“The Marleys were dead to begin with. This much must be understood, or nothing that follows will seem wondrous.” ~ Charlie Dickens
I begin with this quote because it conveys in A Christmas Carol what I want to convey to those reading this entry. The people involved in this story have done nothing wrong, their questions and concerns are valid, and their participation and care on Sunday mornings are invaluable. I simply use what follows in an archetypal way, reciting for you a story that is probably already familiar to church leaders. This much must be understood!
Sunday always begins the same way for me. I have a ritual, a rhythm that is metered and syncopated to fit the song I am going to sing every week, with its many movements. I say “always” in the same way you say “always” when you are justifying an action or are in an emotional argument with a loved one:
“You always forget to _________.” “I always have to ___________.”
That is to say, I “always” follow this ritual when I can.
I wake up at 6:00 a.m. I shower, shave, and dress for the day. I pray for my family as they remain asleep and I pray for what will happen that morning at the church. I stop by the local market and pick up the communion bread. I recite my sermon as I drive. I park as far away from the church as I can and walk my way in. I obtain three important things as I enter: 1) a cup of coffee and 2) two bulletins, one for me and one for my senior pastor. We discuss upcoming events, we pray for each other. I walk the hallways and check the doors, and I try to see the church as a first-time guest might be seeing it in just a few moments. I make changes and make mental notes for further improvements. I greet members and guests who begin filtering into the building, who hopefully have already been greeted at the door and, in some cases, in the parking lots. By this time I make my way into my worship space and practice with the worship band in final preparation for the day’s service. I then get my second cup of coffee and teach Sunday School. I then engage with the community in worship.
Before any of this occurs, I have already had a week with the pastors and staff as we prepare for upcoming services and events. We do everything we can to ensure wonderful experiences of Christ and Church. When I walk in Sunday morning, I “always” walk in knowing that the lay volunteers, pastors, and staff are prepared to show members and guests an effective and inspiring community of faith. “Except when you don’t,” Rev. Dr. Seuss reminds us all, “Because sometimes you won’t.”
Let me tell you a story:
You find yourself with me Sunday morning. The ritual is wrecked. I was not finished with my sermon until Saturday evening’s 11:59 met Sunday morning’s 12:00. I woke up not at 6:00 a.m., but 7:15 a.m. I did not shower, I did not shave. Thankfully, I was indeed fully dressed. I drove right past the market. I was still dissatisfied with the ending of my sermon. I still parked far away and walked in. Thankfully, I still had time to get my coffee, the bulletins, and meet for prayer with my senior pastor. Until I didn’t. As soon as I walked in, I was approached by a man who found no toilet paper in the men’s restroom closest to the doors of the main sanctuary. My first trip was not to coffee and my senior pastor, but rather to the cleaning supplies closet. I sent the man away happily with the toilet paper.
Now for coffee? “No!” shouted the muse of local church Sunday mornings.
The north entrance next to the cleaning supplies closet had a door that was stuck open and an older couple was pulling with all their might to shut it. It is a motorized door so I rushed over to help. The door was stuck on a floor mat. I said to myself, “Self, time for that coffee and that prayer,” but sadly that was not the case. A woman approached me, unable to find the flowers for the altar that had been delivered that morning. We checked the usual drop-off points – which are at opposite ends of the church. No luck. I walked down a side hallway.
“The end of my sermon!” I thought to myself. “I still don’t feel good about it!”
I resolved to put the coffee and the bulletins on hold and make it to my office. I was at the door when a man informed me that mail was piled up in the floor by the front office and it might distract visitors and give off the impression that we put things off or don’t care. Though I was frustrated, I agreed with him and we got the mail put away. At this point the senior pastor walked past me on his way to the sanctuary.
“The first service is beginning. We haven’t met yet. Let’s pray for each other separately.”
Fair enough. I don’t often get to see the good and faithful saints in our early traditional service, so I made my way to the sanctuary for opening announcements and the passing of the peace of Christ. I entered the sanctuary and stood at the back. That was where a woman found me. Her projector wasn’t working in her Sunday School classroom and she needed some assistance. I obliged and we quickly solved the problem.
I was late to band practice, late to Sunday School, still hated the end of my sermon, and luckily we all survived and even had a record-giving Sunday and some new professions of faith. Church happened and saints responded in spite of my ritual being interrupted. However, it was in that moment that I realized how heavily I was depending on the same ritual taking place without deviation, and how the little deviations of the week and of that morning put me in a cloud of unknowing. I was singing and dancing, to be sure, but the melody was different and the syncopation had me tripping over my best laid plans.
This morning I was forced to ask myself, “What can be done to ensure that worship, fellowship, mission, and Christian community take place in the midst of confusion, and what can I proactively do to prevent that confusion instead of reacting to it after it has already occurred?”
This, friends, is the question that will be answered over the next four weeks in the first-ever blog series at adamshahan.com. It will be called “Interwoven: Evolving From Reactive to Proactive Ministry” and will look at eight areas of the church experience that play into participation in the family of God on our days of primary worship.
PREACHING: INTERWOVEN, RESURRECTION, OPEN-ENDED | Monday, Oct. 14th
WORSHIPING: SINGING, READING, MOVING, GIVING, PRAYING | Friday, Oct. 18th
WELCOMING: PARKING LOT (AND BEFORE) TO PEW (AND AFTER) | Monday, Oct. 21st
PARKING: FIRST-CLASS VERSUS SECOND-RATE | Friday, Oct. 25th
BUILDING: EYES TO SEE AND EARS TO HEAR | Monday, Oct. 28th
BUDGETING: PERMISSION-GIVING VERSUS RESTRICTION-SETTING | Friday, Nov. 1st
EDUCATING: HOLISTIC VERSUS FULL OF HOLES | Monday, Nov. 4th
COMMUNICATING: OVER-SATURATING AND SACRAMENTS | Friday, Nov. 8th
I leave you with two reflections, one from my ritual and one from my story, as we prepare to journey together into this series:
1. My ritual shoves morning prayer into the middle for expediency instead of beginning and ending with prayer. Prayers are the veritable inclusios, the bookends, of Sunday mornings.
2. The flowers were sitting in the one place we hadn’t looked … on the altar. There’s a sermon in there somewhere.