Our recent worship consultation with Cathy Townley gave me pause for thought about my call to ministry. I realize now how far afield I have gotten from that call. My home church was very engaged in justice issues. They were politically involved. New to Christianity thirty-five years ago, I assumed that was normal. That influenced my call to ministry.
When I arrived at seminary in 1985, my first assignment was to exegete Isaiah 1.10-17. “Exegesis” is research performed on text, history, culture and language to arrive at understanding which is then applied to one’s present context.
The message of Isaiah 1.10-17 is that God’s people were doing all manner of things in worship and thinking they were good. God, according to Isaiah, wasn’t happy about their worship, though. People were worshiping while neglecting to do good in society. So they received a stern rebuke from Isaiah for failing to “… seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.” Worship in the sanctuary was lost on God when people were not engaged in ministry with the marginalized. Worship in the sanctuary has to carry over to witness in the community. That was very clear to me in 1985. Since then I have gotten caught up in all kinds of other things, mostly of lesser importance.
Many churches are in decline and tweak mission and vision statements. Others add a screen, hire a band, or redecorate the sanctuary. I am sure that it is important to update things at least once or twice each century. Especially if we want to reach newer and younger people. On the other hand, the things that Isaiah said God wants never go out of style. It’s possible to revitalize and grow a church just by doing what God wants for the marginalized in society. I used to be pretty clear about that, but for some reason, I have spent years on worship styles, budgets and buildings, and not enough time on ministry at the margins of society. Being better engaged outside the sanctuary could have positive influence on what happens inside the sanctuary. Faithfulness outside the sanctuary might be more important to God than what we do inside the sanctuary.