Leading Change: Introducing a Second Worship Service

Introducing a Second Worship Service in a Congregation
1. Description of the challenge, problem or concern in ministry
The debate over worship styles is arguably the most intense and widespread battle being fought in mainline churches today – even more prevalent than the highly publicized disagreements on homosexuality – creating tensions “in virtually every congregation in America” (Long 2). John Witvliet of the Calvin Institute of Worship has observed that “Never before have congregations been reforming worship in so many directions at the same time,” a phenomenon that evokes “an uneasy pressure.... [People] know change is happening and they’re confused by it” (Miller 5).
This paper will explore the introduction of a second, contemporary worship service at the Presbyterian Church of Pullman, Washington.
Pullman Presbyterian Church (PPC) is situated in a community that would not exist were it not for two local resources: the most bountiful wheat yields in the world and Washington State University (WSU), a 17,000 student public land-grant university.  The relationship between town and gown is historic and mutually supportive.  Located across the street from the WSU campus, the church has had close ties to the university, but receives a disproportionate share of its contributions from a few wheat farming families with long-time church connections.
Pullman Presbyterian Church is also slowly dying.  It attained its peak membership of over 500 thirty years ago, and except for a few years in the mid-1980s and 1990s, has declined annually since then.  The current membership is approximately 215, which represents a renewed slide after approximately seven years of relative stability at 220 - 235 members.          

The church is also graying.  Over 50% of the members are retirement age.  Despite being located in the community with the lowest average age in the state of Washington, PPC has been unsuccessful at attracting younger members.  During the 2000 - 2001 school year when the university was in session, there were typically from 10 - 20 students in attendance on a given Sunday.  This number was up slightly from five years ago, but down significantly from 20 years ago.  However, most typically do not affiliate with the church and those that do leave upon graduation. 
The church school has also been in decline during the past thirty years.  In the 2000 - 2001 program year, church school attendance on Sunday mornings averaged fewer than 15 in pre-K through 8th grades, with no high-schoolers and only an average of 7 in the adult class.
In 1993, the church adopted a long-range plan, “The Future of the Church,” developed over two years by a blue-ribbon congregationally-elected committee.  It identified four important needs for the medium to long range future of the church (5 - 15 years), including a new grass-roots design for mission (similar to what is now called “permission-giving” ministry), increased professional church staff, an outreach and evangelism emphasis targeting younger persons, and construction of new church facilities, in particular a new sanctuary (the church had been worshiping in a multi-purpose room since relocating to its present site in 1963).  The capital improvements generated the most immediate support.  The outreach and evangelism priority generated very little excitement. 
Following a two year feasibility study, the congregation voted to undertake what became a $1.5 million project of new and remodeled construction.  The new sanctuary was dedicated in April, 1997.  After two extraordinarily successful capital campaigns, the mortgage on the new construction was burned at a church celebration in May 2001.  An adjacent property was acquired in August 1998 with the potential for eventually adding up to 35 more off-street parking spaces to our current capacity of about 90.

The construction and its financial support dominated the work of the church for the past five years.  Meanwhile, some programs of the church languished.  Church attendance, which had been declining from 1986 at an annual rate of 5% received a “bump” during and immediately following construction.  However, when a large influx of new visitors and members did not materialize, the leadership became receptive to other strategies.
During the winter and spring of 1999, as Pastor and Moderator of the Session, I began discussing with key individuals and committees the strategic need to expand our worship options in order to reach more people under age 40, including university students.  The idea of inaugurating a contemporary music-based worship service was discussed at length during a joint officer planning retreat in the summer of 1999, and the matter was referred to the Worship Committee for further study.
By January 2000, the Session had agreed to pursue a course toward implementing the idea of a contemporary worship service, with the understanding that the church would also retain its commitment to traditional worship. (At this time, an effort to raise $100,000 to triple the size of the church organ was underway.  The goal was reached through designated gifts without compromising the ongoing capital campaigns.  Organ construction was completed in August 2001.)
It was hoped that the service might be launched on a weekly basis as early as August 2000, but not later than August 2001.  Contacts were initiated toward forming a musical group and a core group of supporters for the contemporary service.  The band - consisting entirely of volunteers with little or no experience - began practicing in May, 2000.

At that time, it was agreed by the Session that some “trial” worship services should be offered during the summer, both to provide experience for the band in worship leadership and to acclimate the congregation to the idea of contemporary worship.  These were offered on a once-a-month basis in June and July, 2000.
It quickly became apparent that much more practice and intentionality needed to go into the contemporary service before it could be successfully launched.  The target of August, 2001 was becoming more realistic as a launch date.
The Session agreed to allow the monthly “trial services” to continue.  Meanwhile, I worked with the worship committee and a core group of supporters.  We studied portions of Charles Arn’s book How to Start a New Service, plus other related materials.
By late winter, 2001, it became apparent that specific plans needed to be developed for launching the new service in August.  August is the optimal time for launching new ministries in Pullman.  University classes begin the fourth week of August, and the period from the third Sunday of August through the second Sunday of September constitutes a “window of affiliation” in which students and townsfolk establish new commitments and patterns of activity.
Following the M-722 course I met with my AGCM to discuss possible applications.  We discussed three possible projects, and selected the transition to two services as the focus of this paper.
Specifically, this paper will address the strategies used to effect the successful transition from a single to a dual service worshiping community.

2. A summary of the related concepts from the course which inform the project

According to John P. Kotter in Leading Change, “Leadership defines what the future should look like, aligns people with that vision, and inspires them to make it happen despite the obstacles” (25).  The ability to lead (and not simply manage) change, therefore, is vital to successful church leadership.  Kotter identifies an “Eight-Stage Process of Creating Major Change” (see exhibit in Appendix II) which is designed to guide organizations toward a permanent re-orientation of norms and behaviors.  He also identifies “eight common errors” in organizational change efforts that these stages are intended to address.  Taken together, these concepts may be summarized in three stages: initiation, implementation, and institutionalization.  The initiation phase is equivalent to laying a foundation for a new building.  While it is the least visible – emerging from the strategic planning work of the pastor/leader and key organizational leadership – it is often the most important.  Failure to address these stages will abort the change process before it has a chance to succeed.  This phase consists of establishing a sense of urgency sufficient to win a hearing for a change vision, creating a guiding coalition sufficiently influential to overcome institutional inertia, and developing a vision and strategy that is compelling and achievable.
The implementation phase is aimed at overcoming institutional obstacles to the change process.  It begins with communication – through words and actions in multiple varieties of settings and media – so as to both generate interest and enthusiasm for the change and to demonstrate the seriousness of the commitment of the guiding coalition to the change.  Kotter emphasizes that most change efforts under-communicate the vision by a factor of 10 to 1000 (9).  It continues with the empowerment of broad based action to saturate the organization with the change model.  It also includes generating short-term wins to demonstrate the value of the change and to maintain high organizational morale during the stressful transitional phases.
The institutionalization phase seeks to make the changes a permanent part of the organizational culture.  It has both a political dimension (“consolidating gains and producing more change,” and a structural/symbolic dimension (“anchoring new approaches in the culture.”) It is critical not to neglect this phase by “declaring victory” too soon.

