plastic cutleryWe had a potluck on Sunday. Our bilingual group at church does that once a month. It’s part of who we are. When I get to describe it to people, I try to stress that it’s not something we do after worship; it’s an extension of our worship.

We had a bunch of visitors on Sunday. A few arrived near the end of service (time confusion?), so their main activity on Sunday was our lunch.

One lady that placed membership in “big church” last Sunday came to our potluck and brought her husband. It was his first time at church.

I’m glad these people saw a potluck as part of their first impression of our church.

It was loud.

It was crazy, with kids running everywhere.

Some of the food was great. Some was… well, it was food.

We had store-bought fried chicken and lots of homemade Mexican food. Some of it was so spicy that it needed to come with a warning label. (I’m not complaining!)

It was mildly chaotic, like a big family reunion.

It was church.

A letter to the UCC elders

I don’t like open letters, but I’m about to write one. Largely because I want to publicly thank and applaud the elders of the church I attend: University Church of Christ in Abilene, Texas


Dear elders,

I know this is a bit impersonal, and I hope to speak with each of you personally. For now, let me publicly thank you for the statement you issued on Sunday about the participation of women in our Sunday assembly. It was a milestone on a long road, one that many of us had grown weary of. I’m sure that you especially have longed to reach a resting point in this discussion.

You’ve had my prayers, as always. I’ve prayed even harder as I’ve realized how especially difficult this process had begun. To be honest, I despaired of a solution that wouldn’t tear our congregation apart. You showed great wisdom, Spirit-filled discernment, in reaching a compromise.

No, I didn’t agree with every word in that statement. But I heartily agree with the expression of love and unity found in those pages.

We members have not behaved well. Many reacted without knowing the facts. Assumptions were made, conclusions drawn. You were attacked for moving too fast and for moving too slow. You were criticized for being too backwards and too progressive. Your motives were questioned.

Some chose to leave rather than work through the messiness that is church life; I pray they’ll be better prepared for disagreements that will come up in their new church home.

We’ve given lip service to Bible study while actually following our feelings and preferences. We’ve hard a hard time differentiating between “thus saith the Lord” and our own druthers. That’s hard to admit, but it’s true.

You’ve been publicly attacked and privately criticized. Too little grace has been extended your way.

Through it all, you’ve behaved like gentlemen. More than that, you’ve behaved like Spirit-led Christian shepherds. I’m proud to be part of your flock.

Thank you for your service.


Grace and peace,
Tim Archer

Assemblies that build us up, please God, and attract outsiders

Church AuditoriumI’ve been proposing several things about our church assemblies:

  • The main focus of our assemblies shouldn’t be worship. In the same way, God shouldn’t be the exclusive focus of our worship assembly. If we are people whose very lives are worship, then worship will naturally occur when we come together. If we are people who put loving God at the center of our lives, then we will seek to please God when we gather. But if we make focusing on God our exclusive goal, then we will fail at making the assemblies what they were meant to be.
  • Church services are primarily for the edification of the body. By doing so, we will please God. And as a body of worshipers, we will naturally worship when we are together. But what is done during the times we are together is done primarily for believers.
  • Our assemblies should be intelligible to outsiders. We don’t tailor the service for them. Instead, we invite them to come and see who we are and what we do. The assembly is not primarily about evangelism. It’s not about selling the church, either. As outsiders see us love and edify one another, they should want to know about the God that makes all that possible. Our hope is that what outsiders see in our assemblies will make them open to hearing the gospel message.

So, in short, we seek to build one another up in a way that is pleasing to God and makes sense to outsiders. We don’t expect non-believers to perfectly understand everything that goes on; we do hope that what they see will convey a message of love and mutual edification.

God-Focused Church Services?

some_assembly_requiredI got a couple of responses to this weeks’ post that reflected the same idea: worship should be neither member-focused nor seeker-focused; worship should be God focused.

In a sense, I agree. All of life should be God focused. God should be at the center of everything we do. As Paul said, “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” (Colossians 3:17)

For some, this is especially true about our assemblies. I’ve been calling them worship services, largely out of habit. Using Scripture alone, it’s hard to say that the main purpose of our assemblies is worship. Our should I say the unique purpose. We sing songs of praise, but one of the main purposes of our singing is to speak to one another and build one another up. Sermons should glorify God, but they are obviously directed at people. God doesn’t need to be preached to. Oppositely, prayers are directed to God, yet these are corporate, public prayers. At times we even speak to one another in our prayers. (as did Jesus in John 11:41-42).

We have made the Lord’s Supper about “me and God,” but the New Testament portrays it as a corporate time. We break bread together. We wait for one another. We do it with an awareness of the gathered body, or we do it wrong.

I think the answer lies in seeing worship as being focused not on one element, but three. To borrow David Mike Breen’s terminology (from Building A Discipling Culture), it’s Upward, Inward, and Outward. We need all three facets. Complete, holistic worship reaches up to God, in to the church, and out to the nonbeliever. Like the three-legged stool, our assembly collapses if we completely remove any of the three.

Up to God. In to the Church. Out to the believer.

The Case For Outsider-Focused Church Services

Church welcome signHere’s the counter-argument to yesterday’s post. When arguing for an insider focus to our church assemblies, I referred to 1 Corinthians 14. Yet in that passage, Paul also makes a point about considering outsiders:

“So if the whole church comes together and everyone speaks in tongues, and some who do not understand or some unbelievers come in, will they not say that you are out of your mind? But if an unbeliever or someone who does not understand comes in while everybody is prophesying, he will be convinced by all that he is a sinner and will be judged by all, and the secrets of his heart will be laid bare. So he will fall down and worship God, exclaiming, “God is really among you!”” (1 Corinthians 14:23–25)

Paul envisions a situation where an outsider comes into the assembly, seemingly on their own. Our services need to be aware of that possibility as well.

Think about it. We advertise our church services on signs and sometimes in paid publicity. We often include some sort of “Come join us!” message. We’re inviting outsiders; shouldn’t we treat them as welcome guests?

In our society, most people have some concept of “going to church.” Many have had relatives that go to church, if they haven’t gone themselves. They understand “going to church” as a way of interacting with Christianity. If they are going to seek God, for many of them the first step will be to find a church service to attend.

It’s my point of view that the healthiest church services have a body focus while trying to make them something intelligible and attractive to outsiders. However, some churches thrive on the “seeker-focused” mentality. Their invitations to outsiders are “come join us at church”; evangelism centers around getting people in to hear a powerful message from the preacher. As we’ve seen, a case can be made for that.