Dear Canaan EMers and friends,
Most of us are aware that Session has agreed to proceed with what is called “in sync” Sunday ministries, beginning this fall. Basically, this means that all worship services will begin approximately the same time around 10 AM. The second hour would be devoted to a variety of programs, including Sunday School, fellowship meetings, and other programs.
This decision was made after receiving much feedback and response from our membership when the proposal was issued publicly a few months ago. I’d like to say a few words about this decision that are strictly my interpretation and not the “official” response.
First, a majority of the responses have been positive about this change. The Taiwanese service would experience the most dramatic change since they’ve never worshipped earlier than 10:45 AM. Until last Fall, English worship started at 9:30 AM (or earlier), so this would represent sort of a return to our earlier format. Most respondents felt that synchronizing our worship start times would allow us to be more effective at Christian education and community building since we would all have an additional hour for these purposes. We noted that when Christian education and fellowship was held at the 10 AM hour, the attendance was very low. Furthermore, synchronizing our worship hours would allow our children and youth ministry to be better coordinated. Very few youth are able to come to church during the 10 AM hour and only some youth attend Friday night fellowship (most of the youth are children of members of the Taiwanese service). When they worship at 11 AM, there is no opportunity for them to build a fellowship as a unified entity. This is also true for children’s ministry. Opportunities for children from all three language services to interact are increased with a synchronized schedule.
Second, there were some negative responses to the proposal as well. Some were concerned about traffic and parking issues. Others feared that many people would leave right after service and miss fellowship opportunities over lunch. Related to this was a worry that we would not be able to create enough attractive programs during the second hour. A few were concerned that people whose children participated in Taiwan School in the afternoon might decide not to come earlier for church since this would extend their day. I recall that when our session and pastoral staff discussed these objections, we weighed them against the criteria of what would be best for Canaan in the long run. What would enable us to raise up disciples and leaders to sustain the church’s mission? Would our current configuration work or would an additional hour for education and equipping be needed?
Given the fact that Canaan is a commuter church, not a community church, we have very few opportunities to gather people for the purposes of education, equipping, and community building. In the end, we felt that the long term health of Canaan depended on how well we could raise up future disciples and leaders. We understand that waking up and bringing children to church earlier can be a hardship, but we felt that the extra hour of childcare, equipping, and fellowship would be worth it in the long run.
I’d like to conclude by appealing to some key biblical words about spiritual growth: milk, honey, and meat (or solid food). As you know, Canaan is the name of the land promised to the children of Israel upon their liberation from Egyptian enslavement. It is called the “land flowing with milk and honey.” This phrase is used twenty times in the bible (see especially Ezekiel 20). It represents God’s promise of abundance, health, and shalom to the people of Israel (and the world).
Peter also identifies milk as an essential nutrient for spiritual growth:
Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind. Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good. (1 Peter 2:1-3, NIV)
He urges believers to crave spiritual milk in order to grow up in salvation! So in once sense, Sunday worship is about feeding on milk.
But milk alone is not enough. We need honey, too. If the worship hour represents “milk,” the second hour for Christian education, equipping, and community building can represent “honey.” One doesn’t enter the Promised Land just for the milk alone! We need milk AND honey!
Furthermore, our spiritual maturity cannot depend on milk alone. Paul and the author of Hebrews chide immature believers for not growing beyond infancy:
Brothers and sisters, I could not address you as people who live by the Spirit but as people who are still worldly—mere infants in Christ. I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere humans? (1 Corinthians 3:1-3, NIV)
In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. (Hebrews 5:12-13, NIV)
From my point of view, we ought to model to younger Christians (and our children) a desire for more than spiritual milk. They can see in us whether we attend church primarily for convenience and socializing. They can also tell whether we come because we genuinely want to grow in our knowledge of Christ and become his disciples. We wear our values on our hands and feet.
The “in-sync” Sunday decision won’t guarantee that Canaan will be able to raise up mature and strong disciples, but it provides an opportunity to model this value and to encourage the faithful to grow! We can be much more than just OK Christians!