My View from the Worship Team

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I’m on the worship team at church, so when it’s time to sing, I’m looking out at the congregation. I see it all—the joy, the struggles, and the boredom. I’m reminded how Jesus welcomes all of us, that his body is made up of all sorts of different people.

To the passionate, early 40s woman—It lifts my heart to see you worship God. You close your eyes, lift your hands, and focus on every word. Not all of us are so demonstrative with our bodies in worship, but your love for God can’t come out any other way. I see the joy in your face and I see the children around you—they’re watching. You’re giving them a picture of devotion to our Savior. I’m so glad you’re part of our family.

To the young father near the front—I love to see you teach your son to sing. You crouch down and point to the words on the screen, helping him to follow along now that he is starting to read. The church needs men who sing, and it’s great that you’re training him in these early years. You’re helping build up the body of Christ; I’m glad you’re part of our family.

To the silent man in the back pew—you sit as far away from the preacher as possible. You stand during the songs, but you don’t sing. You don’t look bored as much as you look angry. You sit by yourself, though you act like someone is forcing you to attend. I hope you find our church is a safe place to doubt, to ask questions, or to simply show up as you are. I don’t know you well, but I’m glad you keep coming back.

To the two older ladies in the back—you are a treasure! You have trouble standing during the praise songs, and you might not be able to see the screen. I know we don’t always make our services easy for you, but I love seeing you here. You are models of faithfulness, wisdom, and grace, quick with a hug or an encouraging word for anyone that needs either. You point me to our Savior with your steady trust in him. I want to be like you as I grow older; I’m glad you’re part of our family.

Our church isn’t perfect. We’ve got a lot of learning and loving and growing to do. But as God gathers his imperfect people around his perfect Son, I’m glad to be a part of this family.


This post is an imaginative essay. I don’t sing on the worship team, and none of the people in the essay are specific individuals in my church. These characters are amalgams of people I have seen and known (and imagined) over time.


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Photo Credit: John Price (2015), public domain

My View From the Back Pew

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I sit in the back pew on Sunday mornings. Some people sit in the back to hide, to slip out the door while the last hymn is ending. Not me. I sit there because I love seeing so many of God’s people as I worship. It’s my weekly picture of heaven.

Every week, I see more sorrow than joy. I see struggles and frustrations, snapshots of pain—spiritual as much as physical.

I’d love to talk to these people on their way out of church. If I could, I’d pull them aside and emphasize this: God is full of grace.

To the mother with the unruly child—I see how much you want your son to sit in worship with you. This morning, he was noisy and distracting, and when you took him to the nursery you looked ashamed and defeated. You’re exhausted, and I’m guessing you think you’re a terrible mother. Please know this: God is full of grace.

To the disheveled man in your mid-thirties—I’m so glad you’re here. You smell like smoke and you’re a bit awkward in conversation, so most people don’t talk to you. You sit by yourself and don’t have a dime for the offering. It looks difficult for you to sing or pray or maybe even believe you should be in this building. But it’s good for you to be here. I wish we all knew our need for Jesus as you do. Continue to seek the Lord; he is full of grace.

To the parents of the absent teenage daughter—you’ve had a terrible time these last few months. Your daughter turned 18, moved in with her boyfriend, and turned away from church. I know you feel powerless and devastated. And now the empty seat next to you is a painful reminder. Please remember: God is full of grace.

To the teenage boy—I know you don’t want to be here. Your parents bring you against your wishes, and you probably can’t wait to be on your own. You used to love this place; I wonder what happened. You don’t sing or even lift your eyes from the floor. Maybe you think Jesus is irrelevant or just a nuisance. I’m praying you realize God is full of grace.

To the early-forties father in the front—You have a beautiful family, and you know it. You soak in the compliments about your children. You’re well-dressed, put together, and respectable. You’ve gone to this church your whole life, and your parents are pillars of the congregation. But while you seem pleasant on the outside, I wonder about your heart. I’ve seen the fear in your young son’s eyes when you correct him. I wonder how much obedience and performance and appearance dominate your thoughts. I wonder if you know that your need for Jesus is the same as mine. I hope you rest in our God who is full of grace.

I’m grateful for everyone in my church. We’re part of the same body. Don’t be scared of your flaws, doubts, and failures. We all have them in abundance. This is why Jesus is so precious.

We all depend on God’s grace. Let’s remind each other how gracious he is.


This post is an imaginative essay. I don’t sit in the back pew myself, and none of the people in the essay are specific individuals in my church. These characters are amalgams of people I have seen and known (and imagined) over time.


Photo Credit: Michael Gaida, public domain

You Are Not the Bride of Christ

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You won’t find the phrase “bride of Christ” in your Bible. Just like the Trinity, this concept appears in Scripture without the wording we now use.

