A few weeks ago I made what has become something of an annual pilgrimage. The EMA - Evangelical Ministry Assembly - is held every year in St Helens church in the centre of the financial heart of the city of London, right next to the Glass Gherkin.
For three days around 1000 evangelical pastors and Christian workers gather to be refreshed and spurred on by each other and by great teaching and preaching.
Those of you who have been to Men's or Women's Conventions, or to large Christian conferences like Keswick or Word Alive will know how soul-tingling it is to sing God's praise with 1000s of other Christians. But let me tell you: that’s nothing compared to a 1000 ministers singing their hearts out!
There is something about the joys and sorrows, the bumps and bruises, the victories and disappointments of ministry that makes worship in this context incredibly powerful and moving.
- Maybe it's just the sheer unrelenting pressure of full-time pastoral ministry that does it.
- Maybe its the knowledge that you are singing shoulder to shoulder with fellow wounded soldiers who have retreated from the frontline for a period of respite.
- Maybe it's the sense of camaraderie that comes from a common vision for seeing God's Kingdom advance.
Whatever the reason, when a bunch of Pastors sing together it is as though someone has opened a release valve and the result is a gushing forth of heartfelt emotion and praise.
But hang on a minute... shouldn't that characterise every gathering of Christians?
If the reasons for heart and soul praise are those given above, then surely that should characterise our worship on Sundays as well?
- When we gather don't we come as those needing relief from the unrelenting pressure of living in a fallen world? What a sense of joy it should be then – as we delight together in God's undeserved grace!
- And when we gather don't we come as wounded soldiers retreating from the battlefield for respite and refreshment? What a sense of privilege it should be then – to be able to encourage and spur one another!
- And when we gather don't we come as brothers and sisters united by a common vision to see God’s Kingdom grow and Jesus’ name honoured among our families, friends and communities? What a sense of purpose it should be then - as we praise God for the good news we have to share.
So maybe we should approach our Sunday gatherings - or any gathering of any size we have as believers – with more of a sense of anticipation than we sometimes do!
‘Lord, save us from going through the motions of church;
Save us from the curse of the familiar;
Save us from losing the simple delight that should come from gathering.
Help us to remember how privileged we are to belong to a local community of God;
Help us to never lose a sense of anticipation as we gather together;
Help us to come with a desire to bless, encourage and edify others.’
‘Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.’ (Eph 5:19-20)
‘But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.’ (1 Peter 2:9)