Church services and the element of surprise

And the power of the Lord was present for him to heal the sick.  Luke 5:17

What are some of the most memorable church services you have ever experienced?  Matt Schurr, our worship pastor, asked all of us that question yesterday during our biweekly creative planning meeting for upcoming Sunday services.  It was an instructive question because in stirring up great memories it revealed essential ingredients that make for impacting church services.

As we paused silently to consider the question each of us began to search through our own respective archives of years of doing church.  For me it was like pulling out old family albums and paging through them looking for photos that sparked favorite memories from years gone by.  In a matter of minutes I came up with a list of over ten very vivid pictures in my mind of services that had a major impact upon me. 

These most memorable church services fell into one of four categories.  They were times when 1) God’s presence was sudden, unmistakable and so powerful that it overwhelmed everyone simultaneously; 2) I was so convicted by the speaker’s message that I was drawn uncontrollably forward to the altar area to do business with God; 3) A creative or spontaneous element in the service caught me off guard by its emotional and spiritual impact; 4) Something bizarre happened that was unexpected, unredemptive but unforgettable.

In retrospect, as I think about it now, the one common ingredient that made those church services so memorable was the element of surprise.  And in most of the cases the surprise was a function of what happened, being unplanned and spontaneous.  Not surprisingly, that is typically how God works.  When it comes to the way God does things the maxim “expect the unexpected” is more the rule than the exception.  This modus operandi is demonstrated repeatedly throughout both the Old and New Testaments in the way God’s initiated life changing encounters with people.  From Abraham to David to Mary to Paul we see God again and again surprising people through His divine intervention.

This was true even in the ministry of Jesus as evidenced by God’s power breaking out in His teaching meeting and healing people there who were sick. (Luke 5:17)  Just imagine how memorable it must have been for everyone in attendance, particularly the ones who were healed?

Since we cannot control God, the unplanned and spontaneous elements of a service are not something anyone can program.  It is God through the aegis of the Holy Spirit, the Lord of the gathering, who alone has the power to reveal His presence, bring conviction and effect life change.  

What we can do however, as His servants responsible for leading church services, is to seek to create an environment that is inviting and conducive to the Holy Spirit’s unplanned and spontaneous initiatives.  To be honest, that is often easier said than done.  Nurturing that atmosphere requires a commitment not only from church service leaders but also from those who faithfully attend as the body of Christ.

Here are three mutual commitments every member of the body can make for us to see a greater release of the Holy Spirit’s presence and power in our services.

1.  Pray for the Services – preparing our hearts well in advance of the service and praying for the Holy Spirit to have His way.  Most often the movement of the Holy Spirit is directly related to the frequency and earnestness with which people are praying.

2.  Worship Whole-Heartedly – engaging in worship by inviting the Holy Spirit’s Lordship into our lives and into our service.  God has promised to inhabit the praises of His people and our responsiveness to Him in worship has a direct correlation with the manifestation of His presence and power.

3.  Allow Space for God to Intervene – creating substantial time in the service for the free moving of the Holy Spirit and being responsive both to speak His word and act on His word.  This is possible when church leaders make this a priority and all the members of the body with spiritual gifts are available to step up and share them.  In this way God can move and everyone in attendance can be encouraged and edified.  (1 Corinthians 14:26)

Why not take a few minutes and think about your most memorable church services.  What do they have in common?  Can you see how the element of Holy Spirit surprise made them what they were?  Do you agree with me that there are things that we can do to see these type of services happen more frequently?

Your thoughts and comments are always welcome.

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