Because there was so much covered today, I’m actually going to break this into two separate posts. This will cover my morning sessions and I’ll do a second one on the afternoon sessions.
If I had to pick one word for the day it would be overwhelmed. Yep, that’s the word: overwhelmed.
More specifically, overwhelmed by God (what’s the subtitle of Francis Chan’s book Crazy Love, something like Overwhelmed by a Relentless God? That sure describes today!)
After a breakfast of pancakes and sausage I attended the opening general session which had a devotional given by Randy Vader, the CEO of Praise Gathering Music. He spoke about the preeminence of Jesus in our worship times and challenged us to keep that focus as we plan. It reminded me of my favorite quote by Mark Driscoll: it’s all about Jesus, it’s always about Jesus, and it’s only about Jesus. Specifically, he shared some specific guidelines to keep in mind while planning worship. Those guidelines include remembering that God is sovereign, Jesus is Lord and pre-eminent in history, today there is forgiveness and pardon of sins, and peace is not the absence of conflict but the presence of God. By planning worship in light of these truths, I can help usher the congregation into God’s presence so they can respond to him.
This is keeping the focus on leading people to Jesus. It was (and is) an overwhelming concept to think about how it is my responsibility every week to focus people on Jesus and not spend so much time worrying about other things. I also have to remember, though, that not only is it my responsibility but my privilege as well. I try to remember, though I too often get distracted, that when I plan a worship service I need to constantly ask, “Will this focus people on Jesus?”. Too often I get distracted by song selections, choir anthems, special music, or the like. What I need to focus on is leading people to Jesus.
On a related note, I spent some time speaking with a gentleman at dinner who is the director of the church music program at a prominent seminary. He was sharing the story of a tradition they had at one of the colleges he worked at. For their chapel services they had a Christ Candle at the front of the church. But the candle didn’t stay lit like in liturgical churches, and it was generally lit by lay people. The practice? If you had led someone to Christ since the last service you were supposed to go up and light the candle before the service began. If the candle was lit at the beginning of the service, the pastor might ask who lit it and invite you to share your story. Now that’s a cool way to keep Jesus and the sharing of Jesus at the forefront of our minds! Again, as he told the story to me I was overwhelmed by the idea of how rarely I would be lighting the candle at my own church if we had this tradition (or should I say underwhelmed?)
The highlight of my day was the AM worship service. This morning’s worship was absolutely phenomenal. Jay Rouse (of Praise Gathering Music) led the worship. We sang some wonderful songs, one of which was Mighty to Save. Behind Jay on the stage stood the Mississippi Baptist All State Youth Choir. While we sang there were three boys who were just singing their hearts out to the Lord: bouncing up and down, simply rejoicing in the truth that Jesus “rose and conquered the grave, yes you are mighty to save!” Again, I was overwhelmed by their enthusiasm and passion for Jesus as they exhibited it to us and it stirred me to a deeper interaction with our holy and awesome God.
Every song we sang was special, and it was such a rejuvenating experience to be in the congregation and singing instead of having to lead. Don’t get me wrong, I love leading, but sometimes it’s refreshing to be a follower. I’ll just end by saying it has been a long time since I have had tears in my eyes during worship. I was totally overwhelmed by the grace of God and his love for this fallen guy and all he’s blessed me with. It was overwhelming (yes, I know that word is getting overused…)