As I write this blog I've just finished watching the YouTube video "Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus." This one video has drawn over 18 million viewers in the past 4 weeks. It caused me to reflect on what I believe about religion, grace, and worship and how my belief impacts the church that I lead. In that reflection I've come to realize that for me religion is a set of spiritual disciplines including prayer, praise, and scripture reading that are central to my relationship with Jesus Christ and the church's spiritual formation.
Constance M. Cherry talks about authentic religion in her book The Worship Architect as “to God, with God, and for God” (Cherry xii). So, I can confidently declare that I love authentic religion and the impact it has on my life and those who connect “to God, with God, and for God” through Renaissance. In the context of Renaissance authentic worship is culturally relevant, risk-taking, and contains real-life application. These values lead us to design worship experiences that are life changing.
What is relevant? During the discerning phase of the new church plant my desire was to launch weekly worship experiences as quickly as possible, yet early on my new church strategist (Candace Lewis) helped me to realize that my launch team and I needed time to deeply understand the new culture we desired to reach. To be relevant is to be connected with and to understand the ways of life, needs, and desires of a group of people. It also means being a part of the lives of the people we desire to reach. In the context of Renaissance my family and I live five miles from the physical location of the church, but our lives are intentionally connected with the people who live in the neighborhoods, attend schools, and participate in activities closest to the mission field. As a result of understanding our context, we have created relevant worship at Renaissance that is seeped with offerings of contemporary gospel music, praise dance, and spoken Word creatively combined each week to keep people engaged in and anticipating what is next.
What is Risk Taking? In the context of worship, to risk is to expose someone to the possibility of being uncomfortable. Jesus often did this with his disciples in the gospels through questions like, "Who do you say that I am?" Similarly, I've experienced that life conversion rarely happens without the reshaping of our thoughts, actions, and hearts. As the primary preacher at Renaissance I view myself as an artist invited by God, and inviting others, into life stories that intersect with (sometime uncomfortable) stories of the Biblical text. When we willingly enter into these texts we open our minds, bodies, and souls to meet with God and to experience saving grace. For example, this Sunday I am exposing our culture's view of love being centered around "shacking and macking" and contrasting it with God's highest ideal of agape love centered around "surrendering and bearing" in 1 Corinthians 13.
What is Real-Life Application? When I think of application I imagine the Vaseline that I rub in, work in, spread, and smear on the knees of our two sons after they take a bath. If I do not rub in, work in, spread, and smear the Vaseline it's just a sticky, shiny salve that looks good on the outside, but does not penetrate the pores of ashy knees. Likewise, if worship is merely draped over the surface of our lives and not rubbed in, worked in, spread, and smeared into our circumstances of everyday life, its power is diminished.
At Renaissance, I often give a weekly challenge to apply what's been experienced. For example, I challenged the congregation to a one-week positivity challenge where we dared to speak positively and see positive outcomes manifesting in our lives. In Advent, I challenged the congregation to prepare for Christ's coming by praying the Lord's Prayer each day. During our study of the book of Exodus, I challenged each person to choose one of the Ten Commandments to improve in their life and to ask for God’s help in manifesting the commandment in their life. Last week because of Valentine’s Day approaching, I challenged the congregation to practice love through a daily act of kindness towards a person closest to them. Through this they will be reminded that agape love is not based upon feelings. Rather, agape chooses to show kind actions even where there seems to be no reward. Going forth, as we approach the Season of Lent, one relevant, risk-taking, and real worship practice that we will experience is offering intercessions and pinning them on the cross. Just as Jesus intercedes for us with God, we are called to intercede for others as a way to empower the church to be a witnessing and serving community for those who are believers and unbelievers.
Gayle Carlton Felton writes in his book This Holy Mystery “As the body of Christ we are the priestly people (1 Peter 2:9-10) and mediators for the whole people.” Our job is to pray for the world and remember the world to God.” (Felton 55).
May your worship this week be life-giving through God, with Jesus, and by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Rev. Lia McIntosh is pastor for Renaissance United Methodist Church in Kansas City, Missouri.