Episode 12, Sunday Sample, 19 November 2017

Reflections on Corporate Worship

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Locations: Watford and Bracknell

Special Occasion: none

I was involved in services in Watford and Bracknell this last Sunday. Our entry to the building in Watford was delayed due to a misunderstanding about parking, but we got in eventually. Everyone rushed around setting up before taking a deep breath for a pre-service devotional. We needed it. We were all frazzled.

We reflected on Hezekiah’s prayer, then God’s promise of healing, followed by the King’s poem of praise, culminating in this phrase:

“The Lord will save me, and we will sing with stringed instruments all the days of our lives in the temple of the Lord.” (Isaiah 38:20 NIV11)

He knew why he was singing. His fellow-congregants knew why they were singing. See the “we” word in verse 20?  We also know why we sing. The point is not “what” we are about to do, but “why”. Focussing on the “why” helped us to worship and to lead worship with a clearer mind and heart. It’s an important reminder to me that we need those few moments to pray and remember what it’s all about.

Speakers

Charl gave us a communion talk with a difference in Watford. You may see the table, tablecloth, vase and flower between Barry and Kate in the photo above. He asked for volunteers for a demonstration and then set up Barry and Kate as if on a date in a restaurant. Romantic music played through the PA system. Charl spoke about what makes meals special before going on to describe the extra-special nature of the communion. His points were sound and well-made. But what I especially appreciated was the creative thinking that went into preparing and presenting his talk.

Osagie is in action below preaching in Watford. He is another one never short of a handy way to illustrate his points. His use of children’s play tiles was masterful. You’ll have to click here to see him in action on the YouTube channel.

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Music Worship

We tried a new song-sandwich in Watford. The first three verses of “Soon and very soon” were followed by “Shine, Jesus, Shine” and concluded with the final two verses of “Soon and very”. All in G.It didn’t really work. The problem was that we started too fast and had to slow down for “Shine” and then speed up again for the final part of “Soon”. It wasn’t a disaster, but the effect I was looking for didn’t happen. I’m going to try it again this coming Sunday in Lower Earley. We’ll sing the first half of “Soon” slowly, segue into “Shine” and then speed up for the second half of “Soon”. I’ll let you know how that goes next week.

In Bracknell, the stand-out musical item was a new song by Geraldine Latty, “Lord, you hear the cry“. I thoroughly recommend it. How many songs do we sing about the marginalised and needy? Not many. It goes well with the point in our services when we take a collection for HOPE Worldwide UK. Have a look at the lyrics and chord charts here.

Other Thoughts

Last week I said we’d do the following:

  1. Have song sheets for everyone in Watford. Done.
  2. Start the service in Bracknell with a 5-minute countdown video. Done.

Next Sunday we’ll do the following:

  1. Have a devotional for all the service participants that includes one minute of silence – “For God alone my soul waits in silence; from him comes my salvation.” Psalm 62.1, (NRSV)
  2. Have a second bash a the S&S song-sandwich in Lower Earley.

Please comment on what you’re doing with your services. What are you trying that’s working? What is God teaching you?

Share reflections with us so we can grow and please God.

You can leave a comment below.

God bless,

Malcolm

The Sunday Sample 3rd September 2017

Reflections on Corporate Worship

Date:  Sunday 3rd September 2017

Location: Bracknell

Special Occasion: none

The service in Bracknell this Sunday was a delight. Most summer wanderers had returned. It was good to see familiar faces again. Many of which had been significantly tanned. 

Speakers

Tim Dannatt preached. I shared the communion talk. Elliot and Emily talked about HOPE worldwide and the Patel family welcomed us. A few notes on what I observed.
Elliot and Emily teased us about a presentation they will be doing about the Zambia HOPE Youth Corp at the beginning of October. They used the technique of repeatedly saying they were going to tell us things then, but not now. This created strong engagement with the congregation through the humour of the repetition. It also meant that there was no way we were going to forget what they were promoting!
I liked the way that Harry and Saroj involved their children by having them read Scripture. We could tell that neither of the children felt pressurised, although, of course, they looked a bit embarrassed. And I especially liked the fact that Saroj clearly had thought carefully about what she was going to pray about and how she was going to pray. In the devotional before we began the service, she asked if there were any prayer needs. Then when she actually prayed, she did so with a good blend of formal and extemporary tone.
  
