What are some of the most memorable church services you have ever experienced? Matt, 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 deeply touched me both emotionally and spiritually; 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.