Sermon Archive

You might recognize the name Elizabeth Gilbert as the author of the bestselling novel Eat, Pray, Love.  Along with her fiction writing, Gilbert also writes and speaks about creativity – how it works and how it sometimes doesn’t work.  She tells stories about her own experiences with writer’s block and the fear of failure that can stop creativity dead in its tracks.

The Witness We Make

The witness we make in Hospitality and Worship.


Lego Millennium Falcon.


It’s widely known fact I am a lego fan.  The Lego Millennium Falcon has been on my Amazon wish list for a long time.  One of my friends Elijah David (3.5 years) knows this and he was excited to tell me that his pediatrician has the Lego Millennium Falcon at the office. 


WOW, I said, and she let’s kids play with it? 


Nah, it’s locked up behind a glass case.


I thought that’s about right.  If I had Millennium Falcon it would probably take a long minute before I let Elijah have a go at it. 


This week I had the chance to visit the Danville Community Centre operated by Connections UM Cooperative Ministries.  Their director Danielle was showing us the new digital road sign as she was giving us the tour, when I noticed the monthly Lego day at the centre advertised on the sign’s scroll.  Can’t big kids come Lego day?, I asked.  Danielle responded, “well parents are welcome to just drop the kids off, but you’d be welcome to join Bill. 


They don’t keep the Legos locked up behind glass.  They have them in a giant plastic storage bin that it dumped out onto the floor for the children small and big to enjoy. 


Legos are created to build structures like the Millennium Falcon and relationships.


The reading today points out how followers of Jesus are to be witnesses to the Resurrection of Christ. 


The 10 Prescriptions for Healthy Congregations  suggests  that two of the primary ways that we make this witness is through our hospitality and worship.


The authors note that most churches offer hospitality that witnesses, they are friendly but not interested in making new friends.


This is the equivalent of having Lego Millennium Falcon displayed behind glass.  That office a friendly vibe but doesn’t leverage the legos toward building new friendships.


Like the legos we humans have a purposeful design.  We are imprinted with the image of God who we know in Jesus Christ as “God is LOVE”. God is herself a relationship between Father, Son and Holy Spirit. 


Therefore imprinted on our design is a purpose of deep, meaningful and transformative relationship with God and neighbor.


This is why when disciples were stuck trying to pick between Justus and Matthias they turned to God praying “God you know everyone’s heart”.  God already has this deep and meaningful relationship with us, and God desires for us to enjoy it!  And yet we regularly squander this life giving relationship behind protective glass. 


The Acts church at the time of this reading indicates that worship attendance was around 120.  Author’s Farr and Kotan’s data indicates that one-time visitors to churches about this size often have the following remarks...


“the church people were friendly but they didn't seem interested in having me as a friend.”


The greeters or pastors may have said hello, but no one else. 


“There wasn’t anybody there who to want to hang out with me. I didn’t fit in.”


The kind of hospitality that witnesses to the resurrection of Christ, looks more like the Dansville community center Legos day.  It’s not clean, neat, tight and chummy. 


It’s dump all the Legos out on the floor and let the little strangers have a go at building with their energy imagination and creativity. 


It says yes Winston even you can connect to the resurrection of Christ in this community. 


Hospitality that witnesses to the resurrection helps people know that resurrection is for them beginning with the signage. Note that DCC is well signed. It's easy to know where to park, enter and navigate as a new comer. In fact it's easy to see opportunities to connect outside building on the aforementioned scrolling digital sign.


Question: If you were new to East Lansing, would you know how to find our parking lot or get into our church?


And the hospitality that really wow’s the guest and helps them to know they belong continues with all of us.


Question: Do you look for visitors or guests in the 15 minutes before and 15 minutes after worship?


Here’s a rule to help us make a witness that all are connected to the resurrection of Christ.  It’s called the 5-10-Link Rule.