Videos of Tim’s sermon is here.

Audio available at the Thames Valley churches of Christ iTunes podcast.

Music Worship

I mentioned last week that we were going to try something different. Here’s how it went. We did a three song opening set all in the key of G. Beginning with the first two verses of “Amazing Grace”, then moving straight into “Anchor for the soul”, straight into “How great is our God”, and finishing with the final verse of “Amazing grace”. The congregation loved it!  I can’t claim that I originated the idea – heard it somewhere else. Something about the flow helped the congregation get into the spirit of why we were praising God, and connecting with the God whom we were praising.

Other Thoughts

Here’s a pre-service devotional idea I tried this Sunday. Before starting the devotional I handed a small picture to every person involved in the service. It was a photograph I had taken of a cyclist silhouetted against bright sunlight. I used it to symbolise what God has done for us in bringing us out of darkness into light, 1 Peter 2.9. Then I remarked that we are people praising the one and leading the worship in praise of the one who brought us out of darkness into his wonderful night.

Nothing I said was remarkable, but having a photograph in the hand helped people to connect more strongly with the point. Several of those present mentioned how helpful this was. We must never underestimate the value of physical props helping us to communicate our message.

Last week I said I would:

  1. Experiment with an opening set three-song medley sandwich in Bracknell. Done
  2. Lead a devotional for all involved in the service in Bracknell. Done

The focus for next Sunday: I’m on holiday!

Please comment on what you’re doing locally with your services. What are you trying that’s working? What is God teaching you?

Share reflections with us so we can grow and please God.

You can leave a comment below.

God bless,

Malcolm

 

The Sunday Sample – 27 August 2017

Reflections on Corporate Worship

Date:  Sunday 27th August 2017

Location: Watford & Lower Earley

Special Occasion: none

Both Watford and Lower Earley were empty! Seriously think we should consider having house-church on the August bank-holiday weekend. Not only are many away on holiday, but a bunch of Thames Valley folk are off at youth camp. We had a good time anyway, but a more intimate home-based service would be better.
 
The Watford service benefitted by us taking off from the school as soon as the service ended and popping across the road to the park. A new playground opened recently. The children had fun on the equipment while the parents picnicked in the sunshine. We must do that again. It rather looked as if some of the adults had fun too!

Speakers

I spoke in both locations. Not a common practice, but not a problem.
 
My lessons were OK. Not great, but not bad. Let me know what you think. The heat and small numbers made for a less energetic atmosphere than usual. But the engagement was reasonable. I know that my own assessment of my lessons is not always objective. I’ve often found that the lessons I think went well had little impact. The lessons I don’t like sometimes get the best feedback.
 
I aimed for 25 minutes in both locations and went longer. 29 minutes in both. Oh well, not far off. If you have any tips on shortening lessons, please leave a comment. See also this video on my YouTube channel.
 
Videos are here and here. Audio available at the Watford and Thames Valley churches of Christ iTunes podcasts.
 
Johan shared a deceptively simple, but profound communion talk. Here are his main points explaining the purpose of the Lord’s Supper using 1 Cor 10 & 11 as his source texts:
  1. Discernment – make sure we have a correct focus going into the Lord’s Supper
  2. Separation – from idols
  3. Communion – 1 Cor 10.16 – as in sharing together in something
  4. Remembrance – his name, works, life, exaltation
  5. Bond of Christian fellowship – 1 Cor 10.17
  6. Powerful proclamation – vital facts of the gospel
Note to self: keep working on succinctness.

Music Worship

Leon was awesome in Watford! Danny & Charl lead most of our songs, but they were away. Leon stepped in a led with passion and professionalism. He even got a round of applause for his leadership of one song. It’s endearing to see the way congregations warm to people stepping up to serve in faith.

Our song service in Lower Earley was super. Obi was majestic in his role as lead song-leader.

Other Thoughts

Last week I said I would:

  1. Lower Earley: confirm which person is leading which song well in advance – by Friday. Done
  2. Watford: keep my combined sermon and communion to no more than 25 minutes. Working on it….