Another vital resource from the course which informs this project is the work of Lee G. Bolman and Terrence E. Deal in Reframing Organizations: Artistry, Choice, and Leadership.  Bolman and Deal draw from numerous management approaches that have been advocated in the past twenty years to design a comprehensive model for organizational study and transformation.  This model posits four “frames” of analysis: the human resource frame, the political frame, the structural frame, and the symbolic frame.  These frames, or paradigms, are “filters” that “help us order experience and decide what to do” (12). They are management tools, each of which may be appropriate in a particular context, and none of which alone provide a complete description of the organization or its needs.
The human resource frame, as its name suggests, emphasizes the people within the organization, their interests and needs, and seeks to establish a good “fit” between individuals and the system they serve (102-103).  This approach tries to manage interpersonal dynamics, empower individuals, and maximize satisfaction of persons within the system.
The structural frame is the polar opposite of the human resource frame.  Whereas the human resource frame seeks to adapt the structure of the system (hierarchies, rules, policies, goals, etc.) to address the needs of the people in it, the structural frame seeks to establish formal norms and structures to which the people in the system must adapt.  “The structural frame looks beyond individuals to examine the social context of work” (57).
The political frame assumes that systems are networks of power relationships, and seeks to analyze and transform the system by the effective use and distribution of power.  This involves coalition building, lobbying, negotiation, and other strategies.

The polar opposite of the political frame is found in the symbolic frame.  Whereas the political frame is essentially pragmatic and non-ideological, reducing all elements of the system to their political value, the symbolic frame is concerned with the symbols, values, and rituals which undergird and inspire a system to follow its purpose.  The former sees the system as a battlefield, the latter as a theater, or more appropriately, a temple, complete with sacred texts, a priesthood, and sacramental ritual.
Of particular relevance to the present project is the chapter on “Reframing Change” (318-339) in which the authors apply their analytical methods to the process of organizational change.  Using each of the four frames, the authors identify both the barriers to change the appropriate strategic responses in the following exhibit (321):
Reframing Organizational Change (Table 18.1)


Barriers to Change

Essential Strategies

Human Resource

Anxiety, uncertainty, feelings of incompetence, neediness

Training to develop new skills, participation and involvement, psychological support


Loss of clarity and stability, confusion, chaos

Communicating, realigning and renegotiating formal patterns and policies


Disempowerment, conflict between winners and losers

Creating arenas where issues can be renegotiated and new coalitions formed


Loss of meaning and purpose, clinging to the past

Creating transition rituals: mourning the past, celebrating the future
A more complete summary of these ideas may be found in the appended paper prepared for my AGCM meeting.  A chart outlining their implementation is found under section five below.  Other course concepts that inform this project will be discussed as they arise in the subsequent sections of this paper.

 3. The theological understanding which forms the basis for the project (why we are engaged in this project, as a Christian¼  What is my understanding of the nature of the church?  How does this inform my ministry and the ministry of those with whom I work and worship?   What is at stake for the people of God?
Arn identifies a variety of reasons a church might consider launching a second service: the need to accommodate and continue growth in existing worship services; the need to develop a ministry to a cultural sub-group which is not reached through the existing services; and the desire to evangelize a broader range of worshipers who are not attracted to the current worship styles are just a few (23-39).
I would like to say that the development of a new service in our congregation was primarily motivated by any of the three reasons mentioned above.  In truth, the prime motivation was a recognition that without an effective outreach to a younger membership, the church would eventually die.  With the advancing age of our membership, the leadership of the church became increasingly concerned with the transition to the next generation of church members.  Who would carry forth the work they will leave in a few short years?  It is possible that it was also prompted by the cognitive dissonance of having invested a huge amount of capital into building improvements and not having anyone to fill it when they will be gone.

While the future of the church was the subtext of the drive for a second service, it was rarely voiced.  (I did give voice to it in Session meetings and in the commissioning sermon for “missionaries” to the new service – see Appendix I).  The attitude of concern was matched by an attitude of accomplishment – the building program was finished and the mortgage to be burned in May, 2001.  The experience of miraculous success with the building and financial campaigns – and the experience of having weathered change without major conflict – made the church more willing to undertake a major change project related to worship.
While Arn discounts “institutional survival” as a viable reason to launch a new service (16), it is nevertheless a legitimate theological issue.  The church always exists in both a visible and invisible state.  The visible consists of both sodalities (structures) and modalities (norms, protocols).  The transition between the apostolic church and succeeding generations is a struggle to find institutional forms for what had previously been largely charismatic forms of leadership. Much of the New Testament is devoted to this transition (Brown).
Institutions are effective agents of mission, because they have the capacity to sustain themselves over many years and to plan with reliability.  In the present case, the development of a second service was both an institutional need and a mission priority.  Alice Mann’s three questions in Can Our Church Live? Redeveloping Congregations in Decline are (1) Who are we?  (2) What is our purpose? and (3) Who is our neighbor? (class lecture)  In the process of starting a second service, PPC is discovering answers to all three questions: our neighbors are people who are under 30 years old, largely unchurched, and for the most part fit the model of “post-literate,” “post-Christian,” and “postmodern.”  New forms of worship are necessary to attract these (Saperstein, appended).  Likewise, in the discovery of our neighbor, the church is gaining a greater sense of purpose.  After many years of inward-directed work, resolving conflicts and building facilities, the congregation is learning again to be an outward-focused agent of mission.  Discovering how to modify our patterns to be more welcoming of our neighbors is part of this process.  This leads to the third discovery, who we are.  We are not the pictures we see in the church directory.  Those are mostly white-haired, white-skinned persons attired in dresses and suits.  We are the people whom God has called, and we are not complete until we welcome everyone whom God has called into our church.

The institutional and missional dimensions of this project therefore deal with the organizational boundaries of the church.  (For a fuller discussion of organizational boundaries, see Eric Law’s Inclusion: A Means of Grace.)  A second worship service is a means of extending the boundaries, or “allowing them to breathe” after years of (perhaps) unintentionally restrictive boundaries.  An important issue, therefore, is how well the system adapts to the stress of boundary-extension.  Will there be a backlash, a “closing-off” to newcomers?  This is similar to the experience of the church in Corinth, in which social, cultural, and theological boundaries persisted, leading to factions (I Corinthians 1.17-34), a divided worship community (10.17-34), and arrogance and contempt (8.1-13).  A crucial issue will be how to expand the boundaries through a second worship service without creating “two churches.”
Of course, there are also the obvious theological issues relating to the style and content of the worship itself.  Much has been written about both the promise and the pitfalls of the “worship wars” over music style (Dawn, Long).  A recent issue of the Alban Institute journal Congregations was devoted to this very topic.  The theological significance of music for the present project is twofold: music as a symbol of faith and music as an aid to mission.

