Dwelling Worship Series, week 2 — VICTORY
November 11, 2018
This spring, I had the privilege of serving as a leader on a pilgrimage to Korea. Worship and prayer are central to the life of the church and Korean spirituality, and we started each morning by attending a 5:00 am prayer service. The service always began with us joyfully singing and clapping to two or three hymns (I think in an effort to wake everyone up). On several of the days, one of the chosen hymns was the southern gospel favorite, “Victory in Jesus.” The fervor with which the 600 people gathered at 5:00 am sang Eugene M. Bartlett, Sr.’s most famous song was remarkable. The passion and deep belief in the words they were singing was quite evident.
The notion and proclamation of Christ’s victory and “winning souls for Christ” is very common in many of the evangelism circles I run in, and it was common Christian language for decades. Over the years, however, we began to make assumptions about our members’ formation; and I’m not sure that we’ve done a good job of helping our congregations (let alone those outside our churches) really understand what Christ’s victory means and entails for our lives and for creation.
Chapter 9 of Hebrews ends by stating that Jesus will come again, not to take away sin, but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him. I think this verse poses the greatest challenge to many of our North American congregations today. We can blame conflicting priorities, consumerism, and changing cultural values on why people aren’t coming to our churches and choose other ways to spend their time and money. But I’m not sure it’s their fault. How well have we shared the story of Jesus and offered a compelling reason for people to want to know more?
Early in my tenure at Discipleship Ministries, during the height of the Vital Congregations and Vital Signs dashboards initiative in the denomination, I wondered if we were really measuring the ministry and transformation we thought we were measuring. How are congregations living out the mission of “making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world,” and what practices need to be in place for the mission to be fulfilled? In studying congregations of various sizes, ages, and geographic locations (most of which were considered “vital” by the dashboards), I found the same realities in most congregations. Most of the church leaders I interviewed could talk about the wonderful ministry and programs of their congregation, but had difficulty connecting the ministry to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. They also struggled to articulate what difference having a relationship with Jesus would have in someone’s life.
In a period of deep division and brokenness in our country, what difference does and could Jesus make? Where does the good news speak into the places that seem hopeless and lost? Do we live as if the weight and power of sin has already been taken away and that Jesus’ sacrifice and love is available and intended for all people?
Questions to consider:
- Does your congregation have a practice of faith sharing? Could most of the congregation articulate their faith story and the difference Jesus has made in their lives? Does the congregation know your faith story? Consider including part of your story in the sermon, or at least sharing it soon.
- How is your congregation sharing and embodying the good news to your community?
- How are you intentionally linking the good works of your church (mission/outreach) to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus? Many in my study could not differentiate the good done between a church and a civic organization.
- How are you inviting people to not just be good church members, but to live as disciples of Jesus?
- What would “victory” look like in the lives of people in your community? What transformation do you think God desires and how are you actively looking for signs?
Rev. Dr. Heather Heinzman Lear serves as the Director of Evangelism at Discipleship Ministries in Nashville, TN. She regularly works with local congregations, districts, annual conferences, seminaries, and ecumenical bodies to provide training and resources on evangelism and discipleship in the 21st Century. She holds degrees from Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, Duke Divinity School, and Boston University. Heather is an elder in the North Carolina Annual Conference, and previously pastored three local churches. She is grateful for the support of her husband, and the heart of her 10-year-old son, who constantly reminds her of what the Kingdom of God looks like.