So What Should the Pianist Do?

Piano.jpgBy Reggie Ramos

Imagine this scenario: Pastor Mitch concludes his Sunday sermon with a firm challenge and a familiar “Let’s pray.” While heads are bowed, he continues to lead in prayer as the worship team quietly makes their way to their positions on the platform. As the pianist sits down, she thinks to herself, “What should I do?”

  • Should I begin playing something while he is talking, or should I wait until he finishes?
  • Should I play at all?
  • If I play, what should I play?

What should the pianist do? Is there a right answer?

Some would prefer silence to give space for uninterrupted contemplation. Others appreciate music being played, as long as it is not a specific or familiar song (which draws their attention). Others expect the music playing to encourage their prayer by guiding them towards familiar songs with lyrics that form an appropriate response to the sermon. The bottom line: whatever the pianist does, at least one of the groups of people is not being ministered to in a manner that honors their preference.

I bring up this scenario because it is a very small glimpse into the complexity (and potential messiness) of the process of growing as a diverse church. Based on our cultural backgrounds, we very likely have differing views on what is “normal”, “regular”, “good”, and “effective”. So whenever we put our preferences forward, it is potentially at the cost of what honors those not like us.

However, as a congregation, we have agreed that diversity is a defining core value of Wellspring. Specifically, we have said that we love and honor one another in our differences. This value is an invitation to grow in Christlikeness as we put others before ourselves, just as Paul taught in Philippians 2:3-4 “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” It is also an invitation to learn to flourish outside of our comfort zones, as we learn from those who are different from us.

As we move forward together, let’s remember that it’s more than about styles, songs, or preferences. It’s about elevating us over me because of Him.

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We Are The Bride (Ephesians 5:21-33)

Wellspring

Steve Hands (Warrenville, 6/24/18    Wheaton, 7/01/18)

What is the church? Is it the building we meet in? The song, Bible, and prayer events we run every Sunday? The 501(c)(3) non-profit organization with its programs, staff, and by-laws? The church is the community of “women, men, and children who belong to Christ and live under his reign”. [1] This community isn’t like any other under the face of the earth. We often have our own ideal of what the church should be for us, or which need we want the church to meet. But God has his own vision for his gathered community, and as we begin to see the church as he sees it, we’ll grow in love for him and his people. This summer we seek to recapture God’s vision of the church through biblical images of God’s gathered community, starting with the picture of the church as the bride of Christ in Ephesians 5. In this passage we’ll see that as the church submits to Christ her head (Eph. 5:21-24), she is made holy by his word (5:25-27) and nourished by his love (5:28-33).

First the church submits to Christ her head (5:21-24). While Ephesians 5 contains helpful instruction for Christian marriages, it contains an even more helpful description of how the church relates to Jesus. The church is a submitting community, both to each other and to Christ. Each of us individually learns to submit to Christ as we come to receive him as savior and Lord (5:22). Then as we together as a community we seek to submit our gathered initiatives to Christ (5:24). This could create conflict and division as God has gifted and impassioned each member in unique ways, and yet as we submit to Jesus individually and together we heed his call to submit to one another as well (5:21).

As we submit to Christ we are made holy by Jesus’ word (5:25-27). Jesus knows the mess we’re in, and the mess we are. And he loves us anyway. He loves us enough not to leave us broken. Instead through the self-sacrificing love of Jesus shown in his word we find ourselves transformed and made new, more and more each day.

And we are not just led by our Lord and transformed by our savior, but nourished by Jesus’s love (5:28-33). The church is not just an individual Christian, nor even a group of Christians gathered together, but the community of faith throughout time and space, mysteriously united with Jesus to the degree Jesus considers us his bride, and through that union, even his own body. Together we recognize that we live not just on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God. The existential emptiness of our souls finds its nourishment in the love of Jesus for us.

So we can no more look with contempt on the community of Christians gathered than we could look with contempt on the bride of Christ. Though we recognize our rebellion, the spots and blemishes of sin, and our own selfish self-seeking, the love of Jesus fills our emptiness, frees us from the chains of sin, so we can follow him and submit even to each other out of reverence for him. May we increasingly become the spotless and radiant bride that Jesus is making us and that Jesus loves.

[1] See Immeasurable by Skye Jethani, chapter 4 for a good discussion on church as community vs. institution

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A Father’s Day Gift (Prov 23:15–25)

Fathers Day

What gift will bring your father greatest joy on Father’s Day? Gifts for dads are difficult to buy. They are often too expensive or too difficult to figure out. Yet Proverbs 23 spells out a gift that will always give a good father great joy: wise living. Good fathers always want their children to live well, to live wisely, and this gift will bring a good father great joy. Proverbs 23:15 says, “My son, if your heart is wise, my heart too will be glad,” and this section concludes, ‘he who fathers a wise son will be glad in him” (23:24). Why does wisdom bring such joy to a father?  Because wisdom brings a future and avoids destruction, we pursue wisdom no matter its cost (Prov 23:15–25).