Though the biblical authors use this image to refer to the collective people of God, many today misapply it to individuals. This error has far-reaching and unexpected consequences.

The Old Testament

Let’s begin with the Bible. In the Old Testament, the nation of Israel was the people of God by virtue of God’s gracious covenant. In Isaiah 54 (and elsewhere), God used the language of marriage to describe his relationship with his people as a whole.

“Fear not, for you will not be ashamed;
be not confounded, for you will not be disgraced;
for you will forget the shame of your youth,
and the reproach of your widowhood you will remember no more.
For your Maker is your husband,
the Lord of hosts is his name;
and the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer,
the God of the whole earth he is called.
For the Lord has called you
like a wife deserted and grieved in spirit,
like a wife of youth when she is cast off,
says your God.
For a brief moment I deserted you,
but with great compassion I will gather you.
In overflowing anger for a moment
I hid my face from you,
but with everlasting love I will have compassion on you,”
says the Lord, your Redeemer. (Isaiah 54:4–8)

The Israelites understood marriage, so God employed this language to explain his covenant. The prophets regularly used this image to point out Israel’s many idolatries. So we read of the people “whoring” after other gods and abandoning their faithful husband. (See Ezekiel 16 for a detailed and graphic example.)

The New Testament

With the coming of Jesus, the people of God are no longer confined to one nation. Now those who confess Jesus as Lord and Savior make up God’s community, the church.

The theme of the church as the bride of Christ comes from three New Testament passages. The famous passage about marriage in Ephesians 5:22–33 compares husbands to Christ and wives to the church. Paul tells the church in Corinth that he bethrothed them to one husband, Christ (2 Cor 11:2). Finally, the picture John develops in Revelation 21 shows the New Jerusalem as the bride of the Lamb (see verses 2 and 9–10).

Whether Old Testament or New, these references are all collective, not individual.

The Importance of Getting it Right

Teaching that individuals are the bride(s) of Christ is not just an innocent mistake. It can have serious consequences for our worship, our outreach, and our own sanctification. I see at least four reasons why it’s important to cling tightly to what the Bible says about this image.

1. Biblical accuracy is important.

When the Bible speaks about something, even by way of images, illustrations, and metaphors, we must interpret accurately.

2. We use this language in worship.

When we worship God corporately, we naturally use language that captures our relationship with him. This is true in prayer, preaching, and singing.

The church has been infected with Jesus-is-my-boyfriend songs for many years now, and I wonder if a misunderstanding of this biblical image is to blame. When we urge our congregations to sing about being in love with God (instead of loving God), we evoke a romantic image that echoes the brides-of-Christ mistake. I see these solitary, romantic notions nowhere in the Bible.

3. We risk emasculating men.

Some men already feel the church is too feminine. When we ask men—especially men new to (or outside) the faith who don’t yet know our strangeness—to profess being in love with Jesus, they may not come back. Since this brushes against the hot-button topic of homosexuality, we need to be clear about the sort of love men should have for Jesus.

4. We risk sending the wrong message to women.

Some of the single women in our churches long to be married. Trying to encourage them by teaching that they are “married to Christ” now is not helpful. It’s dismissive in addition to being unbiblical.

I suspect the Catholic church’s teaching about nuns has crept into the larger church culture on this point. The Catholic church’s catechism (scroll down to paragraph 923) teaches that nuns are “betrothed mystically to Christ” and that they are “an eschatological image of this heavenly Bride of Christ.”

This is nowhere in the Bible. We need to care for the single women in our churches with biblical comfort and love.

A Beautiful Image

The image in Scripture is clear: God is preparing and purifying his people for a great gathering at the end of time. The victorious Son of God, the Lord Jesus Christ, will meet his bride, the church, and there will be a great feast of celebration.

Let’s not dilute or distract from this great biblical image. You are not the bride of Christ; we are.


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Photo Credit: Andreas (2008), public domain

How to Fall Through the Cracks at Church

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Many churches are looking to welcome visitors and help them get connected. They want an active congregation, involved in both the work of the church and in the lives of others.

But let’s be honest. That’s a real drag.

Between work and family, you have plenty of people making demands on you. You want the church to be there for you on Sunday and in the event of a crisis. Otherwise, you don’t want to be bothered.

It’s easy to find advice on connecting with a church. It’s harder to locate help resisting this type of connection. I’m here to serve.

The Most Important Principle

Let’s put the best advice on the table: keep to yourself. As much as possible, dodge every opportunity for a deep conversation or friendship.

This is more difficult that it sounds. Avoiding others is easy in an office setting, but most churches are full of people who want to nose their way into your life.

