Prodigal event redefines worship
BY MELISSA LAUBER
Ask 405 people from the Baltimore-Washington Conference to define worship and you'll get 385 different answers. "Worship is a way of seeing the world in the light of God. …" "Worship is an encounter between souls and with God. …" "Worship is an inward feeling and an outward action all coming together in mysterious ways that glorify God."
At its worst, worship can lull you to sleep. At its best, it can draw you into the very presence of God and transform your life so that you can transform the world.
On April 2, these 405 people gathered at Glen Mar UMC in Ellicott City for Prodigal Worship, an event that brought some of the denomination's best thinkers together for a conversation, praise and experiential learning.
You're the pastor. You don't have to run around telling people you're the pastor. The glory of God is all over you. People should know that something about us just says ‘Jesus.' -- Marvin Moss
Created by the Rev. William Chaney and a team of more than 100 volunteers, the event was hailed by the Rev. Mark Beeson, who leads Granger UMC, one of the denomination's largest churches, as "the best United Methodist conference for continuing education and training event that I've ever attended."
Bishop John Schol also applauded the community that gathered for Prodigal Worship and their desire to enrich the worship experiences at their local churches. "Great worship awakens wonder and draws people into mission and ministry," the bishop said. "Prodigal opens our eyes to new ways of thinking about worship that will enable us to reach beyond the status quo and offer something extraordinary to our congregations and communities."
The Rev. Stacey Cole Wilson, pastor of Mt. Winans UMC in Baltimore, gathered the conference together with a call to worship: "I invite you on a journey to a place where we meet God," she said. And, they did.
‘It starts with attitude'
Worship is our response to God's acting in our lives and world. Prodigal worship, explained the Rev. Andy Lunt, is recklessly extravagant. It grows from our "need to celebrate."
Lunt, the director of congregational development for the Baltimore-Washington Conference, challenged the church to find ways to rival the enthusiasm created by major sporting events.
"There are a lot of people out there who don't know they have reason to celebrate," he said. They don't know there's new birth right around the corner waiting for them. They don't know they have a father God whose love won't quit not matter what. The church has a calling to help them discover they have reason to celebrate and when they show up, we need to make sure that celebration is what they find."
"Listen for God. Look for God. Live in the promises of God." – Marvin Moss
The Rev. Marvin Moss is senior pastor of Cascade UMC in Atlanta. Prior to that he led the 30-member St. James UMC in Alpharetta, Ga., to become a 1,500 member congregation.
Moss encouraged those present who are eager for their churches to grow to "get some passion about yourself."
There is no one-size-fits-all answers, Moss said. Every church needs to explore its context and apply approaches that specifically address their context.
However, they all can learn from the story of Abraham's call in Genesis, to keep moving forward with vision. "Do not to let your layover be a stayover."
At St. James, Moss said, he needed to bring order to the house, ‘bump up' and improve the worship and help the congregation to understand that they needed to serve more than 30 people.
"In the life of the church God calls us to look beyond ourselves to see what God is desiring," Moss said. "Where is the passion in God's people? Do you have a story worth telling? God told Abraham and God is telling you, ‘Look, listen, and live in my promises."
‘For heaven's sake – Go'
The role of worship is to prepare places where God shows up. We need to awaken the senses and step back and allow the Holy Spirit to move, Kim Miller, a minister at Ginghamsburg UMC in Ohio, told the participants at the Prodigal conference during the second of three plenary session.
"Be daring, be different, be impractical, be anything that will assert the creative vision against the play-it-safers, the creatures of the commonplace, the slaves of the ordinary." – Kim Miller quoting Cecil Beaton
Worship, Miller claimed, should startle people. Worship planners need to be daring, different, impractical and assert a creative vision.
But risk-taking, even for the sake of the Gospel, isn't always easy. Miller has four "mantras" or action steps, which help her in creating vital worship.
"Do the right thing, not the expected thing. Tell the truth. Work in the package God has given you; and go in God's authority."
Illuminating these ideas, Miller explained that "God has given you a package, it's a set of gifts to use as you live out your dreams." Citing author Ann LaMott she said, "Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come. You want and you watch and you work. You don't give up."
Excuses and obstacles are nothing new. All the biblical movers and shakers experienced them. Our challenge is to move over, around and through them as God leads. … Feel the fear, and do it anyway." – Kim Miller
In Exodus, God asked Moses, who was standing before the burning bush, leaning on his staff, "What's that in your hand?"
Miller loves this question and advises worship teams to adopt it.
"What's in your hand?" she asked. "What is there that's familiar to you? That's your strength. The thing you'd do, not because anyone told you, you just do it. Play to your strengths."
‘Welcoming the prodigal'
When he was pastoring a church each Sunday. Bishop John Schol would assume there was a prodigal son or daughter in the sanctuary, seeking a way home to God.
It's an assumption he encourages every congregation to make and as he celebrated Communion, Schol illuminated how the mystery of the liturgy can be explained with simplicity to allow all people to feel informed and comfortable about coming to God's table.
The Rev. Mark Beeson of Granger UMC in Illinois reinforced the bishop's suggestion with a story about himself as a chubby child being asked to play a pick-up game with his community's "king of basketball."
The boy Beeson huffed and puffed through the game and spectacularly missed the final shot. But the king of basketball put his arm around him and said. "Well kid, you certainly got the enthusiasm for the game. I guess we can teach you the rest."
"There is a world outside the church's door that wants to play. But who's going to teach them? Beeson asked. "It's us. Through the church of God and the Word of God we learn to be the people of God."
Granger, who grew a church from five people who met in his living room, to a congregation of more than 12,000, stressed that everyone needs an "onramp," an access ministry that helps them become involved with church.
The access ministry has to be easy, require no specific skills and respect people's time. It also needs to enable people to go away with a sense of great worth, he said. At Granger, the Second Saturday program provides this opportunity, allowing people to do short-term mission in the community for two hours at a time on the second Saturday of each month.
As people grow in faith and want to do more, they can move into Project Ministries, and then into ongoing teams, that center around mission and ministry and build relationship and community, and then into leadership.
"This is our time," Beeson said. "There is an opportunity today for the United Methodist Church in the United States to make great progress."
Increasing worship attendance, said the bishop "is at the center of all we hope to accomplish as we offer ourselves as a holy and living sacrifice."