A fortnight ago we had our church service at the city festival and we received an unusual compliment.
An acquaintance from a stall on the Brückerfeld told my wife afterwards that many people here at the stalls had not even noticed that it was a church service. Sonja asked, "That's almost a compliment," to which the friend replied, "Yes, you could say that.
They probably thought it was a concert or something. It was entertaining, the music was jaunty, apparently not how they usually experience worship.
So our service seemed to go down quite well and there were more people listening than there were sitting in the chairs in front of the stage.
But was our service "good" and how do you decide if it was good?
The aim of all meetings
I will read from 1 Corinthians 14:26, NGÜ, what is said there about worship:
The text before this passage is about a more detailed consideration of tonguespeaking and prophecy and it just leads into this verse. And if the statement of this verse applies to all gatherings, then I think it applies especially to worship.
"It is to be that all may have gain for their faith."
Other translations write it is to be for "edification," but that is the same thing in old-fashioned language.
Did the city festival-goers who witnessed the service have a benefit to their faith, or if they don't know anything about faith yet: Was faith brought closer to them?
That is a very difficult question to answer. But one would like to know.
In companies, a lot of attention is paid to measuring success. Is what we are doing producing the desired results? People want to try to measure that in order to be able to work more efficiently. There is nothing wrong with that in principle.
In the community it is rather difficult. Here, too, the idea of efficiency is not fundamentally wrong. You have expenses for what you do, and it shouldn't be a wasted labour of love. But how do you measure, for example after a sermon, how high the profit is for the faith of the visitors?
Maybe we could do it like in the DIY store, where there is sometimes a button bar at the exit, with five buttons, I think, from bad to good, represented by smileys, from sad to happy. We can put something like that here at the exit, and when you go out, you just press a button once. And the preacher, today it would be me, would then get the result when everyone has pressed it. That would certainly be exciting.
As a joke, I once searched the internet for such a button bar, but found nothing. The term "button bar" is probably not correct.
Such evaluation bars are, of course, rather double-edged. On the one hand, people often don't think too much about it, but just hit it somehow, according to a spontaneous feeling. Only with a very large number of people can the results still be meaningful.
On the other hand, you don't get any precise feedback as to why the gain for your faith was not so high today? You also want to improve, you want to learn. And that also means that sometimes you have to realise that others sometimes can't do much with the great thoughts you had in your preparation.
I don't think anyone here would like to have such an evaluation bar. Something like that is too impersonal and somehow also too merciless.
And we must not forget, with all sensible considerations of efficiency, that God also works individually. If a sermon does not appeal to almost all those attending the service, but helps one individual in a life-changing way, then the sermon probably had its purpose after all.
Of course, you can also fall off the horse from the other side and, if as a preacher you realise that you are only staring into "huh" faces, tell yourself that it will help you a lot.
In this sermon I would like to continue to look at the result of what we do, but I would like to emphasise one thing as an insertion.
It is very striking in Psalm 127:1; NL:
In all meaningful considerations of results, efficiency, methodology, etc, one must always remain on this ground that the Lord, Jesus Christ, must work. Without trusting and listening to Him, even the best considerations make no sense.
This must never be forgotten.
Let us return to the verse from earlier (1 Corinthians 14:26; NGÜ):
"When you come together, everyone has something to contribute".
Don't worry, I'm not going to walk through the rows with the radio mike.
The text has something self-evident about it, that everyone who believes in Jesus has something to give. Everyone is important. Not everyone has to give speeches. Some people are very reluctant to speak in front of groups, I understand that too. And some things that you have experienced with Jesus are very personal, and you only want to share them in a protected setting. That is also clear.
But the examples listed here show a certain variety: a song, a teaching, a prophetic message, a language speech with translation, all with the aim that the others have a benefit for their faith.
I don't think this list is complete. It can also be a skit, maybe a dance, a poem, a painted picture, an experience, a simple testimony, maybe you can think of more when you think about it. Maybe someone is moved by a topic and has thought about it and passes it on to one of the preachers, who then elaborates on it in a sermon for the benefit of all. Not everyone has to make speeches and not everyone has to stand in front if they don't want to.
Perhaps someone is stuck with a Bible text that they can't get to grips with, that they perhaps even find contradictory to other texts or contradictory to what they have recognised for their life. And since we do not have an all-encompassing understanding of the Bible, we will always find texts that we cannot classify, because our knowledge is only piecemeal. Let us share this with each other. Perhaps we will find an explanation together, perhaps we will just share the conflict with the text and look forward to all this being answered in Jesus in eternity.
But, and this is especially important: It should always be about everyone having a gain for their faith. That must be the motive. It doesn't have to be perfect, but the attitude has to be right. Ideally, we like each other and enjoy fellowship, and for that reason alone we want the other person to have a gain for their faith.
