in our churches and our homes, may we diligently pursue a posture of love for our Global God and His children of every tongue, tribe, and nation!