5

Five minutes before worship and five minutes after worship, pay special attention to who is around you who you don’t know.  These are the most important five minutes of the worship service for a guest.  It will determine the entire future of their experience with our church.  We have a tendency to hang out with friends during these two five minute periods.  Hanging out with friends isn’t a bad thing, but can it wait five minutes?  That’s really not a very big cost for making sure a guest feels welcome.


10

Your “guest radar” should be set to at least ten feet around you.  You don’t have to “work the entire room.”  It can feel overwhelming to try to take in that many people.  I know mostly everyone in our church, and it is always a little overwhelming for me.  But you don’t need to do that much (unless you’re uniquely gifted with hospitality!).  Just pay attention to who is sitting or walking within ten feet of you.  Invite that person into your conversation.


Link

So you’ve paid attention during the five minutes before worship begins and the first five minutes after worship is over, and you noticed someone you didn’t know walk within ten feet of you.  You reached out and introduced yourself and started up a conversation.  In the midst of that conversation you come to find out that this a new student who is studying engineering.  Now is your opportunity to LINK that person to someone else you know who is in Engineering.  Say, “Hey Nick Kilpatrick is in Engineering,  Let me introduce you to him.”  Then walk him over, make the introduction, and help get the conversation going.  If you forgot his name on the way over, simply say, “Have you met Nick?”  Then wait…wait…wait…There is a script that Nick will live into if you wait.  He will reach out his hand and introduce himself.  “Hi, my name’s Nick.”  Your guest will then introduce himself back.  “Hi, my name’s John.”  LINK!


Worship is the second primary witness to the resurrection of Christ. The authors of our congregational book 10 Prescriptions for Healthy Congregations envisage worship as the energy, spark plug or fuel of everything in a church.


When Worship is boring, not inspirational, lackadaisical, lifeless, fails to touch the heart, doesn’t evoke emotion, has no life application, or is routine, we fail to make a compelling witness to the resurrection of Christ. 


Congregations that do worship in a way that witnesses to the resurrection of Christ do four things really well on Sunday morning:  Worship, hospitality, children’s ministries, and engagement with the community via social media.


The total worship experience = finding church online, navigating by car to find the church, parking, how guests are greeted, how soon they are greeted, how many times they are greeted, the worship itself, and then the post-worship experience.


So worship is more than the time the service starts and stops. And a big part of the total worship experience is the hospitality piece.


And worship that witnesses ought to persistently pay attention to things like, Audio Technology, Worship visual design creativity and content including what goes on the screens, the flow,  transitions, greeting the order of service, including announcements and prayer.The worship space, the variety of liturgy, opportunities to engage the people. Hospitality. Music, including choir, praise band, instrumentals and vocals, variety of songs.


In our scripture the disciples cast lots to evaluate between Justus and Matthias, while this turned out well, I believe this stands as a good scriptural reason that the Bible is not an instruction manual.  There is just too much riding on the witness of worship to leave it up to a roll of the dice. Worship deserves careful evaluation.


Wesley Campus Ministries: we spend time the staff and the leadership team spend time each week on Monday afternoon evaluating our programs.  The program system to be evaluated is worship.


I begin by noting the things I thought went well… music, announcements and response.  Then I note the things that I would like to improve, message engagement, videos, hospitality, etc.  Then the team of both staff people and any other leaders who have been invited to our meeting critically reflect on their experience of Thursday. 


This kind of evaluative work help us to remember our mission to make disciples for the transformation of the world, and our Wesley vision statement: We are a Christian Community of Young Adults that loves without exception, serves without judgement and rejoices without restraint.  We test all our observations of worship against the mission and vision and when they seem aligned we know we are making a good witness to the resurrection of Christ. 


Actually, the team motto is if we don’t evaluate worship it didn’t happen.  We are not willing our witness up to casting lots. 


UUMC has very good worship, music is outstanding and messages are relevant and thought provoking, flow and the order of service is intentional, hospitality is emerging as a strength. I wonder how our witness will improve as we become more deliberate about evaluation.


Jesus said that in the power of the Holy Spirit we would be witnesses to Christ to all the ends of the earth.  I pray that you would ponder in the days to come how you might make this witness in your hospitality and worship.