Therefore, when you contribute, you must also try to put yourself in the shoes of the listeners, so that you don't just kind of blurt out your stuff, no matter how the others feel about it.
Further on, after the verse, there is a short paragraph about prophetic speaking, which fits quite well here (1 Corinthians 14:30-32; NGÜ):
Move that around in prayer and above all take with you that each of us has something to give through Jesus that can be a benefit to someone else's faith. Everyone is important.
Sowing and reapingWe stay with the results.
How do we even come up with something that we can pass on?
When we live with Jesus, we naturally go through his school of life. Through prayer and Bible reading we learn from him and can share our experiences and pass them on.
Or we work on something. We learn a song that helps us, work out thoughts, work in the church because it's important to us. And something comes out of that.
It's a bit like sowing and reaping.
Actually the plant grows by itself, but we set the start by planting the seed and work on it to encourage growth, by fertilising, loosening the soil and whatever else needs to be done.
However, one cannot see one's Christian life only in terms of results. We don't just read the Bible to learn something or pray to get something, but we want to have fellowship with Jesus Christ.
Faith in Jesus is not a result religion, but is a personal relationship with God.
I do want to continue to deal with the issue of "result" in the sermon, but that only makes sense if you have that relationship with Jesus, if you get forgiveness of your sins from him and thereby have peace with God.
But where you pray for others, perhaps share something, pass something on or work in the church in some way, the principle of sowing and reaping already seems to fit.
And when I think of sowing and reaping, I always think of Psalm 126:5,6; NL:
The fact that these verses always come to mind has no deeper meaning at all. I once sang in a Scheideweg project choir more than 30 years ago, and there was a song there that set exactly these two verses to music, and I liked it very much.
But does sowing necessarily have to be connected with pain and suffering for the harvest to be good? In the past, there was also the opinion in our circles that everything that is fun is forbidden and only really unpleasant activities are from the Lord, so that we can be polished to purity.
The Psalm was about the return of Israel after the expulsion and I would associate the tears with the expulsion and the rejoicing with the return.
But let's think about it anyway: How painful does sowing have to be for one to have reason to rejoice over the harvest? Or can sowing also be fun?
Fun can be such a double-edged thing. If you only do what you want to do, then your life, every relationship and every community will fail. Then you don't do tax returns, you don't clean the kitchen after cooking, you don't have conversations with your kids' teachers, etc. I think you can think of enough things that you don't enjoy doing, but you do them anyway. A pure fun society is terrible and bound to fail.
But I believe that often you can actually have fun doing the activities where you have the appropriate gifts and talents for.
You may have heard the saying:
Find a job you enjoy and you will never have to work a day in your life.
That's grossly simplified, of course, but there's a truth in it.
I think if someone is always complaining about the burden of their job, then maybe they have the wrong job. Of course, that applies just as much to working in the community. And I also think that then the results of the job are not so good.
As I said, I don't want to talk about a pure fun culture. Part of being an adult is taking on unpleasant tasks here and there when necessary. But if daily existence consists only of unpleasant things, then something is rotten.
Perhaps we need to reactivate the gift tests in the congregation, as a possible seed, so that the individual person can find a suitable task for him/herself, with which he/she can identify, where he/she usually enjoys it and where something comes out of it, that is, to take up the image from the Psalm once again: A harvest with joys.
There are more sayings like the one about the job you should enjoy.
I once heard a saying from the Christian context:
Love God and your neighbour with all your heart and do what you want.
Of course, that is also a bit simplified, but there is a deeper truth in it as well. If our attitude is really shaped by loving God and our neighbour with all our heart, then our will will also want the right thing. Such an attitude is naturally more of a gift or one is on the way to it in the sense of a development, rather than one consciously resolving: "From tomorrow I will live like this".
Here again we find sowing and reaping. The seed is the new attitude we can get through the beginning or through a new encounter with Jesus Christ and the harvest is our will, our thoughts and our deeds.
I come to the conclusion:.
- We recalled at the beginning that our town festival service was quite well received.
- The aim of a service should be that everyone has a gain for their faith.
- We also thought that it would be helpful if we could somehow measure this gain, but that this is very difficult. And while looking at the outcome, we must never forget that everything depends on God (If the Lord does not build the house, we build it in vain).
- According to the verse from 1 Corinthians 14:26, it seems almost self-evident that everyone contributes something to the service of God. Once we have looked at what this can be, we should take this into prayer, how we can live this out for ourselves. The goal is always important, that everyone has a gain for their faith.
- Although being a Christian is at its core a relationship with and fellowship with Jesus Christ, what our lives do can be compared to the principle of sowing and reaping.
- Then we heard two more sayings to think about:
- Find a job that you enjoy and you will never have to work a day in your life.
- Love God and your neighbour with all your heart and do what you want.