Never let it be said God doesn’t have a sense of humor.
Why else would He have planted a die-hard conservative Lutheran as Director of Worship & Music of a contemporary Lutheran church? I realize “Contemporary Lutheran” could be considered an oxymoron, but there are some Lutheran congregations that embrace contemporary delivery with conservative theology. Really, no joke.
Raised from the cradle in the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod (LCMS) denomination, I didn’t know what these people were doing when we visited…but it definitely wasn’t “church.” A Lutheran service had robes, candles and unsingable hymns. I knew the services, chants, creeds, prayers and responses backwards, forwards and up-side-down. I was a good Lutheran.
But, the rest of the family embraced this new type of worship so, outvoted, I reluctantly acquiesced and we became members.
Soon, I was asked to join the Worship and Music board. Little did I realize this was a celestial set up. Within weeks, the director stepped down for personal reasons and asked me to take her place. I was ecstatic and jumped at the chance to become involved to “whip” this congregation into a “real” Lutheran church. Change was on the way. I just didn’t realize who was about to change.
A series of crisis circumstances resulted in this church being without any pastors. For some reason, the Elders looked to the Director of Worship and Music (me) for solutions. So, I did what any normal, untrained person would do. I panicked There I was. A proper LCMS Lutheran up to her eyeballs in divine quicksand. Do you see the divine comedy unfolding?
Many times God does not call the equipped; He equips the called. And His ways are not my ways; His plans are not my plans. Evidently, my struggle would be part of the plan.
So I wrote. I wrote service after service and put them in the hands of an Elder each week. I wrote holiday, baptism and confirmation services. I chose songs and organized musicians. (Have you ever tried to “organize” musicians? It’s almost impossible. I was a well-oiled, worship-writing machine. But although the congregation was growing (to my surprise), I felt like a poser.
Until one night forever altered my perspective.
Sitting in the middle of my family room at 1am I was deep in the throws of mechanically writing another service with notes and sheet music sprawled all over the floor. The family had long since abandoned me for bed and I found myself alone when the epiphany came.
Like a holy two-by-four upside my head, God succeeded in finally getting my attention. Worship was not about writing the right words, picking songs and stressing about dotting all the i’s and crossing all the t’s. It wasn’t about candles, robes, mistake-free PowerPoint slides or perfectly phrased prayers.
Not that there is anything wrong with those things. Worship is rich with traditions and, for many, these elements aid in feeling spiritually fulfilled. There’s nothing wrong with that. My epiphany was they were not necessarily necessary. When all the trappings of tradition are stripped away, the Spirit of God is still there, alive and well, and waiting to meet anyone willing to come.
God doesn’t care how perfect the service is run. The only thing he cares about is the condition of your heart. Are you there freely to give praise to your Creator? Or are you there to watch the show? Are you humbled before God in a way that opens your heart to grace? Or are you worried about what others think…or worse…to pass jugement on those around you? Is the service about Him…or you?
Sounds so simple, yet it took throwing me squarely out of my comfort zone before I figured it out. It took placing people to block my way and force me to change. After that, it became easier. No longer a “board responsibility,” I drew closer not only to God, but to those who helped and hindered me through my journey.
The winds of change took us in a different direction and we are now part of a different body of believers. But I’ll never forget or regret the two years that forced me to understand authentic Christianity, authentic worship and what reassurance and peace there is in a relationship with my Creator stripped free of “doing church.”
After all, “sitting in church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than sitting in a garage makes you a car.” (Billy Sunday).