by Ben Keller
Why do we do what we do during our Sunday service?
That’s an important question, and one that members and regular attenders of Refuge Church ought to give due thought to.
Let me start to tackle an answer. As elders of the church, we have a pretty wide-ranging mission, but our primary goal is not to have you coming out of each service feeling great. Rather, our goal is to have you understand who God is, who you are, what God has done for us, and what we should do in light of that.
While it’s not a fashionable or pleasant topic, we recognize that our Bibles are abundantly clear that there will be false teachers and false teachings. Not that there might be. There will be. If you can’t personally think of any false teachers, that might be a problem because it may mean you are listening to them and can’t or won’t see them for what they are. Guarding against that is an important role for all of us, and it is an absolute requirement for your elders. Scripturally based prayers, songs, hymns, catechisms, and sermons function as layers of armor for the spiritual warfare in which every follower of Christ is engaged. We also know both from statistics and from direct congregational input that many of you struggle with foundational beliefs and doctrines (what we do believe as compared with what we should believe) as well as with prayer (how, when, and why should we pray?).
That’s why, in addition to expositional preaching, we’ve incorporated a variety of prayers into the service – some corporate, some individual, some longer, some shorter, some written, some just from the heart of the person praying. It’s also why we’ve incorporated readings of the Heidelberg Catechism (2015), Refuge Verses (2016), and the Belgic Confession (2017). God’s truth, communicated clearly and maturely and in proper order, is important to us. And it’s why Refuge hosts and encourages the plethora of Bible studies for all demographics that take place outside of our Sunday morning services. God’s truth is God’s truth whether preached, prayed, sung, or spoken.
When it comes to the flow, feel and service orders of Christian churches, there is a wide variety, for reasons both good and bad:
– There are churches that are staid and subdued because they are dead in their self-righteousness and hypocrisy.
– There are churches that are staid and subdued because they have a heightened understanding of the holiness of God and they are sincerely prostrate before Him.
– There are churches that are exuberant and free-wheeling because they are man-pleasers, consumed with satisfying their flesh.
– There are churches that are exuberant and free-wheeling because they are longing to express their unbridled joy in a God who has shown them grace in every aspect of their lives.
And specifically with regard to music, the “colors” of the worship palate at Refuge Church run the gamut from the quiet and sparse to the loud and complex. That said, there are pragmatics and aesthetics – which are neither “wrong” nor “right” – to consider. In Lynnwood, Washington in 2017 there is a high likelihood that if our worship began to be marked by sanctuary gymnastics or Jew’s harps or Gregorian chants, we would see a significant exodus from our church. Each of those things in and of themselves isn’t heretical, and may even be laudable in appropriate places and doses. The kids certainly run around the sanctuary during VBS. Jew’s harps can be suitable in certain vintage Gospel folk tunes. And the O Antiphons we studied were Gregorian chants. But if those things became the main diet at Refuge, we might see folks head for greener (or at least less aerobic) pastures.
As your leaders, we desire to guard your hearts and shepherd your souls as best we can, and so we make a point of occasionally reminding you that we realize not everyone is going to like everything they see and hear every Sunday. Far from it. We expect people leave Refuge each week with a whole array of different thoughts that might include:
“The sermon was too long/too short.”
“The sermon was too shallow/too deep.”
“The worship was too loud/too quiet.”
“The worship was too shallow/too deep.”
“The prayers renewed my spirit/left me cold.”
“The kids in the service drove me nuts/filled me with joy.”
“Communion is too frequent/infrequent.”
And those diverse opinions can arise from an equally wide array of sources in us – they might come from wise, biblical reflections, they might come from knee-jerk shallowness, and everything in between. But here’s the thing. If you’re a pew jumper, a Jew’s harp aficionado, or a Gregorian chanter who finds great difficulty in worship settings that don’t have those things, then we would harbor no ill will if you considered another group of brothers and sisters in Christ with whom to worship. But before you decided to jump ship, we would ask you to check your preferences in light of the fruit of the Spirit. Meaning: is your pragmatic and aesthetically based decision to leave (or join) a given church wise and pleasing to Christ?
As elders, we seek to lead by example as far as eschewing our preferences when necessary for the sake of the Gospel. I’m a drummer. I prefer drums in worship. No secret there. But I also helped lead the charge to get an a cappella (no musical accompaniment) slot in our service, because I have been blessed by it in other churches and also because I believed strongly it would bless and edify our body. In fact, I used to be an associate pastor at a church in Everett that refused to even entertain bringing drums in the sanctuary. I was a happy member there for five years. I would let people know my opinion if they asked, but I was determined to not divide over that, even though I was being asked to shelve my gifts and talents and preferences.
So, friends, put Christ first. Approach every service with the mindset to soak in everything good and true that you can, then set aside for prayer and biblical reflection those things that don’t immediately resonate with you. We should strive to be known by how humbly, respectfully, deferentially, and kindly we treat our brothers and sisters, whether they are leading from the front or sitting next to us in the sanctuary.
Lastly, please pray for your elders and deacons. As your servants, we labor over how best to serve you and be faithful to the King of Kings. The enemy would sew discontent, strife, and disunity in Refuge Church if he had his way. May we continue to be sanctified. May we continue to demonstrate the fruit of the Spirit. May we demonstrate it not just when it’s easy, but also in the sometimes uncomfortable and emotionally-charged conversations and interactions of over 100 brothers and sisters in Christ. And may Refuge Church, by God’s grace and mercy, continue to be a true oasis of godliness and love and truth.
Blessings to all of you in the name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!