March 22, 2017
The church is many things to many people. For some its a negative experience, for others its a lifeline. Regardless, there are certain types of services that has the ability to bring people of varying opinions together.
Yup, all those different people in the same building at the same time. We had one of these services recently and it reminded me again why I love them whenever they show up on the schedule.
They go by formal names in some churches but the services I'm taking about are what I call Celebration services. In our tradition there are two primary ones that come to mind - Baptisms and Parental Dedications.
The service I alluded to earlier had both (as well as memberships, but that's another story) and it was nothing short of amazing. It truly was the type of Sunday morning most pastors yearn for and most congregants appreciate. Here are the reasons why I love these services so much.
They Are Easy Services for Inviting the Non-Churched
One of the churches secret weapons is children, especially when they are on the platform. What grandparent, aunt, uncle, or relative of any kind can resist the lure of a child being featured during a ceremony?
Over the years some of our highest attended Sundays are the ones where parents are dedicating their children. We have a vow and dedication prayer that the parents recite, but equally powerful is that we have a responsive vow and prayer that we ask the congregation to recite.
Few moments are as community centred as when these words are read aloud. Baptisms are almost equal to dedications for getting out invitations but when you have a pre-teen or early teen being baptized, combining the kid factor with baptism becomes a potential invitation even the staunchest anti-church relative will have trouble refusing.
People Get to Tell Their Stories
Most churches have those being baptized give a testimony and we are no different. I admit that personally, this is one of my favourite parts of a baptismal service. I'm amazed at the diversity of backgrounds and circumstances for each person and yet all have the common refrain of faith in Christ.
We may know the final resolution of a testimony, but the stories that serve as the prelude are as varied as the people themselves. I love the fact that its real people telling real stories of faith. It is one of those moments of confirmation that God is really active in your church and active in the personal lives of the people. Again, for people in attendance, that reality is hard to ignore.
It Serves as an Encouragement to the Church as a Whole
As pastors, we have those who encourage us after a message but nothing compares to the kind of enthusiasm that people exude after a celebration service. I can stand on my head on the platform telling people what God is doing in the life of our church but nothing communicates it quite like a dedication or baptism.
To some, my pronouncements of changed lives from the front can come off like political posturing or spin. But its hard to argue with parents professing their commitment to raise their children to faith in Christ or others who are demonstrating their faith through baptism. Its hard to argue when the facts are so evident.
There is another benefit to this. Regular church attenders become emboldened in their own faith and anytime a believer gets energized for the Lord, it becomes a win for the church in ways I can't begin to number.
The Gospel Becomes Real
For many in our culture, God is nothing more than a philosophical abstraction, and anything that stays an abstraction rarely touches the heart. These services on the other hand bring God into the level of the personal. You can argue the merits of an abstraction but when faith is demonstrated in personal lives, it comes alive in real ways.
I can preach entire series on the transformational power of faith in Christ but these services demonstrate the validity of such claims. As one member told me after the service, Today serves as a validation of all you've been saying about faith in God! I'm still basking in the enjoyment and satisfaction that a celebration service brings, and I for one am looking forward to the next one.
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If you live in Canada, you know that there is an election right around the corner. Canadian's go to the polls on Monday, October 21st, and if anything can be said about this election is that it's been a lesson in leadership missteps. Regardless, there are two factors that determine who wins an election.