Our Worship Lives
As many of you are already aware, a significant change to our corporate worship life is happening this month. Beginning Sunday, June 4, we will move to only one Sunday service. It will be held at 9:00 a.m., followed by Sunday School and Adult Bible Class at 10:15 a.m.
No doubt, this change will be somewhat unsettling to some. We are creatures of habit, and change does not come easy. For years and years, our congregation has been offering two Sunday worship times: 8:00 and 10:30. Many of us have grown accustomed to attending the service that we feel is best suited to our preferences and/or our work or leisure schedules. Yet, going to one service is not a completely novel idea. For several generations early in our congregation's century-plus existence, one Sunday service was the norm. It caused some consternation among the members when the move was made to two Sunday morning services.
So, why change to one service now? There are several reasons. One is that now that I have announced that I plan to retire from being pastor later this summer, even though I have offered to continue to carry out the ministry of Word and Sacrament until a new pastor can be called and installed, it will make my task less demanding as well as take some of the pressure off of our organists, elders, and other volunteers having fewer services. The most obvious and observable rationale, however, is that the need to offer two services is no longer present. The move years ago to two services was driven by the overcrowded conditions in the church sanctuary. Thanks be to the Lord of the Church; in times past, the congregation was growing in members at a remarkable pace. Every Sunday morning, the sanctuary was full to overflowing. But unfortunately, for the last several decades, like most of our LCMS congregations as well as most other traditional Christian congregations, regular attendance has fallen precipitously. We have all become quite sadly aware that our beautiful sanctuary could easily accommodate the worshippers from both Sunday services at the same time and still have plenty of room for many more.
If there is a silver lining to this cloud of falling attendance, it is that it has forced us to become more keenly aware of the blessing that we have been missing out on with two services. As convenient as the two services have been, they also served to negatively affect the unity of our congregation and our acquaintance with and concern for our fellow members.
At times, it seems as though we are two congregations instead of one. It has not been uncommon at all to hear someone remark, "I didn't know so-and-so was a member!"
Unity and communion with one another are essential to a healthy congregation.
How can we truly care for, love, and effectively serve one another if we don't intimately know and regularly worship with one another? I believe one thing we 21st-century Christians could greatly benefit from is reacquainting ourselves with the whole purpose of corporate worship.
Yes, having faith in Jesus Christ as our Savior and Lord is a truly personal reality. The Holy Spirit has worked in each one of us to bring us to faith and the knowledge of our salvation in Jesus Christ. We are each saved by our faith, not the faith of our parents, spouses, or fellow members of the congregation. (Mark 16:16; Romans 10:9)
However, the Lord knows how weak and frail we are individually. Left to our own devices, we would succumb in short order to our sinful nature, the enticements of the world, and the temptations of the evil one. This is why Jesus often refers to himself as the "good shepherd" who does not abandon his sheep. We all, like sheep, can and often do go astray. Jesus has not only laid down His life to save us from our enemies and purchase us to be His, but He has also gathered us into a flock where He can safely feed us and keep us safe from our enemies through His Word and Sacrament in communion with each other. As with real sheep, it is those who become isolated from the flock who become lost and find themselves in the most danger of being savagely destroyed by our enemies.
Our very presence at worship, therefore, encourages our fellow members.
The Holy Writer to the Hebrews admonishes us, "And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near" (10:24, 25). Consider also that the LORD had long ago said concerning His commandment to remember the Sabbath Day that it is "a day of sacred assembly" (Leviticus 23:23).
The Divine Service, then, is not simply something you and I consider attending just when we feel we need it. We assemble to admonish, encourage, and strengthen one another with His Word.
It's not about the time we worship. It is about who we worship and the reason we worship.
See you at the Divine Service! Pastor Schreibeis