Rethinking Church

Continuing in the series on reflecting back over my last 26 years, I thought I’d take a look at how things have changed when it comes to my perspectives on church. It has been nearly 10 years (February 1 is the 10 year mark) that I have been employed by a church. To be fair, the first few years I was employed as a custodian, but for 10 years I have been in the business of God. Things have definitely changed since those early days…

I’ve actually grown up in the church – and I mean that almost literally. My mom was the church secretary and my sister and I went to the church’s day school so we spent an exorbitant amount of time there. We’d often get recruited to help with various tasks around the church, both during the week (folding bulletins, organizing the food pantry) and Sundays (helping usher, running sound). It was natural to think about the church as a career because I had seen it done for so long.

Fast forward to around 2005. At this point I had been working in ministry for about 4 years – first in youth ministry, helping with youth worship and then in the church’s music ministry when the former music director left. I felt that I had a pretty good grasp of how ministry worked. Trinity, the church I was serving in, had a massive variety of ministries and styles reaching a wide array of people. From traditional to contemporary, we covered it all and I was on board 100%. It was at this point when things began to change. We had previously lost our Senior Pastor and were getting a pastor to fill in for the interim. To make a long story short, that time was one of the most challenging of my professional career (OK, so it was only a few years old at that point). His style and mine were complete polar opposites. He came from a background of very staunch traditional practices and I was trying to push the envelope. It forced me to step back and examine how I felt God had shaped and molded me for ministry, and ultimately ended in me being offered and taking a position at Journey.

Things have definitely changed over the years and I’ve learned to rethink a lot of the ideas I had about how you do ministry. Here’s a few of the big ones:

  • Less is More. In my days at Trinity, we offered everything. There were programs for every stage of life and every variety. We did a lot well, but we didn’t excel at most of them. Now I’ve come to understand that less really is more. We don’t need a ministry for every specific need or a worship style for each taste. In fact, we’re going to be laser focused on a few things – even if it means that it won’t appeal to everyone.
  • Worship Should Be an Experience. From beginning to end, we try to communicate one message. Through scripture, songs and teaching, we communicate our message and because people remember more of what they experience than what they read or hear, we craft experiences into our worship. Gone are the days of being confined to the liturgy and pericopes ( “per-ick-oh pees” – the prescribed readings for every Sunday of the Church year) and assigned hymns that practically build the service by themselves. Don’t hear me wrong: These things are not bad, but they are tools created to help churches – not confine them. We strive to carry out Journey’s core values of relevance and innovation every week in creatively presenting the gospel message.
  • Think Beyond a Building. One of the best things that ever happened to Journey was ending up at Celebration Cinema for worship. More than anything, it has changed our long term focus when it comes to a building. Early on, the plan was to start worship in a school and grow to the point where we could afford to build something. Now, we’re seeing that using a venue like the theater is greater stewardship of our resources and it allows us to do better and more effective ministry. Yes, we probably will have a building at some point, but it’s not going to be you’re typical church building, that’s for sure.

Tune in tomorrow for the conclusion of this miniseries as we dream about what the future has in store…

About Matthew Starner

Matthew Starner is pastor of Journey of Faith Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where they help people take their next step on their journey with Jesus.

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