Posts Tagged ‘Worship’

Moving to Two Services

Embody has come to the place of making a big decision: do we move to two services or move to a new location?  We’ve been worshiping for nearly 2 years now, and this is an exciting delimma to be in because it means we’re growing.  The leadership team has worked on this for quite a while and looked at options, prayed, and discussed the matter and come to the conclusion that it’s time to go to two services.

This causes some concern amongst the Embody family because it means not worshiping all together.  It bumps up against the value of community that we have forged and honed.  So, I was not surprised that the church went into anxiety mode when they heard about the change.  Now, I should say that this is not the first that they had heard about it.  We met 6 months ago to discuss the possibility and heard concerns and questions at the time…and decided that then (6 months ago) was not the time to start moving in that direction.

But now our growth is dictating that it’s time to do “something.”  It’s well-documented that when a church is 80% full (or feels that way) that the church won’t grow.  Our capacity is 100 and we start to feel full at 85-90 (something we’ve had about 7-8 times).  In the summertime (a slower time in West Michigan) we have been in the 60’s and 70’s with a few 50’s and 80’s.  If everyone who calls Embody home were to come at the same time we would be over 120.  As the Fall approaches, people will find a routine that includes worship – and people for whom worship is not part of their routine…they may be looking for a safe place to explore faith.  It’s a prime time for growth.  The way I see it the options are these:

  1. Move to a new location – (problem…there are not new locations available in our area – the place we are called to minister)
  2. Alter our worship space – (problem…we did that and created space for more people…now filled up often and feeling full)
  3. Alter our worship space further – (problem…doing that would mean more money than we have, and we can not get a loan until we can cover our own expenses – something we can not do yet)
  4. Buy the land and build something – (same problem as further altering our worship space)
  5. Worship in two seperate services until we reach the amount of people or offering to cover our expenses and make a change to our space where we can worship together again…which is a goal – (problem…many are concerned that we will become two churches)

These are tough choices to work through. It comes down to a choice between two values: 1. the value of ministering to a locale underserved by churches and 2. worshiping in the same space at the same time

Both of these are important values.  One of them, I believe, can be overcome by intentionality of community-building and spending time together as a people outside of set worship times.  The other places us outside our sphere of influence and inevitably within a snowball’s throw of another church.

Way to solve the problem #1: immense donation by a rich uncle (this I don’t want because it keeps us from working it out together – that and I don’t have a rich uncle. #2 Become tithers (this takes time and a growth in discipleship) I anticipate this coming over time, but it is not something I can push because many in the church have been burnt and feel that churches just want their money.  #3 Grow in number of regular worshipers (this takes time – unless I went around to all the churches in our area and tried to skim off the top – something I won’t do because it’s not what I’m called to do, and…it tends to gather malcontents.)

I hate having to focus on numbers of people and $, but they are a reality if not the focus.  You can’t hide from them, just deal with them.  The reason to have more people is not because they bring a pocketbook but because they have an opportunity to engage God, God’s word and faithful people in a meaningful and authentic way.

So…here’s where we are: the decision has been made, the concerns and questions heard (they have been very helpful), a “make-it-happen” team formed, the anxiety raised, the plea for help raised to our God, and I’m asking you to be in prayer for Embody as we start this next phase of growth.  (Oh, and if you’re a rich uncle – anybody’s rich uncle – call me.)



April 24, 2011 4 comments

He is risen!  He is risen, indeed!

That’s how it started this morning.  We had two services today (Easter Sunday), and they were both pretty packed.  If I were pushed to give you numbers I would say there were 80 people in each service.  Here are the types of people we had:

Most all of our normal regular Embody types.  Then we had grandparents, siblings, and visiting cousins – these are the ones we won’t see again until they come to visit again in 3-6 months.  Which is cool.  But we also had the people who got our mailer and decided this was the week.  We had a single mom and her daughter who entered the front door and made it pretty clear that she was out of her comfort zone (she and her daughter had a great time).  We had a mom and grandma who lost a husband two days ago and didn’t want to be around her normal church friends because it was all so tender, and a little anonymity is helpful right now for her.  We had a good number of Chicago folks who make their summer weekend homes in a little community just down the street (think Dirty Dancing without the “dirty”).

God knows why they all came, and if they’ll come back.  Some of them left their info, and know I’ll contact them.  A few checked the box that reads “I want to be left alone”, and I will. 

We also had a choir.  Funny – for rehearsal we had about 7, but somehow when we stood up there this morning there were about 15 of us.  I don’t know.  Worked out.  There were also donuts the size of watermelons, an easter egg hunt that did two things: gave great photo ops and gave adults an easy way to talk and enjoy relaxing company together.  There was me, looking at the clock when everything was over and realizing I’d miscalculated how long things would go (better short than too long).  There was also a large-sh offering, a new “front” with a new platform so a short guy can be seen while preaching.  Oh, and there was Kathy who drew some really great artwork during each service (both were snatched up for some undisclosed donation after the service.)

