I took my first baby steps of faith in a little country church. Southern Baptist.
We kept official records on a board just like this one. Although we wouldn’t have drawn 296 people even on Easter Sunday.
For those unfamiliar with the order of our typical service, I’ll walk you through it. If you yourself remember it well, walk down this memory aisle with me.
The service would start with a greeting from the pastor, followed by a prayer. We’d stand up to the sing the first hymn, usually every verse unless otherwise noted in the printed bulletin. Then, we’d sit to sing the second song. Pray again. Stand for the third song. The pastor would ask who had birthdays or anniversaries any particular Sunday. If you celebrated one of these special events, you went forward, placed a special offering in the appropriate tin can and we sang to you.
We’d pray again. The pastor would preach a 25-30 minute sermon. We’d pray again. Then, we’d conclude the service with an invitation call. Altar call if you will. We’d sing a slower hymn for this. A time to pray at the altar about convictions you felt after the sermon. Also, the time to come forward and invite Jesus into your heart, praying with the preacher. Finally, a chance for individuals or families to join the church as a new or transferring member.
All to Jesus I surrender, All to Him I freely give;
I will ever love and trust Him, in His presence daily live.
I surrender all, I surrender all;
All to Thee, my blessed Saviour, I surrender all.
“I Surrender All” (Judson W. Van DeVenter, 1855-1939)
I walked this aisle for the first time at seven years old. To this song:
Just as I am, without one plea, But that Thy blood was shed for me,
And that Thou bidd’st me come to Thee, O Lamb of God, I come! I come!
“Just As I Am” (Charlotte Elliott, 1789-1871)
The “Baptist Hymnal” and the timeless songs found inside were our “Book of Common Prayer.” When my days leave my soul tired, I find myself humming these tunes.
My life, my love I give to Thee, Thou Lamb of God who died for me;
O may I ever faithful be, My Savior and my God!
“I’ll Live for Him” (Ralph E. Hudson, 1843-1901)
I went to an Ash Wednesday service at the local Catholic church this year. I didn’t write an article about it after the fact but here’s the link to the reflections I posted on Facebook.
It’s not the words spoken in the homily or the prayers that keep resonating with me as I look back on that service. It’s not even the ashes. I remember the silence.
Not an awkward silence in any way. A reverent silence. It left me homesick.
I long for a good, old-fashioned invitation. Now, I know folks get weirded out when the pastor makes a congregation sing all six verses of “Just As I Am” because he senses the Spirit telling him someone needs to come forward and do business with God. We’ve all peeked when our preacher told us to bow our heads, every eye closed. Did he ever make it up when he asked for a raise of hands for those who’d prayed the invitation prayer and he said, “I see you over there in the far right corner.”
But back to the silence. A slow hymn playing while the Spirit beckoned you to the altar. I had so many private conversations with God at that altar. I wrote about that here.
We have a wonderful worship service at our church. Rich prayer time. Excellent worship music. Bible teaching. Announcements.
However, many of the modern-day evangelical churches seem to have stopped leaving room for silence. In our fast-paced society, we start to squirm if we take a moment to just be still.
Did somebody forget it’s their turn to go next?
I’m not criticizing our new formats. The church does an excellent job of worshiping our Savior. Sunday is still a time to do business with God. Every now and then, I just miss the slow, quiet Invitation to do so.
Wherever He leads I’ll go,.. Wherever He leads I’ll go,...
I’ll follow my Christ who loves me so, Wherever He leads I’ll go.
“Wherever He Leads I’ll Go” (B.B. McKinney, 1886-1952)