In worship, the faith of the gathered community is given voice through liturgy, ritual, and music.  These acquire symbolic force as representations of the community itself within the theater of worship, and by their weekly rehearsal reinforce the boundaries defining the community, inform the community identity, and become established as norms of community life. At Pullman Presbyterian Church, the congregational identity has been closely connected to “musical excellence,” which is shorthand for music in the classical Protestant tradition.  It is important to the church to employ accomplished musical professionals as organists and choir directors, historically drawing from the schools of music at the nearby universities.  In recent years, the adult choir has performed advanced repertoire from Bach’s B-minor Mass to Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms.  The recently completed organ enhancement and renovation raised over $100,000 without a public campaign, with the goal of “building the finest church organ in southeastern Washington.”
This attachment to classical music styles may work well for the current congregation, but given that fewer than 5% of the general public (and less in younger generations) prefer classical music, the music used in worship is almost certainly an obstacle to reaching the vast majority of potential new members.  As former Presbytery Executive Bill Ailes reminded the presbytery in his farewell remarks, “Jesus didn’t die on the cross for classical music.”
However, the development of a worship service using a more contemporary musical idiom raises other issues.  While much classical music has stood the test of time not only as to its musical qualities, but also as to the theology of its texts, many contemporary hymns are fraught with theological superficiality and radical individualism.  Because mainline churches have been slow to adopt contemporary musical forms, much of the repertoire also has an evangelical tone, and is often blatantly sexist in its language.  Our female campus minister even voiced the concern that the move for a second worship service posed a threat to hard-won victories for gender inclusiveness.  Clearly, one issue is the need to develop a contemporary musical form without compromising our theological identity.

The aforementioned theological and institutional identity of PPC, however, is in tension with its missional purpose.  It is often stated that the church “is the only institution that exists for those outside it,” and that “the church exists for mission as fire exists for burning.”  This missional charge of the church helps to relativize and counter the centripetal forces that would suffocate and stagnate the church.  The model for this is found in the incarnation of God in Christ, who “emptied himself” and took the form of a servant (Philippians 2.5-12), and in Jesus’ own exhortation to “lose one’s life” for his sake and the gospel (Matthew 16.25).
There is a death that must be experienced in order for new life to take hold.  This is a grief process involved in any institutional change.  It is noteworthy that the strategies for change advocated by Kotter, for example, address the grief process as identified by Kübler-Ross in her groundbreaking work On Death and Dying[1].  Even when pains are taken to minimize the changes in the life of the congregation, there is the pastoral need to help the congregation let go of long-held models of institutional identity and future dreams to adopt new ones that accommodate to changing realities in the context of ministry.

4.  A description of the way I have worked with others in thinking about ministry and then planning and implementing the project. 
5. A description of the project itself, the details of its implementation, and the outcome, if any.  Report both hoped for outcomes and actual observations.
(These sections will be addressed together)

From the beginning, the development of a second service has been a collective leadership endeavor (see summary in section 1 above).  Once the AGCM and I settled on the particular focus of this project, three other groups became central to the planning and execution of the transition:
Session: Obviously, the Session is central to the initiation of change within the church.  The Session is vested with the responsibility “to provide for the worship of the people of God, including the preaching of the Word, the sharing of the Sacraments, and for the music program, in keeping with the principles in the Directory for Worship...” (Book of Order G‑10.0102d); “to lead the congregation continually to discover what God is doing in the world and to plan for change, renewal, and reformation under the Word of God” (G‑10.0102j); and to lead the church in mission and evangelism (G‑10.0102a, G‑10.0102c).  The Session is both the structural locus of power and the custodian of institutional interests within the congregation.  It is often the first place obstacles to change are encountered in the form of institutional inertia and special interest agendas.  It is therefore imperative that the Session have full opportunity to participate in the strategic process of change, and that key personnel (in particular the Worship and Music Committee) be supportive of the change direction (see discussion below). 
Significant time was spent at the April and May 2001 Session meetings reviewing the change process to date and anticipating issues for the shift to a two-service schedule.  The main issue concerned the actual schedule of events on Sunday morning (even more than the content and style of those events).  At the May, 2001 meeting, I presented a briefing paper on the various benefits and drawbacks to different schedules (see exhibit in Appendix II).  I encouraged the Session not to decide the matter at that time, but to consider the schedule prayerfully for a month, seeking congregational input, and to be prepared to make a decision at the June meeting.

During that June meeting a full hour was used to debate and discuss the pros and cons of each schedule option.  After narrowing the choices down to two, the Session was satisfied to delegate the decision to the Worship & Music Committee based on further input from the Christian Education Committee.
An unexpected issue that arose in the context of the Session discussions concerned the location of the communion table during the contemporary services.  The communion table is a large (8-foot) heavy (600+ lbs.) maple furnishing which is ordinarily located in the middle of the dais that extends in front of the pulpit, at the center of our semi-circular arrangement of pews.  During the monthly contemporary services, various locations for the band were tested, including on the center of the dais, on the upper chancel (with the pulpit removed) and in front of the choir seating area to the side of the chancel.  Because the dais was also used to present chancel skits, the communion table was often displaced from its usual location to one of two other previously identified and approved locations on the chancel.
The location issue arose from a rather minor worship sub-committee (the flower arranging committee), but one that is led by a rather influential church-member not on the Session.  While this particular member has not been actively opposed to the contemporary services, the establishment of a regular two-service schedule would significantly diminish her influence on the worship life of the church. 

While the communion table is an emotionally invested symbol of the church, I perceived that the issue in this case was not symbolic in nature, but rather political (disempowerment rather than loss of meaning).  Through personal contact with the concerned member and through a well-planned discussion at the Worship & Music committee meeting, I provided forums for the concerns to be voiced.  After both informal and formal discussions of the matter, it was decided to employ a “compromise” solution that would keep the table on the dais (immediately in front of the pulpit).  Ironically, this is a location not in keeping with our symbolic heritage, as it treats the table more like an altar (access behind the table is restricted).  However, in this liturgically laissez-faire community, it seems to have been a workable solution.          
The Worship & Music Committee: This is the most crucial committee of the Session for the successful launching of the service.  Beginning in 1998, the idea of a second, contemporary service was discussed in this committee.  It was this committee, in November, 1999, which brought a recommendation to the Session to begin planning for a second, contemporary service to be launched not later than August, 2001.
Because this committee has representation of music staff, choir personnel, the organ committee, and members of the liturgical arts task force (charged with overseeing sanctuary furnishings and appointments), it has multiple political agendas.  Securing the full support of this committee was essential in order to build congregational consensus.
In the eighteen months preceding the focus of this project, the committee had engaged in a learning process concerning the need for an alternative worship style, the forms of contemporary worship (e.g., seeker-oriented, blended, etc.), and the process of launching a new service.  It was decided early on and repeated often and with emphasis that in no way was the church going to abandon traditional worship.  This was especially important to communicate to minimize blocking reactions from those fearing change.

As the transition period approached, a new class of elders was being installed (at Pullman, we use a two year rotation system, elected in the Spring).  Committee assignments are nominated by the pastor and approved by the Session.  Anticipating that the transition to a two-service schedule would generate some resistance and “growing pains,” I solicited the help of the elder most gifted at conflict management and interpersonal skills to serve as Committee moderator, who was supportive of the change.  For the second elder position, I nominated an elder who had committed to be active in the contemporary service, in order (1) to avoid leadership conflicts within the committee, (2) to provide balance between the worship “establishment” represented by the at-large committee members and the under-represented voices of contemporary service worshipers, and (3) to provide direct information concerning the contemporary worship to the committee.
During the late spring months, this newly formed committee served an important function in guiding the Session through the difficult decisions of service times, sanctuary arrangements, and worship resources.  At their May meeting, they identified five potential worship and Christian education schedules to present to the Session for its selection.  As noted above, the Session narrowed this list to two and referred it back to the committee for final determination.  The committee did so at a special meeting July 2.
The July 2 meeting was especially called for the purpose of planning a strategy for introducing the new service.  After the opening prayer, I reminded them of our vision and need for a second worship service, and reviewed briefly the steps we have taken to date.  The first item on the docket was the final determination of the fall Sunday morning schedule, referred to it by the Session.  After some discussion of the relative merits, it was decided to adopt the following schedule:
9:30 am contemporary service
9:45 am Sunday school (dismiss children from worship)
10:15 am choir
10:30 am fellowship time
11:00 am traditional service (dismiss children to “Sojourners” after children’s sermon)