Mostly, we heard the story – the love story with creation, broken relationships, God’s plan to fix it, a hero who arises, His death and resurrection, and our part in being the hands and feet of Christ to continue reconciling the world to God – oh, and the most important part…hope.

It was a win.  I feel good right now.  Tired, but really good.  Thanks to those of you who may have prayed for us.  Winner of a day.  Now, if you’re the type who likes to pray, you can pray that some of those people return to become part of our family of faith – and faith seekers.

What Easter Morning Sounds Like

April 19, 2011 1 comment

Hi.  I’m Jim, the pastor here.  Glad you decided to join us for worship this morning.  If you don’t go to church on a regular basis, or maybe even haven’t been to church at all before, let me introduce you to how things tend to work.  See that guy behind the other mic? That’s Soulinh.  He’s going to play some music and we’re going to sing.  The songs tend to be directed to God or about God or, sometimes, directed at the rest of the people in the room…encouraging them in a certain direction – upward, usually.

After we sing a few songs, we send the kids upstairs to continue worshiping in a way that’s a little more accessible for their young ages.  It’s not that they’re incapable of understanding that God loves them, but the way they need to hear it can be a little more appropriate upstairs.  When they head upstairs we’ll open the Bible and take a look at what God has to say to creation.

If you’ve never heard a sermon before, it can take all kinds of forms.  Sometimes the preacher will talk for a long time, or a short time.  Sometimes it’s even a conversation of sorts between you and the preacher, but the most important thing is that God gets to speak through the Word of God (that’s what we call the Bible here sometimes).  We believe that God speaks through the Bible and the preacher gives some insight into what God has to say to us, here, today.

Now, if you’re new to the Bible, let me give you a short overview: it’s a story, a love story about a God who created a world full of beauty and wonderful animals and the most complex of all: humans – who dwelled in a garden with God and each other.  We were created in God’s image for a relationship with God, to love God, to walk with God, to glorify God and to have a friendship with God.  Being human involves a relationship not only with God, but with other humans in peace and equality.  But things broke.  These relationships were ruptured and separated when people decided to break the trust and attempt to take God’s place, disobeying the only rule God layed out for creation.

Like any good story, especially a love story, there needs to be a problem – a break in the relationship that is overcome.  This is it.  The relationship is broken through the actions of humans, and there is nothing they can do to restore that relationship.  What’s worse, is that the brokenness isn’t just between creator and creation; the rupture goes deeper – into how humans interact with each other, and with the rest of creation.  But, like a good love story, a hero arises who will reunite the two separated parties.

God wants to bring things back into the peaceful wholeness (there’s a great word we use for that – Shalom) that we had in the Garden of Eden.  God wants to reconcile, wants to walk again, talk again with us – this time with the even deeper knowledge of love; the love that reconciles and moves forward.

So, back to the hero who arises.  Through time God raises up a people who represent all that God stands for.  They fail miserably to be God’s representatives in the world, but the Creator continues to bring them back and forgive them.  His plan is to raise up out of them a Messiah (a person who will bring them to salvation – or a restored relationship with Godself).  In time, God did just that – he sent a hero, a Messiah.  But not just any person – God came himself, put on flesh and dwelt among us to be the perfect reconciler.  It’s tricky and simple that he was born to a virgin named Mary – a simple and faithful woman.  The child was named Jesus.

Of course God showed what a human is supposed to look like, what they used to look like: full of love, and in an unbroken, unsevered relationship with God.  It’s something people haven’t seen in thousands of years, and they didn’t quite know what to do with this picture – a picture that showed their own frailties, foibles, and faults in such an nonjudgmental way.  So just when we, the readers of the story, start to get ready for the wonderful resolving of conflict, there is a plot twist.

Jesus is killed by those he came to reconcile with.  And the reader of the story is crushed.  And those who followed Jesus were crushed until the beauty of the whole story becomes clear.  All along God had planned on the death of Christ – reconciliation is not inexpensive after all.  And after three days of death, God overcame death with the power of love and life and brought Jesus back to life and with Him our relationship…all back to life.  At last, in the death of Jesus, the price is paid and a dying, broken relationship is finally put out of its misery.  And in the resurrection life is breathed into Jesus and at the same time breathed into the dead relationship.  Life.  Real and unhindered.  Renewed to the garden we walk and converse freely.

