It was a Fourth of July weekend. Attendance was down across both of our campuses. The power blinked on our largest campus creating a giant mid-service headache for our audio-visual team. As I lead worship, I had to restart a song because a string on my guitar went almost a half-step flat. On many Sundays, this would have been written off as, at best, a bad morning or, at worst, a complete train wreck that would, in turn, wreck most of our days.
Yet, it may have been one of the most powerful Sundays this church has experienced in some time. This mess of a worship service was further proof to me that God did something here in southern Indiana that we are incapable of completely on our own.
To give you a bit of background, Redemption Christian Church (formerly Christian Church of Jasper) is a two-campus church in Jasper and Loogootee, Indiana. You probably don’t know where that is. I didn’t either when I took a job at the local newspaper after my graduation from college and began volunteering at this 20 to 30-person church plant in the early 2000s. The important thing is that God knew where this was and cared about the people there.
The details are way too long for this space, but what has happened here should never have worked. Nobody thought it would. We did everything wrong. But, thankfully, God does great work with messes. To sum up, Redemption has gone from a church plant meeting in a movie theater to a industrial warehouse space (complete with oil-stained floors and a heat and air unit that would kick on in the middle of service forcing our senior minister to shout his sermon) to an explosion in a former corn/soybean field (where the seasonal aroma of manure often fills the air), to a multi-site church of 1,700 to 2,000 attendees in largely forgotten rural America.
Simply put, God has done the work and we have tried to keep up.
Back to this past Sunday. We’ve experienced and produced technically excellent services in the past where it seemed as though we were working under our own power (and maybe we weren’t really relying on God at all). This definitely wasn’t one of those days. Despite all the technical foibles, stuttering tongues, and holiday weekend lethargy, something powerful happened.
We’ve been going through Philippians in our summer sermon series and we reached the end of Philippians 2 where Paul writes of seemingly mundane matters about sending Timothy and Epaphroditus to the Philippian church, and about his hope of visiting them personally, if he is released from prison. This is not the stuff dynamite services are typically built around, according to most church-growth experts.
However, in talking about bearing one another’s burdens as a church community, we decided to add a time to the service for people to come be prayed for by not only leaders in the church but also by one another.
It’s hard to put into words when the Holy Spirit does something unique. It’s almost a "you had to be there" kind of thing. We’re not a charismatic church, our people are fairly stoic people of mostly German-Catholic background. However, seeing almost more people praying for others and being prayed for by others that remained in the seats, reminded me of the beauty of God’s church in action.
Praying for and being prayed for. Bearing one another’s burdens. People from wildly different socio-economic backgrounds and positions in society praying together showing us that God’s economy is the only one that really matters. In our region, we’re not very diverse, racially and culturally, but seeing different races praying together was a foretaste of eternity when people from every tribe, every tongue, and every nation will gather around the throne singing “holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty.”
We saw people who have been broken by the circumstances of life. We saw people who have wrecked their own lives through sin (as we all have, honestly). Sickness. Death. Failing marriages. Broken homes. Depression. Anxiety. What a mess we are. All of this walks through the doors of our church every Sunday and, so often, we miss it in our pursuit of excellence — I know I do, at least. However, these people are here every week, dragging themselves in while, too often, we’re worried about whether the drummer is rushing the song or (fill-in-the-blank here).
Sometimes, the Lord wakes us up through “just another” worship service on a low-attendance Sunday turning into a powerful reminder that the Holy Spirit is present with us. As with God’s redemption of us through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus — this great news of the Gospel — God makes beauty from our train wrecks.
What a liberating reminder.