First, wisdom brings a future (Prov 23:15–18). Proverbs is written by a father to a son, probably a prince to prepare him for his future. Wise living and speaking bring great joy to their father 23:15–16). because a father cares ultimately for his children’s futures. And when a child continues in the fear of the Lord (=wisdom), then “surely there is a future, and your hope will not be cut off” (23:17–18).

Wisdom not only brings a future but also avoids destruction (Prov 23:19–21). Throughout Proverbs, warnings about excessive drink and food abound because “the drunkard and the glutton will come to poverty, and slumber will clothe them with rags” (23:21). Instead of walking in a path that leads to destruction, a wise son will “direct [their] heart in the way” of wisdom (23:19).

Because wisdom brings a future and avoids destruction, we pursue wisdom no matter its cost (Prov 23:22–25). We are to “buy wisdom, and do not sell it, buy wisdom, instruction and understanding” (23:23). To acquire wisdom we must “seek it like silver and search for it as for hidden treasures” (Prov 2:4). Wisdom is expensive. Shortcuts to living abound, but true wisdom is only found as we pursue it no matter its cost.

So what? Whether or not we can still give gifts to our physical fathers this Father’s Day, our heavenly Father deserves a gift. And the gift that will bring greatest joy to our fathers, both earthly and heavenly, is the gift of a life well lived. Proverbs spell out the life of wisdom. This Father’s Day let us resolve to give a gift that will bring great joy to our father; since wisdom brings a future and avoids destruction, let us pursue wisdom no matter its cost.

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We’re Not Benetton!

Marin Luther King Jr. asked a million dollar question, “Why is 11 AM on Sunday morning the most segregated hour of our week?” When I looked at the limited palette of our most recent governing board picture, I wondered, “Are we doing something wrong? Shouldn’t this look more like a United Colors of Benetton picture by now?” But there is a reason that we don’t look like a Benetton advertisement right now: our values of Community and Diversity (and  Sue Pak just had a baby). Our values dictate that King’s million dollar question can only be answered by the nickel and dime investments of relationship. The work of community in the face of our diversity will take time, and as  we invest that time our leadership will more fully reflect that. Why? 

Diversity takes time. Our value around diversity suggests that we love and honor one another in our differences. Differences aren’t fun because it means that we misunderstand one another. The greater our differences, the more work relationship demands! That’s why sometimes those who want diversity most understand the work of relationship least (see discussion about shoveling snow here). Yet we are committed to take time to honor differences and love one another through that hard work. Diversity grows from the nickel and dime conversations over coffee as we work through our differences.  That takes time.

Second community takes time. Community is a place to be real and belong in Christ. To “be real” reflects individualism, while “to belong” reflects collectivism. Individualism wants to be real and step into who God has called us (or me) to be. Collectivism seeks belonging; when people feel uprooted or that they do not belong, they long to belong and find a sense of community. This takes time. Why do so many immigrant churches spend hours to eat lunch together every Sunday? Because church is not only a place to be real but also to belong, a belonging expressed in shared meals.

So why the limited palette in our governing board picture? Simply because the work of community in diversity takes time. We don’t want to shortcut that time consuming and messy process simply because we want to look more like a Benetton ad right away. Rather let us continue the nickel and dime investments of community in the face of our diversity. I know of scores of places those investments are blossoming and growing.  Those investments will bear fruit and be reflected in the composition of our leadership. Yet that will take time. From the beginning we said that we didn’t want to be like a bouquet of cut flowers that looks great on day one and wilts from there. Rather we want to step into the slow and messy process of growth. And so let’s continue to step into that slow and messy process. Together. 

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Overriding the 80% Rule

growing-plants-750x350

This past year we overrode an important church growth principle. Church growth experts say that when a sanctuary is 80% full, more worship service options need to be opened up. This past year our sanctuary has been filled far beyond 80%, but we have not scrambled to hire staff and open a third service. Why not? In one word, values. Particularly our values of discipleship and mission overrode this church growth principle. How? 

Our value for Discipleship is that we are transformed as we follow Jesus.  Helping people follow Jesus takes time. But when rapid church growth outpaces the slow process of discipleship, then a choice confronts you. Do you keep up with the rapid growth by compromising the slow process of discipleship? Do we entrust significant areas of ministry to people whose character has not yet been fully shaped? Do we expand quickly by hiring already formed disciples? Or do we stay committed to the slow process of making disciples?  We have decided on this latter course. Because discipleship takes time. 

Also, our value for Mission is that we are all sent on God’s mission to redeem all things. All things embraces God’s mission in all spheres and for every nation. All people reminds us that God’s mission is for, well, all God’s people. Practically this means that the focus of our pastoral staff is to equip all of God’s people for the work of ministry. Our goal is not to do ministry for people but to equip people for the work of ministry. Also as we have the right pastoral staff in the right place, the next step is not to add but to multiply staff and send out workers for the harvest. This past year we have already added Carissa VanSchooten to serve with Cheryl Baird in spiritual formation, and she is a missionary candidate that we will send out to the field. Similarly this coming ministry year we desire to add interns and pastoral apprentices to train and send them out to other places, not simply to keep more people here. 