(After subsequent communication with the Christian Education Committee, it was decided to begin Sunday school at 9:30 instead of 9:45.)  Among the reasons this was adopted over the alternative (which would have placed the Sunday School opposite the 11:00 service) was the determination that our primary target group was young families, which usually prefer early services, and only secondarily target undergraduate students, who prefer later services (especially afternoon and evening services).  Another consideration was the set-up time necessary for the Praise Band, and the desire for a time of choir rehearsal before the traditional service, but not too early in the morning.
I then led the group in an awareness of the dynamics of change in a congregation.  I began by noting that change, even positive change, is often perceived as a threat to a congregation.  People will choose “the devil you know” rather than risk the unknown.  I pointed out that this is an expression of both fear – of the new – and grief – loss of the familiar.  I asked them to help identify ways in which adding a new worship service could be experienced as “fear” or  “loss” by some in the congregation.  They mentioned the following possibilities:
Fear of splitting the congregation into 2 groups
Loss of control/power in church life  
Fear of new people taking over
Fear of new practices
Fear of financial stress
Fear of failure
Fear of unpredictability
Loss of members who are unwilling to accommodate change

Without getting technical, I adapted the material in Kotter and Bolman & Deal and summarized it for them by stating our goals should be to reassure those who are experiencing fear and loss and build confidence in the change process.  Specifically, this means
·                      communicating in multiple settings, through multiple media, and multiple times the vision for change and its rationale, while reassuring the congregation that the old is valued and is not being displaced. 
·                      avoiding unnecessary change and retain the familiar whenever possible
·                      seeking short term victories to celebrate
·                      building ownership for the change in the whole congregation
·                      finding ways to anchor the change in our congregational culture
We then brainstormed possible ways to accomplish these goals. Some of the avenues of communication we identified included newsletters, fliers, the web page, home meetings, congregational fellowship events, sermons, worship committee “interpreters,” and “minutes for mission” using long-time respected members as advocates.
We discussed ways to build congregational ownership of the change.  Ideas that emerged included: a daily prayer service leading up to the launch, a service to commission “missionaries” from the congregation to launch the new service, follow-up feedback opportunities, and an all-church “forty day” anniversary celebration September 30.

It was also emphasized that the traditional service should not be neglected during the launch, but should be just as appealing as the new service.  It was agreed that we should engage the traditional constituency by conducting a “festival of favorite hymns” that would be sung in worship during the first month of the two-service format, and conclude on the day (previously scheduled) of the afternoon organ dedication service and recital.  We agreed that it was serendipitous that the organ renovation project should be completed in the first week of the two-service format, as this was a natural morale-builder for traditional worshipers.  The festival would be based on a three-week survey of favorite hymns during the summer traditional worship services.  Additionally, it was noted that the Vacation Bible School was being held during the week prior to the launch of the new service. It seemed a good idea to invite the children to offer special music at the traditional service the Sunday after VBS to draw new faces to the traditional service and provide a special activity for that service.
Next, we addressed ways of building congregational unity following the launch.  Using the thirty-minute fellowship period between the services effectively would be vital.  This would mean encouraging traditional worshipers to arrive early.  One way this would be accomplished would be through the annual welcome-back barbecue.  This event, held the Sunday before classes (the second Sunday of the new schedule) is typically held at noon, after worship.  However, with the new service schedule, it was feared that doing so would miss the bulk of the students and young families, who would likely attend the early service.  It was decided to ask the Fellowship Committee to schedule a “barbecue brunch” on that Sunday instead.  It would be held on the church lawn between the services, with brunch items and barbecued sausages. A portion would be held in reserve for a “mini brunch” after the second service as well.
Another strategy for congregational unity would be a significant all-church event around the forty-day period.  Suggestions included a retreat, a congregational dinner, and a special fellowship event such as a picnic.  It was decided to discuss this with the Fellowship Committee for refinement.

The Contemporary Worship Planning Team was the third significant group identified by the AGCM.  In April, 2001, a Contemporary Worship Planning Team was established by the Worship and Music Committee to serve as a resource for leading the contemporary worship on a regular basis.  This team would work on the monthly services until the weekly launch and then help coordinate and plan the weekly services thereafter.  Early on, most of the team members were members of the Praise Band, or their significant others.
The Planning Team was given the task to develop an appropriate worship activity to launch the new service on August 19.  It was decided to gather in the Narthex/Fellowship Hall at the start of the service.  The hall would be decorated in a party atmosphere with streamers and balloons.  Noise makers would be distributed.  Following a brief introduction and impromptu litany, we would enter the sanctuary together to our opening song.  Worshipers would be encouraged to “sound their praise” with the noisemakers at appropriate times throughout the service.
The Team also decided that the pattern of having a weekly chancel skit would become tiresome, and that greater variety should be offered.  Also, it was emphasized that keeping the services under 60 minutes was necessary to allow for interaction at the fellowship time between the services.  The team decided to try a rotating schedule of skits, puppet ministry, and personal testimony on Sundays when the Lord’s Supper would not be celebrated, and to have a briefer service on Communion Sundays.
A summary of the combined plans of the various planning teams is summarized below:





July 22-28

Promoting & Interpreting

Monthly newsletter; promote in conjunction with VBS fliers; church signboard

VBS, CE team assistance
Chimes editors assistance
(See newsletter copy in Appendix II)

July 29


Begin Favorite Hymn polling; begin interpretive moments; invite participation in month of prayer

Prepare hymn ballots

August 1-31

Daily Prayer Services

Invite Men’s Prayer Breakfast, Prayer Chain
held in sanctuary
M-W-F 7:30 a.m.
T-Th-Sa 12:15 p.m.

August 5


Continue Favorite Hymn polling; interpretive moment

August 7

Retreads (retiree group)

Pastor addresses group about two service schedule

Begin with Daily Prayer Service; Program theme is new organ features

August 10

Promoting & Interpreting

Local newspaper article
Begin newspaper ads

Quarterly article written by Pastor, in connection with promotional advertising (see Appendix II)

August 12

Worship - Commissioning service for “missionaries”

Conclude favorite hymn polling; final interpretive moment

Sermon topic: Babel/The Great Commission -- communicating the gospel in the language of the people

August 13-17

Vacation Bible School

Promote to parents of VBS kids

VBS, CE committees assist

August 19

Worship - Launch Sunday

Newspaper ads

Launch festival; VBS sings in traditional service; adult choir returns (trad. service); Sunday School starts (pre-K – 5th grade) Sermon topic: “Frontiers of Faith” – venturing and risking based on faith

August 20-24

Promoting & Interpreting

Monthly newsletter

Major emphasis on success of new service; organ dedication in Sept; etc.