All this was free – the grace God showed free for the taking – a relationship renewed.  It’s when we recognize this that we are free to be truly human again.  And, inevitably, when we try again and again to sever our relationship, Christ’s death and resurrection covers it over and again so that we are reconciled again and again.  Life without end.  What a love story: pure love, broken relationships, a costly reunion, and a renewed passion and relationship more vibrant than before.

So, that’s what a sermon kind of sounds like.  After that we’ll respond.  Because, really, after a love story like that – one that involves us – who wouldn’t want to respond in some way.  Maybe a “thank you”.  And there are a lot of ways you can do that…primarily God wants us to respond with our lives – to give back our lonely self to God, but not just a little of us, the whole self.  That is, after all, what God gave for us.  Here at church we tend to pass a plate where you can respond monetarily, if you’re prepared for that.  If you’re not prepared to give a gift today, let this worship service be our gift to you.  We’ll sing a song, too…usually a praise to this reconciling God.

After this we go out into the world to be God’s representatives: the hands and feet of Christ in the world.  To help the continuing restoration of the relationship between humans and humans, God and humans, and humans with the rest of creation.  God sends us out into the world (like God did so long ago with Jesus’ lineage) to represent love and righteousness and mercy and justice.

Church at O’Hare

Each stands facing the oval track

It gleams stainless

Steel and black, unmoving

So they stand, and give cursory glances at one another

Mother and child tired with shifting feet

Business man – briefcase leaning on creased trousers

Grandmother sitting nearby knitting needles clacking

College student carefully watching the briefcase, wary

A whirring sound, flashing lights and their number flashing

They gather nearer the track and wait while

Black moves past steel and makes its circuit

Waiting.  For the building to release its hold on what is theirs

Each owns something.  It travels with them, following them

Covered in flowers or understated canvas

Most black or blackened by handling

Sizes and shapes notwithstanding they are all the same

Each focused on the same point

Hundreds of eyes watching with expectation

Awaiting the revealing of what is hidden

And when it does they will pounce – claiming their baggage

So that’s what a child’s bag looks like

And the briefcase matches the suitcase

Knitting needles fit within the worried patches of a carpet bag

Backpack fitted with bedroll a home on the road

And now the oval track comes to a stop

The bowels of the building finished revealing what it knows

One family stands staring at one motionless floral print

Sitting there.  Not theirs.

And each person continues on their journey

Having seen everyone else’s baggage

Leaving by themselves, but knowing they’re not alone

Except that one lucky soul whose motionless floral print

Was left and never claimed

Lucky soul free from burden

Trying deperately now, somewhere,

Not to replace their burden

Toddler Army Crawl

March 22, 2011 1 comment

I’m sitting and trying to think about where I’ve seen God around me.  I feel like writing, but nothing seems to be coming.  It never really works that way for me.  I can’t just sit and write something, but need a picture or some small drama to actually happen in order to notice what God is up to around me.  I was almost getting frustrated when this happened:

Two women.  One with hair perfectly coiffed and ironed clothes and shiny shoes, earrings and a smile.  One, also with a smile, with jeans, sweatshirt, hair that you can tell got washed, but not blow-dryed…oh and she’s towing a toddler.  He’s everything that cute is about.  He’s got a little pair of khaki pants, blue sweater and a plaid collared shirt under the sweater.  You can see his diaper poking out of the top of his pants.  He’s got one hand in his mouth and the other swiping dirt off of various surfaces (preparing to go into his mouth no doubt.)  His hair is a curly poof of golden sunshine.

The women are engrossed in their long-overdue conversation and giving cursory attention to the little boy who’s within arm’s reach.  He toddles a little away and realizes he’s gotten farther from his mom than he realized.  He turns, sees the distance, and makes a running fall toward his mom.  His hands and body make that slapping sound on the floor (not the “my head hit the floor” sound, but the “this is enough to scare me” kind of sound).

Watching this, and having some experience with falls like this I am anticipating what is sure to come: a blood-curdling scream.  But it doesn’t come.  What does come impresses me: ARMY CRAWL.  Staying on his belly he doesnt take the time to get up and run to mom.  He just wants to be near her as soon as possible so he wiggles on his tummy until his hand reaches her pant leg.

Wow.  I wish I knew this kid’s name.  I wish I were more like this kid.  How often have I found myself too far from my heavenly Parent’s side, fallen and then taken far too long to return?  While I’m writing this it’s the season of Lent in the church calendar, and this kid just summed it up for me today.  Recognize where you are in relation to the One who loves you and return to that One.  With all haste, and no matter the cost.

All We Like Dogs

March 17, 2011 Leave a comment

This morning I spent $111 at the vet’s office.  We’ve had Jack for a year now, so I made an appointment for him to go to see the vet.  Something you have to know about Jack: he’s a scaredy dog.  He’s a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, and as such he’s supposed to be really social and love new people and enjoy sniffing everybody’s everything, but Jack’s not that way (one of the reasons I like Jack).  He doesn’t follow all the norms, but does things his own way.

