Presbyterian Church of the Eternal Hills has organized all of our ministries around “Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations” by Robert Schnase. This book was written after Schnase studied congregations that were fruitful (that does NOT mean large or wealthy or with big beautiful facilities; it means producing good fruit for the Kingdom of God), and found that there were five main practices that the congregations engage in. During our stewardship campaign this year we will review each of these Five Practices from a biblical standpoint and then look at how we interpret the practice at Eternal Hills. The end result of this, of course, is to gain more participation throughout our ministries by letting people know how to use their time and talents to further the Kingdom of God at CEH.
“Congregations that practice Radical Hospitality demonstrate an active desire to invite, welcome, receive, and care for those who are strangers so that they find a spiritual home and discover for themselves the unending richness of life in Christ. Radical describes that which is drastically different from ordinary practices, outside the normal, that which exceeds expectations and goes the second mile.” Robert Schnase
At a recent youTHursday chapel time, I asked the youth a question from the New Beginnings study, “What do you have to do to become a member of CEH?”
The youth response? “Walk in the door!”
Congratulations, friends — your youth group just gave you the perfect definition for Radical Hospitality! A church that is so welcoming you feel like you belong the moment you walk in the door. Additionally, many of our youth invite their friends regularly, which assures me of their confidence that their friend will feel they belong as soon as they walk in, too.
Hospitality is a basic Biblical concept. Repeatedly in our Hebrew scriptures we hear admonitions to accept the stranger “Because you were once a stranger yourself” Exodus 2:21, 23:9; Deut 10:19 (and a great article here). Radical means we go above and beyond in our attempts to remove from our church any obstacles that would keep people from coming, staying for worship, and returning in coming weeks.
Our very mission statement — the heart of who we identify ourselves to be in God’s Kingdom — focuses on the welcoming aspects of being the Church of the Eternal Hills:
A Community of Christian Disciples with Open Minds, Open Hearts, and Open Arms;
On a lifelong journey, seeking to learn;
meeting, accepting and inviting all to share God’s boundless grace;
Seeking to be God’s arms for one another and God’s world.
In all things, giving all honor, praise and glory
to the God who forms us, calls us, and sends us.
We practice Radical Hospitality and we live it out every day through our mission statement. We interpret Radical Hospitality in the ministries of the church through such ministries as fellowship, pot-lucks, mystery friends, Deacon ministry, prayer shawls, card ministry, greeters and visitor follow-ups. We also view our webpage and our communications as part of Radical Hospitality as well, working hard to make sure that it is easy to find our location and that people know what is happening at CEH and when it is happening.
When we practice Radical Hospitality in our lives, strangers become neighbors. And Jesus taught that we should extend love and concern to our neighbors. Can you imagine a world where every stranger was viewed as a neighbor? May it become so, and may we use our open arms to begin to welcome the world into relationship with one another.
“Worship describes those times we gather deliberately seeking to encounter God in Christ. God uses worship to transform lives, heal wounded souls, renew hope, shape decisions, provoke change, inspire compassion, and bind people to one another. The word passionate expresses an intense desire, an ardent spirit, strong feelings, and the sense of heightened importance. Congregations who practice Passionate Worship offer their utmost and highest; they expect worship to be the most important hour of the week.” Robert Schnase
The picture above, of God reaching towards Adam’s hand, is a great example of our attitude in reaching God. Do you see that in Michelangelo’s picture, every muscle of God’s hand is poised for action — reaching and stretching to make contact with man. Adam, on the other hand, is merely reaching his arm out. There is no expectation or anticipation in that lazy hand — it’s almost as if to say “I’m interested; I’d like to touch God; but I’m not going to put too much effort into it.”
It may seem harsh to say that Adam’s lazy hand reflects our attitude, but just imagine the many ways God works to get our attention: through stunningly colorful sunrises and sunsets, through the hollow and eerie bugling of the elk echoing across the Rocky Mountain National Park, through the compassion of friends and family extending love and concern for us, through the dirty hand of a homeless person reaching out for some change, through the joyous giggle and even the irritated cry of a baby. And our response to these things and even to scripture and stories of God working in our lives today is nothing short of lackluster.
Worship is our chance to reconnect with God; to stop and return the love that God has given us since the beginning of time. But occasionally when people come to church to worship, they expect to get something out of it for themselves. They want to enjoy worship or be entertained (and I’m not saying we can’t be engaged or entertained, but that should not be our focus); they feel like they are a part of an audience for worship that is being performed by the pastor and the choir, the music leader and liturgist. The great theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, reminded humanity that when we worship, God is in the audience, and we are on the stage.
Worship is a huge part of who we are. In Exodus, Moses tells Pharaoh that God has sent him to demand, ‘This is what the LORD, the God of the Hebrews, says: Let my people go, so they can worship me.” Every time Moses approaches Pharaoh, it’s the same thing: “God says, let my people go so they can worship me!” Worship is vital for us to live out our identity in God.
Worship is a difficult word to define, but here’s a great synonym: FOCUS. We worship whatever we focus on. If you’re dead set on earning money and making a “good life,” and it becomes your only focus, you are worshiping the money or the earning or spending of it. And yes, even if you’re sitting in the sanctuary on a Sunday morning, dressed in your finest church clothes, yet you are focusing on the list of “Honey-do’s” to be completed before Monday, or the pot-roast that’s home in the slow cooker, you’re worshiping those things instead of God. It’s one hour of the week; coming in the door with the intent to put everything else aside and spend the time just focusing on God is not too much to ask. Yet we rarely make an intentional shift in our thinking and mindset to turn our attention and focus on giving love back to God.
Passionate Worship fails when there are small, irritating things that keep us from focusing on God during worship. Things like issues with the microphones or sound system, glitches in the slides or bulletin, less-than-stellar music — all of these things pull our focus away from God. We should expect excellence in what our services look like, but we also need to bring our full game and our whole hearts and be present with God and with each other for that one hour. And when we’re completely focused on God, those small things that irritate us or pull us out of worship become less and less distracting.
At CEH there are many people and teams that work together to eliminate those small distractions and add sensory embellishments to help fully immerse worshipers in God: Music team, liturgists, worship arts, altar team, choir, ushers, and Audio/Visual team. There is always a need for more people to help make the workload a bit less for the rest of us. When we come to worship, sharing the load can help our focus to remain on God rather than on the many things we have to do to make the service come off smoothly.
Our whole lives can mirror worship when we allow God to be the focus of everything we say and do. Of course, it would be a huge improvement if we could allow God to be the focus of everything we say and do in just that one hour on Sunday morning, so let’s start there! Bring your “A” game to worship on Sundays and let’s begin to experience Passionate Worship in whole new ways.
Peace in Christ,