The focus for next Sunday:

  1. Experiment with an opening set three-song medley sandwich in Bracknell. I’ll explain next week.
  2. Lead a devotional for all involved in the service in Bracknell.

Please comment on what you’re doing locally with your services. What are you trying that’s working? What is God teaching you?

Share reflections with us so we can grow and please God.

You can leave a comment below.

God bless,

Malcolm

 

The Sunday Sample: 4 June 2017

Reflections on corporate worship

Date: Sunday 4th June

Location: Bracknell

Special occasion: themed service – “Elected”

Although the picture on the left is from the morning service in Watford (the kids were magnificent – singing and performing the actions to the song, “Great big God” – “thank you”, Danny), I’m going to focus this review on the Bracknell event because it was a special themed service.

The title was “Elected” as a pun on the forthcoming general election and the scriptures about our spiritual election.

Outline

The service outline is below:

Item Details Who Other
Song Thank you Lord – Voices & Guitar Tidu/Roger Band
Song I Will Rise – Band Tidu Band
Song Hallelujah (Lord we sing ….) – Band Tidu/Roger Band
Welcome & Prayer Watkins
Slideshow Children go to classes
Song Transcend – Voices & Guitar Alex Band
HOPE talk It’s not about governments, but us here in this room Tony
Song Take my Life – Voices & Guitar. While HOPE collection taken up Tidu Voices & Guitar
Introduction Malcolm Explain group work
Group work Together with the person sitting next to you, discuss a time you felt chosen and how it felt (not about God). 2’s or 3’s
Sharing Get a few responses.  Introduce testimonies. Malcolm
Testimony 1 Shevvy
Sharing What did we notice about Shevvy’s testimony? Malcolm
Testimony 2 CJ
Sharing What did we notice about CJ’s testimony?
Communion Describe how God chose/elected us because of Jesus. Take the bread to choose Jesus. Malcolm Holding loaf. Break at end & distribute.
Song Amazing Grace – Voices. Bread and wine passed Obi Voices
Song Here Am I Send Me (Brian Craig version) – Band Tidu Band

Handout

We gave a handout to everyone who attended so they could reflect on what they were hearing, and take something away for further quiet time and discussion material. You can see a copy here: Election Service handout.

Reflections

Several people remarked on the helpfulness of having a theme for the entire service. It helped them to concentrate, focus and dial down deep into the topic. The testimonies were terrific. Very different characters and circumstances clearly illustrating that God chooses all kinds of people. The speakers remembered to include points for the teenagers in the room, which I would hope will have made the messages more relevant for them.

Have you run a specially ‘themed’ service recently? If so, what worked, and what did not? Do you have any recommendations for events such as these?

Let me know your ideas. You can leave a message here, or send me an email: mccx@mac.com.

God bless,

Malcolm

The Sunday Sample

Reflections on corporate worship, 16th April 2017

Date: Sunday 16th April

Locations: Bracknell and Watford

Special occasion: Easter Sunday

Speakers

Myself and Tony Heath spoke in Watford and Bracknell respectively. A change from the normal service pattern happened in both locations. In Watford we had a story instead of the sermon – with the children holding up pictures they had coloured as part of the reading. In Bracknell the communion followed the sermon and Peri read the lyrics of a song instead of the congregation singing as bread and wine went around. Children were very visible in both locations. The Wakefield family all spoke, read or prayed in Bracknell – very encouraging for us all to see.

Today’s lesson: vary communion presentation more.

Music

Both services started close to on time. We prayed together in both locations before starting. We sat in a circle and used song sheets in Watford instead of PPt. Not sure if this made much difference. The singing in Bracknell went very well. It was noticeable that some older hymns went downs well with a segment of the congregation, who sang more lustily than at other times.

Today’s lessons: include some hymns more often in Bracknell. 

Connection

As noted above, hymns made a difference for some. The physical holding of pictures helped the children connect with the story (see below).

Today’s lessons: consider the preferences of different parts of the congregation more carefully when planning a service.

Other Matters

  • Watford: we’ve done story sermons with the children in the past, but this one might have been the best so far, and I think it was because the children had pictures in their hands and felt like part of the story. The tactile nature of the pictures they’d coloured in gave them skin in the game.

