Jesus’ ministry started with such elegance, clarity and certainty. Remember his baptism? It started as an orderly, purposeful gathering. He stepped forward at the right time. The heavens opened. The Holy Spirit showed up as a peaceful dove. And just to make things absolutely clear, God spoke. My son. Beloved. Well-pleased.
By comparison, the beginning of the Church’s ministry is a chaotic, hot mess. Fire, wind, and the smell of singed hair. And instead of one clear divine voice, we get a noisy blast of native languages. All spoken at once. From ordinary folks gathered together. Were they even saying the same thing?
The whispers began–What does this all mean? And it’s a little disheartening that one perfectly logical explanation was public drunkenness.
But maybe that’s fitting, too. The Church begins its ministry in mess and uncertainty because that’s exactly where we practice our ministry. Among mess and uncertainty. They are the very conditions in which we must become Church.
And maybe the Holy Spirit didn’t tidy things up because God doesn’t need perfect order, perfect unity, perfect understanding or perfect events to work.
But there’s another Pentecost lesson hiding in plain sight. And it speaks powerfully to small congregations.
Here it is. Participation. God didn’t roll out the mission of the Church with a well-rehearsed advance team of experts. God also opted out of a single, corporate presentation with some local Q&A later. And, thankfully, God chose not to wait until we were ready.
Pentecost was not a spectator sport. It was not made for an audience. Observers saw drunks. But participants experienced something else–the good news of the High Holy in the Right Here. Taking on a mess of ordinary practices. A load of local languages. An gaggle of uncoordinated folks. Just as they were.
And it was enough–more than enough–to become Church.
It’s all a great reminder that participation is one of divinity’s favorite tools for communicating with us. It’s something of a superpower. And it’s readily available in small settings. Participation is more deeply forming than passive observation. It uniquely captures that scandalous, incarnational exchange and interaction. And it treats all worshipers as precious workers and gifted co-creators of a divine encounter. Because they are.
God’s love is just that big. It goes after us. Wherever we are. With whatever we have.
When small congregations quit imitating the performance excellence of big settings, this love frees them to find the participation power of their own communities. You have a distinctive ability to celebrate the good news! And be the Church!
For this season, how could you explore this Pentecost-empowered, small-setting superpower? What would happen if you worried less about doing things perfectly and more about how many hands you could get to participate and co-create the worship encounter together?
Here’s a start:
How could worshipers be invited to start a conversation in worship? What could they create with their hands that captures what words cannot? How could they offer this artwork as worship? What local community signs and symbols could be included on the altar or table? Who could arrange them at the beginning of worship--as their own offering? Who could carry in the bread and wine--or the fire? What unexpected talents of the local community could be included and celebrated? Where could people be sent to tell what they have experienced--and deliver those works of art?
Let me know what you notice. Happy Birthday, Church.
And thank you for your ministry,