I’m glad to have Michael Cooper, Jr. writing for Lifeway Pastors today. Michael is the pastor of Grace Community Church in the small East Texas town of Mabank. He was pursued by Jesus at the age of 17 and was called to the ministry at 18. Michael has earned a B.A. in Biblical Studies and a M.A. in Theological Studies from Criswell College. He and his wife Kailie have been married since June 2012. They have a little girl, Sophia, and are expecting another little one in March 2017.
From Monday through Saturday we are beat up by the world. We are persuaded to believe that our lives ought to be consumed with the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life (1 John 2:15-17). The week has the ability to take its toll on us. This is why as God’s people the Sunday Morning Gathering of Christ’s body is vital to our existence as believers. We need a safe place from the dangers of the world. As the Body of Christ gathers in the local embassies of His Kingdom, the Church presents itself to an alternative to the world.
But sometimes we can convince ourselves that the gathering of the Church on Sunday is just some religious routine; something that is suppose to be done by Christians. Many times as pastors the routine of preaching Sunday after Sunday can wear us down. To put it simply, Sundays are exhausting. But the Lord’s Day is indeed a day of rest. The trials, chaos, and the busyness of the past week seek to argue against the Sunday gathering. They collectively say, “Just stay in bed so you can rest.” But the corporate gathering of the Church declares that true and final rest is found in Christ.
The various activities in the Sunday morning gathering all have a point. The sermon, songs, prayers, Scripture, ordinances are a means of reset and reorientation. They are intended to redirect our attention to a few key realities of the Christian life and practice. I’m convinced as pastors we must help facilitate a theological paradigm for God’s People on Sunday mornings. The Gathering of the church is a prime opportunity to help shepherd His People into a Biblical Worldview. This involves a theologically intentional worship service. We can emphasize this in three ways.
We Recall Christ’s Work
As the Church gathers we declare individually and corporately the reality of the gospel. We are recalling Christ’s work on our behalf. We sing the gospel, pray the gospel, and preach the gospel. In the ordinances, we eat the gospel (Lord’s Supper) and we participate in the gospel (Baptism). The local church is the gospel mouth-house. We are a people of the past. We look back in order to look forward. We proclaim to each other that Christ has purchased us through His death and secured our salvation through His resurrection. We announce in the midst of a world filled with bad news that there is indeed good news. During the week as my fellow brothers and sisters have suffered in the world, we gather to say that the gospel is the only medicine that heals a sick soul. This is what we desperately need to recall for ourselves and those around us. By recalling Christ’s work we are helping God’s People see that everything in their lives depend upon Him.
We Remember Our Identity
In the same breathe as we recall the gospel we remember our current identity in Christ. Again there is a temptation during the week to find our identity in what we can accomplish. Maybe our jobs consume us. Maybe it was that test that gave worth to my existence. Maybe that relationship that failed has destroyed your self-esteem. The fact of the matter is we need to be reminded that we are “in Christ Jesus.” Based on Christ’s work we have a new existence in Him – we are crucified (Gal 2:20), raised (Col 3:3), and reigning (Eph 2:6). As He is so are we. Not only do we proclaim the gospel, we participate in it as well through our new identity in Him. As a result the Gathering is reminded of the New Creation that they are already apart of (2 Cor 5:17-21). We can think of the Sunday morning gathering as a spiritual reality check. We remember who we really are in Christ. Christ’s past work as present implications for us. Remembering who we are resets our purpose in the present.
We Rehearse for New Creation
As we look back recalling the gospel and we remember our present identity in Him, we look forward to the New Creation. As we are already part of the New Creation in Christ, the Sunday morning gathering is a rehearsal for the final culmination of God’s redemptive plan. We rehearse, act out, and live the New Creational reality of God’s Kingdom now, which directs our vision of reality for the future. This is preparing us for the life to come in a restored Eden. Our lips sing of the wonders of eternity with the reigning Lamb. Our ears hear of the glorious realities of Him in glory. The beautiful mosaic of God’s people in the present is a foretaste of a final heavenly reality. Eternity has invaded time, directing our hearts to the telos. We are an eschatological people rehearsing for The End that has already arrived in Christ.
Emphasizing these Elements
The Sunday morning gathering of God’s people is essential for our existence. As pastors we can encourage God’s people to look back, consider the present, and long for the future. We collectively recall, remember, and rehearse. These three elements summarize the importance of the local church on Sunday morning. Practically speaking we can emphasize these elements through the service.
For example, I have worked with our song leader (you may have a worship pastor) to pick songs that focus on these elements. During the Lord’s Supper I try to be explicit about the future orientation of the event (1 Corinthians 11:26). I focus on the past and present implications of baptism (Romans 6). During the service we have multiple Scripture readings from the Old and New Testament recalling the implications of Christ’s Work. When the church receives new members, I point the congregation to the eschatological implications (Matthew 16). We have a deacon read a portion of a historic creed or confession that focuses on one of these elements (see the Apostles Creed or BFM 2000). Being theologically intentional about the service keeps us Word-centered and helps direct the congregation to focus on Jesus. As the people of God we must remember who we are and what Christ has done for us – this is the importance of Sunday morning.
Each Sunday is a New Day where we arrive at an empty tomb in celebration that Christ has triumphed over the world. Sunday is unique. Sunday is the Lord’s Day. Let us recall, remember, and rehearse the great gospel of King Jesus. We are sent out in the midst of wolves Monday through Saturday, so let us find comfort in the flock of the Great Shepherd on Sunday.