I think it was during the spring of 2014.
As we often do, our pastoral team and our elders board had gathered together to pray, discern, and envision God’s calling to our church for the upcoming season of ministry. However, this gathering was a little different than some of our other gatherings. The church was growing steadily and we knew we seriously needed to consider adding a second service. I was excited about this possibility, but I was also fairly worried. My responsibilities as an associate pastor were to oversee both our worship ministries and our discipleship ministries. In many ways, this was a perfect role for me; it was my dream job! However, if we were going to add another service I knew I couldn’t continue to split my responsibilities between these two ministries. They had both grown significantly, to the point where either ministry could probably use a full-time overseer. If I continued to lead both ministries, and if the church continued to grow, it could only end in burn-out. I didn’t know what to do.
As our meeting progressed, we explored a variety of possibilities to nurture our growth, eventually settling on our current format with services on Sunday morning and evening. Throughout this process, we had discussed what resources this decision would require (finances, equipment, time, volunteers, etc). But then one of our elders looked me in the eye and asked the big question: Tim, what is this going to cost you… personally? The enormity of that question struck me and I knew that now was the time to lay before them my dilemma: I couldn’t sustain leading both ministries. But then came another question: So, if you could lead just one of these ministries, which would it be?
I didn’t know it at the time but that question changed the entire trajectory of my ministry. Up until that moment, I would have thought that, if forced to choose, I would have chosen my role overseeing discipleship as my primary ministry. Little did I know that God was bringing together three points of uncertainty in my life which would lead me in a completely new direction. First, there was the uncertainty, described above, about which role I would choose as my primary ministry. Second, I had been feeling as though the time might be right for me to continue my education with a Masters degree, but I couldn’t settle on a school or even a program; nothing seemed to be quite right. Third, I had been increasingly discontent with the direction of our worship ministry. This discontent seemed odd to me since things had been going quite well! We had a great group of committed volunteers and leaders, and our Sunday gatherings were both more stable and dynamic than when I first arrived in 2006. But, I had gradually been discerning the possibility that the problem was a theological one, not a practical one. I had the sense that we weren’t truly tapping into the depth and substance of what true worship is all about. These three questions were converging and led me in a direction which I would never have anticipated.
So, when that question came, if you could lead just one of these ministries, which would it be?, I found myself responding with precisely the opposite answer than I would have expected: I would lead our worship ministry. Within only a few months of this decision, all three of my uncertainties were clarified. Since I was going to focus on our worship ministry I began to redouble my efforts in pinpointing the source of my discontent with our worship. It was during this period of discernment that I rediscovered the writings of Robert Webber, a well-known evangelical worship scholar. One day I was rereading Webber’s book, Ancient-Future Faith, and it struck me: hadn’t he started a school which was specifically created to answer the questions I was wrestling with? If I was going to lead our church through a process of worship renewal, maybe this was the program I was looking for all along! Sure enough, after exploring their Master’s program, I was convinced and, following a series of unique confirmations, by the end of the year had enrolled at the Robert E. Webber Institute for Worship Studies.
Over the coming weeks, I’ll be sharing with you a few of the things I’ve learned during this process, particularly in connection with our weekly worship. I hope you are able to follow along with me and that, together, we can all learn and experience a deeper way of worship.