August 22, 24

Promoting & Interpreting

Ads in first issues of WSU student newspaper

August 26

Worship - Welcome Back Sunday

Welcome back barbecue brunch at fellowship time; begin festival of favorite hymns; youth groups resume (evening)

September 2


Labor Day weekend; Lord’s Supper;  hymn festival continues

September 9


Commission SS teachers
(traditional service)

September 16


Hymnsing concludes hymn festival (traditional)

September 16

Organ Dedication Recital

Advance news releases
Personal invitations
Church signboard

September 23


Distribute feedback forms

September 30

Worship / Fellowship

Forty day celebration

It is also possible to identify the various components of the implementation strategy with the categories outlined by Bolman & Deal (see exhibit on next page):
At the time of this writing, the first three Sundays of the two-service schedule have been completed.  A special meeting of the Worship & Music Committee with key leaders from the Contemporary Worship Leadership Team was held Monday, August 27 to review the outcome through the first two weeks. 
The attendance at both services has met or exceeded expectations all three weeks.  Some of this may be due to the presence of some members at both services.  However, even discounting for duplicate attendance, total worship attendance is up from 20- 55% over the same weeks a year ago.  The original goal of 50 regular participants by the six month mark seems quite attainable, even accounting for an anticipated drop-off after the initial launch. (Attendance the first three Sundays was 65, 101, and 88 for the contemporary service.  The lower figure in week three can be accounted for by the loss of worshipers to the Labor Day holiday weekend.)

Exhibit:  Reframing Organizational Change - Implementation of a Two-Service Schedule


Barriers to Change

Essential Strategies


Human Resource

Anxiety, uncertainty, feelings of incompetence, neediness

Training to develop new skills, participation and involvement, psychological support

Monthly trial services
Development of planning group
Missionary participation


Loss of clarity and stability, confusion, chaos

Communicating, realigning and renegotiating formal patterns and policies

Regular communication of vision & plans
Session / Worship Committee planning
Renegotiation by January 2002


Disempowerment, conflict between winners and losers

Creating arenas where issues can be renegotiated and new coalitions formed

Hymn survey
Organ renovation
Worship Committee participation
Feedback needs - follow up arenas


Loss of meaning and purpose, clinging to the past

Creating transition rituals: mourning the past, celebrating the future

Daily prayer services
Commissioning service
Launch celebration
Welcome back barbecue
Organ dedication
Festival of Favorite Hymns

                                                                                                            Source: Bolman & Deal p.321 

The attendance results at the traditional service are mixed.  For the first two weeks, attendance for this service was lower than for the contemporary service (61 and 78), although this approximates original expectations for this service.  On the third Sunday, however, attendance soared to 100, so that the combined worship attendance was 55% above the same week a year ago.  This may have to do with the return of established households for the school year, and the employment of a new choir director.
So far, there has been minimal resistance and the need to address only minor issues, such as usher and greeter roles, rapid depletion of cordless microphone batteries, providing adequate nursery care, and attendance pad collection.  The transition between the services has gone surprisingly well.  There is an ongoing need to encourage attenders at the traditional service to arrive early in order to mix with contemporary service congregants during the shared fellowship time.
What obstacles have been encountered, however, have been overshadowed by the renewed enthusiasm in the congregation.  The targeted outreach to new students and young families is clearly having an effect.  The Sunday School, which began its program year early to capitalize on the timing of both the Vacation Bible School and the two-service schedule launch, has its largest enrollment in recent history.

6. Explain what I have learned about ministry from the project.  Include the relations between theology, theory, and practice and what I have learned about myself, my strengths and needs as a Christian leader.  What surprised, frustrated, and delighted you in the project?  Take time to prepare a full explanation.  You may want to follow with a brief sketch of the next steps you expect to take.     

One of the obvious lessons I have learned through this project is the enormous complexity of the congregational system.  Even a “simple” change such as instituting a new worship service impacts everything from the communion table to the church school.  Because the system is so complex, change must be addressed with great deliberateness and preparation.  In this particular case, it could be argued that the foundation for this change began at least as early as 1992!  Specific consideration of this change was a three-year process of visioning, communicating, coalition-building, planning, and implementing to date.  I expect it will take at least another eighteen months before the changes are securely anchored in the culture.
I have also become aware that while I as a leader can spark change through communicating a vision, I cannot bring about the change single-handedly.  Taking only the scope of this project – the immediate plans for transitioning to two services – it has involved the direct support and cooperation of at least three distinct groups in the church plus many other committees and individuals indirectly.  I have had to learn to curb my penchant for over-functioning in order to generate broad ownership of the changes within the congregation.  It has also served me well to have a respected leader in the key role of Worship & Music Committee moderator who complements my strength in the structural and political frames with strong interpersonal (human resource) skills.
I have also been impressed with the immensity of the task of communicating a vision for change.  While I think we have been very creative and reasonably thorough in our use of communication, I don’t believe it has been anywhere near the optimal amount.  It seems that I am constantly interpreting the vision and the need for change even among those who have lived and worked with the idea for many months – Session members, worship band members, etc.

However, I have also learned that despite these challenges, I have the ability to lead change effectively.  The results have been gratifying, and there has been only minimal resistance to date.  Best of all, no one has left the church, and a few who resisted the monthly contemporary services have returned on a more regular basis to the traditional service.  We are also seeing increased numbers of new people from our targeted demographics.  I am quite pleasantly surprised by the significant increase in total worshipers and unique worshipers during the first weeks of the two-service schedule.
We are currently engaged in a period of follow-up and fine-tuning following the launch of the new schedule.  The Worship & Music Committee is meeting bi-weekly to review progress and address issues that arise (this is feedback for the “throughput” model).  A congregational feedback vehicle is also being planned for distribution in late September around the forty-day celebration.
Our biggest frustration to date is helping the Contemporary Worship Planning Team to make the transition from monthly to weekly services.  While the first two weeks of services were well planned, we have already begun to see a breakdown in planning for subsequent weeks.  They are having a difficult time thinking two to six weeks in advance!
The major remaining challenge is to anchor the change into the organizational culture.  Central to this will be the effective assimilation of the newly attracted worshipers into the larger life of the church.  This will not be easy; it is one thing for established church members to permit the new people to worship, but quite another to give them access to positions of influence within the congregation.
To address this challenge, I intend to do more intentional work with the church Nominating Committee, the Session Outreach Committee, and the Fellowship Committee of the Board of Deacons to strategize more effective ways of integrating the new attenders into the church system.  I welcome suggestions to this end.                                                           

            List of Works Cited

Arn, Charles. How to Start a New Service: Your Church Can Reach New People. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1997.    

Bolman, Lee G. and Terrence E. Deal. Reframing Organizations: Artistry, Choice, and Leadership.  Second edition.  San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1997.

Brown, Raymond G. The Churches the Apostles Left Behind.  New York: Paulist Press, 1984.

Dawn, Marva J. Reaching Out Without Dumbing Down: A Theology of Worship for the Turn-of-the-Century Culture. Grand Rapids: Eerdman’s, 1995.

Kotter, John P. Leading Change.  Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 1996.

Kübler-Ross, Elizabeth.  On Death and Dying. New York: Macmillan, 1969.  

Law, Eric H. F. Inclusion: Making Room for Grace St. Louis: Chalice Press, 2000.

Long, Thomas. Beyond the Worship Wars: Building Vital and Faithful Worship. Washington, DC: The Alban Institute, 2001.

Mann, Alice. Can Our Church Live? Redeveloping Congregations in Decline.  Washington, DC: The Alban Institute, 1999.

Miller, Holly G.  “Collision Course?” Congregations, 27.4 (2001): 5-7.

