It had been a hard year–members left, a building project stalled, gossip and rancor seemed to raise their heads at every corner. There was a strong sense though that our struggles weren’t against “flesh and blood,” so neither was the solution.
For 90 days this past summer, our congregation tried to carve out ten minutes a day to pray about their church. Using the acronym CAST, we sought to understand what the spiritual barriers were to our moving forward in Christ. “C” stood for Come, as every part of our family was encouraged to come to the Lord in prayer and invite God to come and meet us in our prayer time. “A” stood for Asking, we needed to be bold enough to ask God to reveal those things that where holding us back from being the congregation we were called to be. “S” was for the Holy Spirit, we would be relying on the Spirit of God to guide us, waiting for his leading and prompting. Finally, “T” meant that we would Trust that the One who loves us so much would in fact meet us, guide us and direct our ways.
For 90 days we encouraged and challenged each other to follow through, join in and become part of the discerning process regardless of our varying positions on issues. We all wanted to follow God’s leading. At the end of those three months, people reported on what the Lord had put on their hearts. Together my Worship Director and I planned out a service that would focus on the major themes the congregation had discovered. It proved to be one of the most powerful, unifying, Spirit- filled services we’ve ever had. God was honored and the Body was blessed to now be able to confidently go forward in Christ — together.
The service began with two songs that focused our worship on God’s holiness, Holy, Holy, Holy and Here I am to Worship. A unison reading of central text for the day, Micah 6:6-8 brought us into a time of prayer where we again prayed through the CAST prayer format. There would be three meditations in this hour and a half service. As the first one would be on humility, we led into it with an old praise chorus Humble Thyself in the Sight of the Lord. The text for this message was 1 Peter 5:5-7 along with Prov. 3:34. This was probably the one theme that was consistent in everyone’s comments on their prayer time. God was requiring us to humble ourselves before him. The experience of seeking humility in a corporate setting was powerful. Our sung response to the Word was I Will Never Be the Same Again, and everyone in the room sensed that was true.
The second section of our worship was built around the theme of repentance. Both Psalms 130 and 51 shaped my associate’s sermon, which concluded with a prayer time and an action step. In each bulletin was an index card on which everyone was invited to further his or her act of repentance and forgiveness by writing the name of the person or event on it and then coming forward to attach it to a wooden cross we had up front. After the Assurance of Pardon, people greeted each other with the phrase, “In Jesus’ name, we are forgiven.” It was good news to everyone!
A responsive reading of Phil. 2:1-11 led us into a choral piece and then the focus of the final meditation on reconciliation. Growing out of Rom. 12:1,2; 2 Cor. 5:16-21; and Col. 3:12-17, we realized that our charge was now to be agents of the reconciling work we had all just encountered. Our offering of gifts to God, prayers for our church needs, our community and our world all followed naturally, preparing us to go back into everyday life. A modification of the hymn If My People’s Hearts are Humbled, so that it focused on the church rather than on a nation, found us leaving with a new sense of unity and purpose.
The Lord had met us in very personal and strongly communal ways in this service. We’d sought out God’s face, and received the blessing of that countenance shining upon us.
May you experience God’s unifying power in your own congregations. Doing it hand in hand with the Lord and God’s people is the only way the Church was meant to do it.
Jeffrey Bridgeman is pastor of Santa Ynez Valley (Calif.) Church.