I went to a small Baptist college in a small town in central Texas.
Down the street from my college was a Presbyterian church. I had recently been reading a lot of Frederick Buechner and Thomas Merton and was fascinated by their spiritual journeys. Both of them came to conversion in their early to mid-twenties and something about their story resonated with me. I desired a deeper spiritual journey and like Buechner and Merton, thought I needed a change of scenery, a new religious path, something different to align myself with.
My evangelical, Baptist exposure from the early 1990s wasn’t doing it for me. I began to visit this Presbyterian church on a regular basis. The minister of the church was named Norbert and he preached with an intelligent but not cold style that reminded me of Buechner. I appreciated his understated spirituality that seemed to shape who he was not just what he did in his position. He was a minister, not just a CEO in a robe.
But what truly reached me from these services was the recitation of scripture, prayers and the Apostle’s Creed. Joining the whole congregation in words of confession, statements of belief, and prayers that have been recited for hundreds of years connected me to something that was bigger than myself. I liked the feeling of standing my ground and announcing my faith and joining others in a prayer that didn’t have to go through a human filter but was the very words of Christ that he told us to pray.
There was a real plan to this church service that didn’t require a grandiose vision or human charisma. Human charisma is usually not sustained from week to week.
Was it stale and stuffy? Yeah, but I felt a part of the service, a part of the worship. I wasn’t just a consumer. I was joining the saints around the world who were saying the same prayers and making the same stand. That felt right to me and shook me out of my college-aged tendency to make everything about how I felt about it.
What did this affection for a more liturgical approach mean for me? Where would this take my spiritual journey?
The problem with celebrity pastors is that whether they chased celebrity to begin with or it found them, maintaining celebrity requires feeding a public that no matter what they say, probably aren’t supremely interested in the integrity of the Gospel. If you are a celebrity pastor and your next steps are pushing away from Christ, then you need to ask yourself if you are feeding the needs of the public or the needs of the Kingdom of God. There is nothing wrong with a platform that is relevant but that platform should never come at the cost of your calling to the church and the power of the Gospel. Yes, I am talking to you Carl Lentz, Robert Jeffress, Brian Mclaren, and Ed Young.
I have a lot of admiration for Rick Warren, the author of The Purpose Driven Life. Finding another best seller to match the success of Purpose Driven Life never seemed to be of great interest to him. Since his best seller was released, he has developed movements for community ministry and international relief. He has published books on healthier living and on life’s tough questions. But I never get the sense that he feels the need to top himself, to feed his celebrity. It still seems like Warren is a pastor at heart and the steps he has taken since he became famous have been to carry on his pastor role and to honor what God wants from his life.
You are in a group or at a public event and someone besides yourself is praying. What do you do? Do you just sit there and hope it doesn’t go too long? Do you nod your head and make sounds of agreement? Do you try to hang onto every word and pretend that the words are your own?
My mind has a tendency to wander during these times of prayer. But, lately, I have used a different tactic that has brought life and power back to these times of prayer. While the other person is praying, I will use their words to guide my own conversation with God. I let there be a real interplay between the other person’s words and my own. In normal life, you can’t have two people speaking to another at the same time but God certainly can handle it. If this doesn’t make sense let me give you an example.
Person Praying: Lord, will you provide your power to help Joe with his job situation…
Me (silently): Father, Joe has been through so much, give him better days and show me how I can help him.
You simply let the person praying give you an outline or a prompt and you join in the prayer with your own silent prayers and petitions.
This process sounds hard and difficult, especially if you think you need intense focus for your own prayers. I am not good at multiple things at once but this has been very natural and easy for me. It is something that I look forward to and keeps me engaged and connected to God during public prayer.
Try it the next time you are in church or even at the dinner table.