This past Sunday was one of those once-in-a-lifetime experiences that I’m still coming down from – my ordination and installation as pastor at Journey of Faith in Grand Rapids and the beginning of a new chapter in my life and ministry.
If you had told me even four years ago that this would be happening, I would have laughed in your face. Being a pastor was never seriously on my radar. I was always much more interested in music ministry than pastoral ministry – especially because being a pastor meant regularly talking in front of people which is something I never thought I could do! But as it so often happens, God leads us into places we didn’t think we could go.
As I reflected back on various events and moments that lead up to me first beginning in music ministry, growing in my leadership in the church, and finally to entering seminary to become a pastor, I could see how God had used those things to shape me and prepare me for where I am today. I was blessed to have pastors, teachers, and friends who encouraged me and inspired me in my walk with Jesus and whose influence I still rely on.
In the past year or so, I’ve also gained a clearer picture of where I want to head in the future, and I believe that my ordination and installation are a big step in the direction of that future.
For years, I have had a complicated relationship with my church body – the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod. I grew up Lutheran and loved it. Their commitment to the purity of the Word of God and to the Gospel of Jesus Christ are second to none. But they’re not without their frustrations. Time and again, I found myself witnessing (usually as a bystander, not a participant) arguments about worship styles. Often, each side would vilify the other, going so far as to question whether those who did anything other than what they were doing were really “Lutheran.” It was enough to make me want to leave the denominational label behind and forget about all that mess.
But I’m glad I didn’t.
As Lutherans, I believe that we have a lot to offer the world. We have an understanding of grace and the Gospel that keeps the focus on Jesus and off of what we do. So often in the greater church, Christians end up being inundated with countless things they need to “do.” But the Gospel isn’t about “doing,” it’s about resting secure in what Jesus has done for you. Your works, then, aren’t something that we do to get God’s grace but because we have been given God’s grace. We believe that the Bible is God’s Word and that He meant what He said. It’s not up to us to pick and choose what we like or don’t like.
As Lutherans, we also have an approach to worship that is different from how much of the Christian church approaches it. Rather than seeing worship as primarily something that we do, we understand from Scripture that worship is about what God does for us. There is a back and forth movement in worship between God and His people, but the focus is on what God is doing, not what we are doing.
My goal has been to help us get over the issues of style that keep us distracted and to help churches, pastors, and worship leaders think theologically and practically about worship in a way that is faithful to our understanding of worship and to God’s Word while being creative and fresh – regardless of the style.
Until now, that goal was mostly a dream since I really only had personal experience and lacked the official training to speak in any sort of influential way. Now, with the step of being ordained as pastor now behind me, I am in a [slightly] better position to be able to speak on the topic in a way that brings [again, slightly] more influence.
That has been the focus of this blog for many years, but it seems to be renewed and reinvigorated within my heart in the past few months. Now, as I stand at the beginning of a new chapter in my life and ministry, I’m ready to push a little harder, to speak a little louder, and to be bolder in my passion for worship and the church.
In the months ahead, I hope you’ll see a reinvigorated and more focused Matthew on this humble little blog. I’ve got the beginnings of many posts and resources coming together that I’m excited to get out to the world. It’s my hope and prayer that through this blog, Lutheran worship leaders of all stripes and worship leaders in the greater Christian Church would be able to engage in dialog and grow in an understanding of worship that is Biblical, that values excellence and beauty, and that keeps the focus on the cross of Jesus Christ.
Welcome to the next chapter!