The changing face of worship
“Welcome to the last Sunday School Assembly”, the leader said this past Sunday morning in church. Given our congregation is one that travels a lot during the Summer months, I thought it must be a hiatus until school was back in Session.
It was only when it was stated that the morning assembly had been in existence since the 1930s that I realized this was a much, much bigger change. After gathering before Sunday School for the past 80+ years, the Sunday School Assembly has become a casualty of the changing face of worship.
As a member of my local church for over 30 years, it is very much a part of who I am. It has held my family close, been a source of friends and support, and has nurtured my faith in good times and bad. The traditions of the church run deep for me, but the devotional on this morning was based on one of my favorite passages from the Bible and spoke to my initial concerns.
The 3rd chapter of Ecclesiastes tells us that there is an appointed time for everything and there is a time for every event under heaven. A time to give birth and a time to die; a time to plant and a time to uproot what is planted. Change is part of God’s plan, even change in how we worship.
I grew up in a time when we communicated by words. Everything we communicated was by reading or speaking. We kept up with the world through the newspaper. We communicated with our family over the dinner table, and as they moved away, by writing letters. We studied God’s message by reading the Bible and studying our Sunday School lesson.
Today’s language, especially among young people and the unchurched, is visual. They communicate by pictures, especially via the internet and social media. Their news is instant. They text their family and friends, constantly. And they respond to a different language, even in church.
Our challenge isn’t to change the message. It remains as timeless and true as it has always been. Our challenge is to tell that ageless message in a new language, a way that allows those often most in need to hear the Word and promises of our Lord.
Change is often slow in coming. We were one of the last congregations in our denomination in Southwest Georgia to cease Sunday evening services. We have incorporated contemporary music into our services while still retaining traditional music. We have screens in the sanctuary and more and more frequently applaud or shout “Amen”.
As a congregation of Christian believers, we exist not just to worship together, but to serve those that are not part of our wonderful church family. They don’t have my lifetime of traditions to bind them to church. They may not know Jesus from Moses. They may have never read a word of the Bible. They most certainly are not seeking a Sunday School Assembly as a reason to add something to their busy lives.
Any mainline church in this area, or in this country for that matter, faces these same choices. Our church is healthy, full of children, parents, grandparents, and even great-grandparents. The spiritual love within this congregation is strong and powerful. However, the seasons are changing. It isn’t an accident, or even something to dread. In fact, it is part of God’s plan.
Take comfort and encouragement that even as the face of worship changes, God’s message is and will always be the same.
Dan Ponder can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org