You’ll need to walk a thin line. While you don’t want extra people around, you need to convince the church you’re on the inside. The last thing you want is someone to “evangelize” you. That’s the worst.

Practical Matters

To keep those church folks at arm’s length, consider these practical matters.

Choose your seat carefully. — You might be tempted to sit in the last row, but this is a rookie mistake. Seasoned church-goers know this is where avoiders lurk, and they’ll pounce. Instead, aim for 2/3 of the way back in the sanctuary. Here you’ll sidestep the over-eager, way-too-nice families in the front half of the room, but you’ll escape the target that comes with the last row. Grab an aisle seat for a quick exit.

Greet the pastor. — That preacher dude is fast. You’ll never beat him to the exit, so resign yourself to a handshake. Compliment his sermon. Most pastors obsess about their preaching, so this flattery gives you cover to slip out the door.

Act busy. — Nosy Christians will shift into gear when you attend the same church a few weeks in a row. Be prepared: they’re going to start inviting you. To what? To everything. Extra services, prayer meetings, Sunday school, small groups, Bible studies, fellowship meals, you name it. It’s exhausting. The key here is to act busy. Feign interest in the group or class or project they’re promoting, and decline with an apology. After all, you have work/kids’ activities/family time, right?

Attend irregularly. — Don’t attend every week. Make it a point to miss at least one Sunday each month.

Hide. — Not literally, but practically. Wait as long as possible to fill out a contact card, because then they have you. With your phone number, address, or email, they can visit or get in touch with you. Ick. Be polite but withdrawn. Make sure you’re slow to return calls, texts, or emails. With apologies, of course.

Keep conversation fluffy. — Sooner or later, you’ll get trapped in a conversation. Try to steer discussion toward work, weather, or sports. If that doesn’t last, lean on Christian clichés: Mention how much God has blessed you, but focus only on health and safety. Complain about how little regard our culture has for Christianity. Give off an aura of thoughtfulness, but don’t get specific—that might open the door to a follow-up question next week.

Bad News Ahead

Now, for the bad news. You’ve got difficult work ahead of you. In fact, the only foolproof way to slip through the cracks at a good church is to stop attending.

See, those church people aren’t just reaching out because they want a bigger club. They actually love you and want good things for you. They know that connecting with Christians can have a profound spiritual impact on your life.

Brace yourself.


Photo Credit: Nathan, Creative Commons License

Praying for Five

At the end of December, many people focus on goals and resolutions for the next twelve months. For a moment, let’s move beyond personal ambitions.

What are your hopes for your church in the new year?

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Instead of fixating on a single number (attendance, offering, VBS involvement), think of the health of your church. What areas of weakness or sickness could be prayed for and addressed in 2016?

My Church

I don’t intend this post to be prescriptive, so let me tell you one of the ways I’m praying for my church in 2016. (Other small, Reformed churches may find this diagnosis familiar.)

Washington Presbyterian Church is a small church in southwest Pennsylvania that has seen exciting growth over the last three years. Our Sunday morning congregation and church membership have both swelled a bit as committed Christians have joined us. Some of these believers are new to the area, some are just new to our body. These are awesome folks and God has blessed our church through them.

Though our numbers are up, we haven’t seen much growth in the realm of conversion—unbelievers confessing Jesus as Lord for the first time. So, while my church has lots of room for growth, I plan to pray repeatedly about this weakness through the next year.

Lord, Give Us Five!

I’m praying that—as a result of my church’s witness to and proclamation in our community—God would bring at least five people out of darkness into light. That he would transfer them from the kingdom of the devil into the kingdom of the son that he loves. That he would give spiritual sight to at least five people who are blind. That, where there is hopelessness, at least five people would find hope and eternal life. That at least five would know forgiveness where they currently know only guilt. That they would know God as a loving, merciful father and not as a scolding judge. That at least five people would speak the name of Jesus with reverence, joy, and gladness.

Why five? Attaching a number to this request makes my prayer more specific and tangible. The number itself is arbitrary—some may think this number is far too big or far too small. For my church, five conversions would be more than we’ve seen in a while. If it happens, it will be clear both that we needed God and that God moved. This didn’t just come about as a result of our normal ministries, interactions, or personalities.

How will I react to success or failure? I plan to pray regularly, earnestly, and publicly about this. If God grants this request, I plan to be quick to glorify him. If 2016 ends with fewer than five conversions, it won’t be a failure. Though God wouldn’t have granted this request, it won’t alter the substance of my prayers. Conversions, the spread of the gospel, the proclamation of Jesus as Lord—this is always a central mission of the church.

What do you dream for your church in the next year? How will you pray and act to bring it about?


Photo Credit: John Phelan, Creative Commons License