Office of the General Assembly. The Constitution of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Part II: The Book of Order. 2001-2002 ed. Louisville: Office of the General Assembly, 2001.

Saperstein, Daniel (2001) “Let’s Move Beyond the Worship Wars” The Moscow-Pullman Daily News, 10 August 2001: 7A.

Appendix I: Sermons


May 6, 2001 - Mortgage Burning Celebration

Texts:  Isaiah 43:16-21; Revelation 21:1-5

Sometime in the early 1970s, the president of AT&T, which then had a legal monopoly on the telephone business, called all his managers into a large room for an emergency meeting. Attendance was compulsory. Speculation ran high as to what announcement would be made: was it a new breakthrough in technology? a disastrous quarter on the stock market and immediate downsizing? Perhaps someone important had resigned or died. They could tell by the grim look on his face that something extremely serious was about to be revealed.
When all were seated, the president went to the podium and said, "The telephone as you know it no longer exists." Muffled giggles rippled through the room. What was this? They all knew he was wrong. They had used phones that morning. He continued: "Anyone who does not believe that statement can leave this room right now and pick up their final paycheck on the way out of the building." Sober silence prevailed. No one left. They all just stared.
"Your job today is to invent a new telephone." He broke the group up into small teams and they spent the rest of the time coming up with a new phone. Some people wanted one with no cord. Others wanted one in the car, or to carry around all the time. Still others wanted to know when another call was coming in, or to be able to forward calls to another number, to see the person on the other end, to send other kinds of messages on it. All told, there were about sixty items that distinguished the telephone they invented. Many of those items are now the features that we take for granted, from call-waiting to individual digital and cellular phones, and the list has not yet been completed. (From “Dying Church - Living God” by Chuck Meyers pp 37-39, quoted in on-line sermon by Chris Lockley, “The Church as You Know It No Longer Exists”)
What if I were to duplicate what the president of AT&T did with that group of managers? What if I said to you: "The church you have always known no longer exists; it is gone - walls, pews, hymnals, and assumptions. Now break up into groups and come up with a new vision, a new church." Would you be ready for that?
When I was in seminary, and my worship professor, a crusty old Canadian Scot, would counsel us eager-beaver seminarians that life in the parish moves more slowly than we were used to in seminary.  Change, even necessary change, is usually met with resistance.  I remember him telling us in his most earnest preaching voice, “You know what the seven last words of the church are, do you not?  ‘We’ve never done it that way before!’”
Today, our church stands at a watershed moment.  We have accomplished something that no one in their right mind would have thought possible.  A church of our size being moved by such a spirit of generosity and faithfulness to build this new sanctuary and burn the mortgage in only six years.  There were those who said at the time, “We’ve never done it before.  We are a church that struggles financially.  It will ruin us.”  Well, friends, here we are!
That is why I am not so interested in the seven last words of the church as I am in what I’d like to call the seven first words of the church, or more properly, to the church.  We find them spoken by the Lord through the prophet Isaiah to the people of Israel in exile in Babylon.  They were in despair because the future seemed bleak.  The song at the top of the charts was Psalm 137, “By the rivers of Babylon, we sat down and wept when we remembered Zion.”  The glory days were in the past.  To this people, the Lord said, “See, I am about to do a new thing,” or as the original Revised Standard Version put it, “Behold, I am doing a new thing.”
The same message was given to the Christians undergoing persecution in the book of Revelation.  It occurs after Satan and his minions have been cast into the lake of fire, and a new city of God descends from the heavens.  At this point, the one who is seated on the throne – that is, the Lord – says, “Behold, I am making all things new.”
These are important words to hear when the going gets tough and things look bleakest.  They were words we needed to hear six years ago.  But they are words we need to hear all the more today.  Not when things are bleak, but when we might be tempted to rest on our laurels, to become self-satisfied.
The story is told about a man who worked for the highway department. He was hired to paint lines on a newly resurfaced portion of an interstate highway. The first day he painted 10 miles, and his supervisor, impressed by his effort, told him he would recommend a promotion and a raise if he kept up that pace.
The next day he was only able to paint 5 miles. And on the following day he painted only 1 mile. When he reported at quitting time he was fired. "It isn’t my fault," he muttered to his boss, shaking his head. "I kept getting farther away from the can."
There are times when we have to go back to the beginning to accomplish things. But eventually we have to let go of what worked in the past and make adjustments. The Israelites neglected to make adjustments. They were counting on past experiences to help them in a new context.
The Israelites were stuck. They longed for newness and refreshment. But rather than strike out into the wilderness they remained where they were in exile, thirsty, empty and unfulfilled. The Israelites were traveling with an old map. In the past God had led them through the Red Sea, provided manna from heaven and delivered them from their oppressors.
Those past experiences where God intervened on their behalf were spectacular. But as wonderful as the "good ole days" were, the best was still yet to come. Clinging to the past would not help them in the future. God has prepared a "new thing" for them and this newness awaited them in the wilderness.
Just about all of us resist change, like the man who kept going back to his paint can. We fail to trust in "new things" to carry us into the future. Or, we are using outdated maps to take us where we want to go. We are like the Israelites who were looking to the past for deliverance rather than to the future. Isaiah is telling us that the same God who led us through the past will continue to lead us in the future, only with new navigation aids and newly built highways.  (Keith Wagner,  “Navigating the Wilderness” on-line sermon April 1, 2001)
As we stand on the cusp of the future, God is telling us, “Behold, I am doing a new thing.”  Do we yet perceive it?  Mark Conner pastors a church in Australia, and has written a book titled, Help Your Church Change. Conner describes seven shifts he sees happening wherever congregations are becoming more effective in their mission. Please listen carefully and prayerfully to these seven shifts. Picture them as opportunities God is giving us:
First he sees a power shift taking place — from self, to God  from confidence in ourselves to a greater confidence in God, and a deeper life of prayerful connection with God.
The second shift is a priority shift from in-reach to outreach. Instead of being cut off from the world around us, and just focusing on taking care of ourselves, there is a shift to connecting with people outside the church. As one cutting-edge pastor has said, Jesus wants us to "catch fish, not just look after the aquarium."
Thirdly, there is a program shift, away from just having events to which we can get people to come, to developing meaningful relationships with people. "Church" is therefore not something we 'go to', but a network of relationships to which we belong.                  
The fourth shift is one of leadership — where church leaders change their focus from doing ministry themselves to developing more leaders, and encouraging new ministries. Leadership will be more about coaching, motivating and mobilizing people.  The fifth shift is related to the fourth. It is a ministry shift, whereby Christians start seeing themselves as contributors instead of consumers. We don't come to church to "get something out of it"  the consumer attitude. Instead, we all contribute our gifts and our ministries because we are part of the one community of believers. Shift number six is one of our worldview — from a narrow local church mentality to a mentality that takes account for the reign of God around the world. This means not being consumed with what goes on within our own four walls, and seeing what God is doing through the wider church and the body of Christ.The seventh shift is a generational one  from the older to the younger. You may remember what I said Easter Sunday:  The church is always only one generation away from extinction.  This is especially important for our congregation in which the core of leaders who have so ably led us in the past are now growing older, and less able to contribute as they once did.  (based on on-line sermon by Chris Lockley, “The Church as You Know It No Longer Exists”)    This is why our contemporary service is so vital to the future of our congregation.  We know that worship music style is the single most influential factor in whether young adults will or will not attend a church.  Yet, a couple of years ago, an informal study of our own presbytery revealed that 80% of the conflict in our churches surrounds not the headline issues like homosexuality or denominational politics, but music in worship.  That sounds more like the church is saying, “We’ve never done it that way before,” when God is telling us, “Behold, I am doing a new thing.”
Let me read to you a couple of letters that ministers have actually received when they tried to change hymn styles and bring in new music:  One reads, "What's wrong with the inspiring hymns with which we grew up: when I go to church, it is to worship God, not to be distracted with learning a new song. Last Sunday's was particularly unnerving. While the text was good, the tune was unsingable and the new harmonies were quite discordant."
The second was even more pointed:  "I am no music scholar, but I feel I know appropriate church music when I hear it. Last Sunday's new hymn, if you call it that, sounded like a sentimental love ballad one might expect to hear crooned in a saloon. If you persist in exposing us to rubbish like this in God's house, don't be surprised if many of the faithful look for a new place to worship. The hymns we grew up with are all we need."
Those letters weren't actually written to ministers in our presbytery. The first was written in 1890 and was complaining about the hymn, "What a friend we have in Jesus." The second letter, dated 1865, was criticizing the use of "Just as I am, without one plea."
The Christian church has always been changing. We are fooling ourselves if we think we are the first generation to ever face change.  And in every generation, the seven first words of God to the church are, “Behold, I am doing a new thing.”   
In a few minutes we are going to burn a mortgage.  In a way, we are burning our past, letting go of the financial shackles that have held us in place for the past six years.  But before we do that, we are coming to our Lord’s Table.  Here we meet the One who is already doing a new thing among us.  Here we discover once again what it is to be an Easter people whom God continually raises from the dead.  Here we are set free from our bondage to the shackles of the past, and like those disciples on the Emmaus Road who broke bread with the risen Lord, become ready to see the new work of God in our midst.
Friends, the good news is this:  the church as we know it no longer exists.  The one who sits on the throne declares, “Behold, I am making all things new.”  And may our prayer be this day, “Let it begin right here, Lord.  Let it begin right here.” Amen.