When we adopted Jack we heard that he had spent the first year of his life in a barn away from people (Cavaliers are bred to be around people all the time), so he was never properly socialized around people or other dogs.  He’s not aggressive (mostly) and never bites to draw blood.  He’s just odd in his really super-cute way.  If we go somewhere new or meet someone new he hides behind Dana or myself.

But I’m finding that we get something from Jack and we love it.  He loves us.  He thinks we’re great, and I think he enjoys all my puns and terrific jokes.  We receive that from him, and he receives love back from us.  He also gets food, treats, a bed to sleep in (my bed, by the way), and this morning…shots.

I hate to be the cynical bearer of honesty today, but I think there’s something else I have gotten from Jack: an understanding that all non-forced relationships have built within them a giving and receiving.  I’m friends with the people I’m friends with because I get something from them: mutual respect or good conversation or someone to share a common interest.  There simply has to be that or I probably won’t spend time with them.  Wow.  This kind of makes me sound like a really horrible person, but I think it’s the case with everyone.  Even Mother Theresa received from those she spent time with.

If this weren’t the case, we would spend time with many more people than we do.  Think about why you have the friends you do.  Or maybe why you don’t have as many friends as you would like.

We could argue about this, I’m sure, but here’s my point: Jack was terrified to be around people (not just the vet’s office people), but when I took him to the dog park directly after that, he happily sniffed the butt of every dog there.  He had something in common with the dogs – they are alike in ways that make them sniff each other.

We can smell on someone else a kindredness.  And in the church, people from completely different worlds with completely different likes and dislikes with everything in the world pulling them apart…come together because they have a kindredness – a shared giving and taking, a holy connection…they are family.  We have received together the gifts of salvation and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and a connection to the Creator, Sustainer, and Giver of life.

So we look past our differences in light of our one ENORMOUS likeness.  We serve and share in the same God who has made us a family.  One group of dogs: mutts and purebreds, clean and dirty, foul-smelling and perfumed, long and short-haired, collared and haltered – who gathers weekly to jump on our master and express our love and then to go out into the world having relieved ourselves of all that weighs us down and hinders us – out to wag our tails and share the love our master has so feely given us…all of us rescues who need to overcome our fear of those unlike us.

Ok, I recognize this was a bit cheesey.  But I spent all morning looking at big brown eyes and long floppy ears.  Forgive me.


March 10, 2011 Leave a comment

One of the fun challenges in church planting is generating momentum.  In particular, it is challenging to generate momentum in attendance.  We have 100 or so people in our directory, but an average attendance of 65-70.  I know, I know…this is a pretty normal percentage for a church, but we need, Need, NEED to gain momentum to take a next step.

I don’t want just numbers, but I do want to help those who have never made weekly worship attendance a priority or a practice/discipline feel the benefits of having an established rythm of worship.  So, I’m trying something fresh this week.

We are going to be walking through the book of Esther for the next 5-6 weeks.  The story is one of the funniest, most ironic, soap operas in the Bible and I think it lends itself to a series in the fashion we enjoy at Embody – conversational engagement of the text.

Here are some of the things we’ll be doing over the next 5-6 weeks:

1. One of our resident artists will be producing a weekly piece of art in various mediums during the worship service (we’ll see if this is helpful, distracting, or both).

2. We’ll read the story outloud.  Since this would take over an hour to do all at once, we’ll read our weekly portion outloud and use cartoon pictures (made by a resident artist) to recap the previous parts of the story before we read each new section.  By the end of the series we’ll have a cartoon handout of the whole story!

3. I’m inviting people to read each week’s passage before hand and turning in (via email) a 10-word or less summary, like a headline for the passage.  For instance, if we were doing the story of David and Goliath headlines might read: “Underage Recruits Used In Battle”, “King Refuses Lead Army In Battle”, “Ancient Weaponry Utilized”, or even “Shepherd Boy Defeats Giant, Leads Israeli Army to Victory”

4. If appropriate and if we’re able, I hope to use some people in reenacting parts of the story.  Physical representation of certain aspects might be helpful.

My hope is that this will give people a reason to continue to return to hear more of the story and to engage scripture as well as participate in the sermon.  I don’t have a number goal, but I do have the aim of having the same people return week after week.  We’ll let God do what God does best – work in the heart of God’s people!

Here’s how you can help with my sermon…well, with the intro to the sermon: I could use your summaries or “headlines” for this Sunday over Esther 1:1-2:18.  Send them to my email account .  Thanks!