Last week I said we would prioritise:

  1. Think through chorus repeats and write them down – went better
  2. Fewer chairs – forgot
  3. Start on time – done

This week I’ll prioritise:

  1. Think through chorus repeats and write them down – again. Need to establish the habit.
  2. Add a hymn to the service in Lower Earley
  3. Start on time

Let me know your ideas. You can leave a message here, or send me an email: mccx@mac.com.

God bless,

Malcolm

The Three Trees

pathThere are many trees in the Bible. I once contemplated writing a book about the spiritual lessons to be learned from trees and the use of wood. It might still happen (the ark, sticks on Isaac’s back, the tabernacle, etc.). The thought came back to mind this week because we had an outdoor ‘forest/nature’ church service. The entire Watford church decamped to the woods at Ashridge. Joe Cronje illustrated the need for trees as a supplier of oxygen by the use of his scuba diving equipment. We searched for seed pods, built a mini-shelter and took time to listen to silence. A refreshing experience and one I expect we’ll repeat.

We took communion standing in a circle. Bread and wine were passed round after I’d shared about the tree of life from Revelation 22. But there was more I had planned to share about three key trees. Time did not permit on the day, but here are the remaining thoughts.

1. The Wrong Tree 

A young lad was at our house recently. He spotted a juicy apple. My wife counselled him not to eat it. Why? Because it was a cooker, not an eater. Adam & Eve got a mouthful of sourness of a different sort when they ate from the wrong tree. “The Lord God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground—trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food. In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” (Genesis 2:9) There was plenty of good fruit around on a variety of trees. They ate from a forbidden tree and we’ve been suffering ever since.

2. The Healing Tree

Trees have medicinal properties. But our earth-bound trees have nothing on this particular tree: “On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be any curse.” Revelation 22.2-3 A tree that can heal the nations? That’s quite some tree. People differ on the exact nature and location of this tree and the kind of healing mentioned. However, what is clear is that the healing is powerful and permanent. As the rest of Revelation indicates, the tree exists to do its work because of the sacrifice of the lamb – Jesus.

3. The Cursed Tree

Standing between the tree in Eden and the tree in Revelation, between the wrong tree and the healing tree, forming a tree-bridge between them, is another tree. This ‘tree’ is the one Jesus was hung on. “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.”” (Galatians 3:13) His willingness to be ‘cursed’ on a tree removed the Genesis curse (Gen 3.17) and the sin-curse on me.

We took bread and wine to remember the one who hung on a tree so that we can enjoy the fruit of the tree of life and experience it’s healing power. I’m looking forward to seeing the tree of life on the banks of the river of the water of life, and I’ll be forever grateful that I’m healed by what Jesus did for me on another tree 2,000 years ago.

Malcolm Cox

 

PS: if you’d like to see a short video on trees and how they communicate, click here to see something my wife sent me from the BBC web site.

Babes in the Woods

Yesterday I wrote about the death of a baby and what I had been learning in preparation for the memorial service today. This morning we gathered in a very special place to grieve and to celebrate. Grieving because of our loss, and celebrating because this baby is a gift.

The setting and the day could not have been better. Last week the parents buried their son at a Greenacres Woodland Burials Site and we returned there for the service  today. Sunlight slipped between branches to shade the mourners as we stood around the small grave. Several buried babies ring an oak in a solemn circle of pain and love. Each one marked with a name. Some with a few words on a plaque. One with an elephant carving – I suppose to say the parents would never forget. I can’t imagine anyone does.

Our tears co-mingled with comfort. It might seem a strange combination, but there was a reason. Just before walking out to the grave we took communion. Bread and wine symbolising the body and blood of Jesus and reminding us that God’s son also died before his time. We know God understands loss – even unjust loss. Therefore we know his comfort is available and powerful, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ.” (2 Corinthians 1:3–5 NIV11)

Quiet contemplation of the grave and sharing our sorrows was enough today. We did not need answers to “why”, we just needed our compassionate God to say, “I’m here”.  If you’re going through a time of loss, I pray you too will find the comfort and hope available from the God of all comfort. Our friends will return to visit their babe in the woods, and I know they will find he is not alone. God is right there with him.

Malcolm