August 12, 2001 - Missionary Commissioning Service

Texts:  Genesis 11:1-9; Matthew 28:16-20

            One of the great films of all time is the 1967 classic, Cool Hand Luke.  It starred Paul Newman as Luke, a good man convicted and sent to an oppressive Southern prison.  The chain-gang boss, a cruel, bigoted man played by Strother Martin, had a special disgust for Luke, because Luke refused to surrender his dignity or have his spirit broken.  Each time Luke would stand up to the cruelty of the boss, he would receive a more vicious punishment.  The boss, who always hid his eyes behind dark sunglasses, had a line he would repeat before inflicting his punishment on the offender: “What we have heah is a failuah to communicate.” When Susan Resneck Pierce was inaugurated as President of the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma she spoke to the problems that arise when we don’t watch how we communicate.  She used examples from international business:  When Coca-Cola went into China, they were determined to use a symbol that phonetically represented the sounds of their name. It was only after their marketing campaign was a failure that Coke learned that their new symbol translated into, "Bite the wax tadpole." When they changed their name to mean, "May the mouth rejoice," they began to sell their product. When Chevrolet took the Nova to Latin America, they neglected the fact that the name means "Won't go" in Spanish. (From my experience, that seems appropriate enough.) Pepsi's campaign in Taiwan translated the invitation to "Come alive with Pepsi" into "Pepsi brings your ancestors back alive from the grave." Eastern Airline's slogan "We earn our wings daily" promised in Spanish that passengers would arrive at their destination as angels. Parker Pen made even more extravagant claims in Flemish, asserting that their newly created leak-proof cartridges would prevent unwanted pregnancies. But perhaps most stunningly, Frank Perdue's slogan, "It takes a tough man to make a tender chicken," in Spanish announced that "It takes a virile man to make a chicken affectionate." (Frankly, I don't want to go there.) [From Scattering to Gathering: The Promise of Pentecost, on-line sermon by D. Mark Davis]
            We all know how important good communication is to good relationships.  Most marriages that fall apart do so because husbands and wives don’t communicate, or establish patterns of communication that are destructive.  Anyone who has been around the university knows that many of our problems stem from poor communication between administration, faculty, staff, students, and the community.  Cities erupt and nations go to war because of a breakdown in communication.
One of my seminary professors offered this definition of sin, as experienced between persons or within society: sin is “systematically distorted communication.”  The history of the human race, it seems, can be summed up in the one line, “What we have heah is a failuah to communicate.”
The book of Genesis begins with stories about the beginnings of humankind.  It does not paint a pretty picture.  From Adam to Cain to Noah, things got worse and worse.  God decided that perhaps it was time to start over, and sent a flood.  But that didn’t work.  After the flood, things continued to worsen.  By the time we get to the story of the Tower of Babel, humankind has reached rock-bottom.  The confusion of tongues with which they were cursed only mirrored their spiritual state of confusion.
There are many ways one can interpret the sin of the people in Babel.  One way is to see their actions as prideful, the “vanity of humanity” who think that with the right technology we can storm the gates of heaven under our own power and save ourselves.
This past week, both the promise and the perils of technology have been at the top of the news.  The debate over stem-cell research is just one of dozens of ethical issues that the vast expansion of human technological prowess has created.  From nuclear and biological weapons to global warming to human cloning, it seems our technological advances have outpaced our spiritual and ethical abilities to deal with them.  As Albert Einstein lamented fifty years ago about the atomic bomb, “[It] has changed everything except our way of thinking.”  In the same vein, Einstein also said, “Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I'm not sure about the former.”  The movie Titanic is about "technolatry," once you get past the cheesy romance and all the special effects. It's about humankind’s misplaced trust in his own inventions and ingenuity. "Not even God can sink Titanic," they said at the start of the voyage. So confident were they, they didn't even carry a full load of life rafts. The latest technology assured them that the ship was unsinkable. And yet, ironically, the very technology that made Titanic "unsinkable" speeded her sinking. [William W. Cwirla, untitled on-line sermon, Pentecost, 1998]
 Now there's nothing wrong with technology, per se, just as there is nothing wrong with baked bricks, tar, and tall towers. It's what we do with them and why we build them. When our faith, hope, and trust is in our tools, when we use our technology to reach up to heavens, to amass fame and fortune, to seize control our destiny and shake our fist at God, then we are guilty of technolatry.
That is one important lesson from the Babel story, but there is another.  When we look for a reason why the people built the tower, the Bible tells us they built it “lest we be scattered.”  They wanted to stay together!
In the ancient world, there were two reasons people built towers.  One was for a place of worship.  At the top of the Babylonian ziggurats were temples.  But another reason, one that would have been more familiar to the people reading the story for the first time in Ancient Israel, was for protection.  A tower was built in the wall around the city to protect it against outsiders. The people wanted to close themselves up in a city with high protective walls and a tower whose watch could spot trouble coming from miles away. Sticking together, they figure, is the best way, maybe only way they can stay safe.  The sin of the people was a lack of faith and an outright rebellion against the command of God to fill the earth and subdue it.
Don’t we do the same thing today?  Don’t we erect our walls to keep out those who might threaten our comfortable togetherness?  This is even true in the church.  Whenever we say only one way of doing things is God’s way, we are putting up walls against those who do it differently.  Whenever we say there is only one proper form of worship or music or prayer, we are building a fortress of our own design.  Some of you may have read my column in the Daily News on Friday, in which I outlined some of the ways we have built towers against and “failed to communicate” with a whole generation who speak a different language of worship.
It is widely recognized that the story of Pentecost, when the risen Christ sent the Holy Spirit upon the disciples in Jerusalem, and they proclaimed the good news to the religious pilgrims in their own languages – is a reversal of the story of Babel.  God was no longer in the scattering and confounding business.  God was gathering and uniting the faithful in Jesus Christ.
A similar message lies behind the account of the Great Commission in Matthew 28.  There, Jesus himself scatters the disciples to “make disciples of every nation.”  There is a way for humankind to be restored to genuine community.  It is not in speaking the same language, but in worshiping the same Lord.  We can move from chaos and confusion to community and genuine communion only in and through Jesus Christ.
Whenever we erect walls and towers about the way we do church, and require those on the “outside” to be just like us on the “inside” if they are to be welcome, we are denying the very command of Jesus.  Jesus calls us to tear down the towers and open the gates and go out of our safety zone to reach those who are scattered and confounded in their relationship to God.  The great sin of the church is our “failuah to communicate” the gospel in the language of those outside our walls.        
Next week, we will take a great step toward tearing down our towers and opening the gates of our church.  We will move beyond our comfort zone as a church by launching a new worship service with the express intention of reaching people whose style of worship is different than our own.  We aren’t doing this because we think our current forms of worship are somehow wrong.  We aren’t even doing this because we want to grow our church in numbers, or because the future of our church might depend on it.  If we do it because we “want to make a name for ourselves,” it will fail.  Why are we stretching our comfort zones to launch a second service?  Because it is one way of being faithful to our Lord who calls us to go into all the world and make disciples.  In this case, the world begins with those right outside our doors.  
This is very much a mission enterprise, and in a few short moments we will be commissioning missionaries for that very purpose, just as Jesus commissioned the disciples in Matthew 28.  But we must recognize that this work of mission and outreach does not just belong to them.  It is the work of the whole church!  Its success depends on all of us stretching our comfort zones to welcome new faces and to accommodate graciously the difficulties and problems that will inevitably arise. 
The language of our worship may be different; but we are nevertheless one in the Spirit of Christ.  Our responsibility is to recognize, welcome, and build this unity in the midst of our diversity.
The builders of the tower wanted to reach God.  The good news is that God has already reached us in Jesus.  And as we reach out to others, we need not fear, because this same Jesus promised us, “I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”  Let us therefore go forth boldly and use whatever language is necessary to overcome our “failuah to communicate” the good news of God’s love in Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

