Last week was a bad week at work. The bid process for the fourth and final placement of the graduate scheme did not result in the outcome I had hoped for. And the circumstances surrounding that had left me both depressed and despondent.
On Sunday evening, church turned that on its head.
Earlier in the week there had been a slightly cryptic message sent into the Twitterverse
As Al started the service he said something along these lines and it started to make sense
We don’t really have a plan, there are going to be some songs, we’ll commission St Barnabas and Ursula will preach but we want to get you contributing to the service. So, tag your tweets #smlb and text your thoughts to this number or just come to the front and share
And what that resulted in was a wonderfully diverse, and rich, stream of contributions flashed up on the screens. There were texts, there were a lot of tweets and from the front there were the voices of those sharing stories without the anonymity and complexity of technology.
A church like ours is full of talented people and is incredibly well resourced in terms of preaching and leadership. That makes for a very polished experience (even when it doesn’t finish at 8.30 on the dot) but there is a certain inevitability to our slipping into being consumers and sitting passively, waiting to be entertained and edified.
The leaders of this service have a difficult task in striking the right balance and on Sunday the crowd sourced approach really worked. It did mean that things were unpredictable but it gave God the opportunity to use a variety of channels and a number of different people to be his mouthpiece.
The whole God speaking thing is one of those things that makes Christians sound mental. The kind of suggestion that gets us thrown funny looks and underlines the delusional nature of our very existence. But nevertheless, bear with me (if you’re still reading), Sunday was a wonderful example of knowing that it’s more than just coincidence. It was one of those evenings where seemingly random activity looked, and felt, very much like the well orchestrated action of a loving saviour.
The very nature of the service – built up round a sermon on forgiveness (Ursula Simpson on top form
) – addressed the stuff I had gone through last week. Dealt with it and moved on. From beginning to end the service could not have been better designed if I had sat down and thought about what I needed to hear. And it wasn’t in individual songs, or words, or music, or tweets but it was in the presence of God and the answers to prayer that was evident as a product of the whole.
The service came together from the contributions of the people in the pews but there was no mistaking a common thread running through it, a singular inspiration working through more than just those labelled ‘leader’.
We believe in a priesthood of all believers but often it’s hard to get people out of the pews. Did Sunday see the first shoots of something significant? It was certainly a great experience of being, not just doing, church.
I hope this isn’t just a random experiment but is something that can become a really important source of encouragement, praise and worship from day to day, not just on a Sunday. I think there’s a lot of mileage in exploring how some of the emerging trends in communication can work in a church context. It will be interesting to see if that’s true.