So our commitment to discipleship and mission may slow down the rate of our growth. But we have good precedent here; Jesus himself constantly withdrew from the crowds to invest in his disciples so that they might be sent out on God’s mission. But is a third service never to be an option? Practically we do have a plan to handle growth as well that we may share in our Annual Meeting this Sunday at 6 PM in Wheaton. So join us for that. And please pray that Wellspring might be a place committed to discipleship and mission. 

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Unconventional Unions (Ruth 4:13–17)

Unconventional Unions

God’s eternal purposes are not derailed by desperate times. Instead, the Lord often uses those desperate times to shape our dependence upon Himself and sculpt his own trajectories. As I look back at this past year of Wellspring, I celebrate how the Lord has worked. In our histories, both Blanchard and Living Water faced desperate times. Before the birth of Living Water there was a time that the birth of this church would be still born. Blanchard itself was struggling with long slow decline that faced many similarly sized churches in our area. However, as in Ruth 4:13–17, through unconventional unions, the Lord brings unexpected life to continue his unending purposes.  This Sunday I want to celebrate what God has done this past year through the lens of Ruth.

First, the Lord works through unconventional unions (Ruth 4:13). Ruth is the only book named after a non-Israelite. Ruth is a Moabitess. Intermarriage with non-Israelites was not only frowned upon but forbidden. However, the Lord works through unconventional unions. Similarly, the merger of Living Water and Blanchard was an unconventional union. Much of the church in America is divided along cultural lines, so this intercultural merger was quite unconventional. Yet the Lord has worked. How?

Through unconventional unions, the Lord brings unexpected life (Ruth 4:14–15). Naomi earlier had mourned, “I went away full, and the LORD has brought me back empty . . . . the Almighty has brought calamity upon me” (Ruth 1:21). While Naomi begins the book emptied by the Lord, she ends the book filled with joy and life by the Lord (4:14–15). The means of this life was the unconventional union with Ruth the Moabitess. Similarly, the unconventional merger of our church has brought unexpected life. Home groups bridge differences of generations and cultures and overflow with life. Teams in the children’s ministry also combine generations and cultures. Wisdom of one generation feeds into and off of the energy of the next. Blind spots of one culture are navigated by the vision of another. As a result, we have also found unexpected life. Yet God’s goal is not simply our life.

Through unconventional unions, the Lord brings unexpected life to continue his unending purposes (Ruth 4:16–17). The unconventional union of Ruth and Boaz does not simply bring life to Naomi but furthers God’s unending purpose with the birth of David, the king. The greater purpose of Ruth, following the tragic story of sinful rebellion from generation to generation in the book of Judges, is to see how the Lord continues his unending purposes even in the face of tragic rebellion and sin of God’s people. Similarly, God is continuing his unending purposes in our area through the church. While temples and mosques and new age spirituality continue to proliferate in our area, Jesus has not given up on his promise to build his church. He is doing that in our area.

What a beautiful privilege it is to be a part of God’s unending purposes. Wellspring is not the sum total of God’s purposes in our area, but we do play a part. Just like in Ruth, the Lord works through unconventional unions to bring unexpected life to continue his unending purposes. When my wife and I were discerning whether Living Water ought to merge with Blanchard to become Wellspring, the Lord spoke to us clearly through Ruth. And this year we can celebrate all that God has done through this unconventional union. And He is just beginning.

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The Power of “Amen”

There is power to “Amen.” When we say “Amen” to the Word of God, then we agree to the living and active power of God’s Word.  When we say “Amen” in prayer, then we depend on God to see his power.  “Amen” to the Word of God and prayer release great power. Today I want to consider how that works as we consider two of our core values: prayer and the word of God. 

First we say “Amen” to the Word of God. I just received a phone call from one of our older saints. Preparing for an eightieth birthday party, her one desire for her children and grandchildren is that they would say “Amen” to the Word of God. She has multiple stories of the powerful, supernatural power of God that was released when she said “Amen” to God’s Word. Through her “Amen” she has seen physical healing in her own body. And more than anything she wants her children to know that living power. Similarly as a church, let us always say “Amen” to the Word of God. We live according to God’s Word as the foundation of our life. It is living and active. 

Also we say “Amen” in prayer. In prayer we seek God’s face and see God work. When people visit Wellspring, they often speak of encountering God here. Why?  We encounter God as we seek him in prayer. I love Acts 4:29–31. When the church faces persecution, they pray for boldness. Not protection. But when they pray for boldness, they encounter the power of God’s Spirit and are propelled in bold witness. Powerful witness grows from their dependent prayer. And the challenging situations of their life simply catalyzes their prayer. 

Wellspring, let us be a church that says, “Amen.” Let us say “Amen” to the Word of God each day. Let us say “Amen” in prayer as we depend on Him in prayer. And let us see His power made perfect in our weakness.

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