August 19, 2001 - Launch Sunday (both services)
Texts:  Genesis 12:1-8; Luke 5:1-11
“In the book Undaunted Courage, Stephen Ambrose describes the pivotal day when Meriwether Lewis, William Clark and their tiny band of explorers sent their large keel boat back down the river to St. Louis.  The boat had carried all of their supplies, weapons, and ammunition.  It had served as a secure refuge from attack.  Now it was gone and they were headed west, toward the Pacific Ocean, alone; in Lewis’ words, “about to penetrate a country at least 2000 miles in width, on which the foot of civilized men had never trodden.”  Lewis sat in his buffalo-skin tepee that night and wrote in his journal: 
[T]he picture which now presented itself to me was a most pleasing one.  Entertaining as I do the most confident hope of succeeding in a voyage which had formed a darling project of mine for the past ten years, I could but esteem this moment of my departure as among the most happy of my life.
“It seems to me that Lewis should have been scared to death.  He had just watched all visible means of support and sustenance, all security, all contact with the world, sail down the river.  And yet he called it the happiest day of his life.”   As Presbyterian John Buchanan noted, “It’s almost as if he knew it was his defining moment – the convergence of his particular gifts with a challenge that required those gifts.  It’s almost as if Lewis knew, in that moment of radical abandonment and radical trust, the purpose of his life.”  [The Christian Century, July 4-11, 2001, p.3]
It is quite something to leave everything behind and start a new life with nothing more than faith.  But that is exactly what Abram did.
By the standards of Middle Eastern society, Abram was a loser.  The lowest of lows.  He had lived seventy five years with a name that means "exalted father" and he didn't have a single child to show for it.  His father was dead, and so was one of his brothers.  The only relative who gave him the time of day was his nephew Lot, who seemed to have latched on to his old uncle for no other reason than to assure himself of a tidy inheritance. 
But did any of this dim Abram's outlook on life?  Did it foster in him a cynicism hardened by years of mockery and unfulfilled dreams?  Evidently not.  For when the Lord spoke to him, called to him, summoning him on a journey that would challenge a person half his age, Abram didn't look for any hidden speakers, he didn't question the One who was speaking or what was being said.  He heard.  He believed.  He obeyed.  And his adventure of faith began.
William Willimon describes a certain occasion when he and his children were headed down the road looking for a prize fishing place they had been told about.  He writes, "Turning down one country road after another, we began to wonder where we were going, began to ask, Is this trip going to be worth the effort?
"'We're on quite a journey,' I said.
"'No, corrected one of my children, we are on an adventure.'
"'What's the difference?' I asked.
"Explained the child, ‘A journey is when you know where you are going and an adventure is when you don't know where you are going but you go anyway.’”
By any stretch of the definition, Abram, Sarai, and their whole entourage were on an adventure.  Abram's response of simple trust marked a great turning point in the relationship between God and humankind.
The first chapter of Genesis, the first book of the Bible, describes how God called into being out of barren nothingness a good creation.  But the next ten chapters recite how human sinfulness had returned God's good creation back to a state of chaos.  The first couple had defied God's only commandment to them; the first child murdered the second; the natural order was corrupted; people tried to become like God, and then God was forced to scatter them into nations and confuse their languages.  By the time we have gotten barely ten pages into our bibles, the mark of God's blessing on the creation has been fairly well defaced.
And then we come to Abram, the end of the line.  Abram's lack of heirs stood in direct opposition to the effects of God's blessing on the good creation, that it be fruitful and multiply.  The blessing had been lost.  Abram was a barren symbol of a lost world.
But then God speaks.  God speaks as God spoke on the first day.  God calls into being a new beginning from the chaos the world had become.  Only this time, God's speech does not automatically create a good world.  This time, God requires the cooperation of a chosen person to help bring restore God's blessing on the whole creation.  And God chose Abram.
It is a wild promise God makes.  All Abram has to do is take everything he has and leave his own country and go someplace God will show - where isn't mentioned - and in return God will make of him a great nation, and he will be so revered that every nation will be blessed because of him.
Now a nation requires two things: a land and a people, and Abram had neither.  And no hopes of either - his wife was past childbearing, and the place he was to end up was already settled.
The point is this: God chose Abram not because Abram was the best qualified person, but because he was the least qualified person God could find.  Abram lacked everything that would be needed to fulfill the promise God made.  He lacked everything that would be needed except the one thing that alone was needed: faith.
Abram's faith isn't some diffuse optimism in better days ahead.  It is faith in God - faith in the God named Yahweh, the Lord, and it is faith that is willing to go as far as the Lord will take it.
This is the God who makes impossible dreams come true.  God makes the world out of nothing.  God causes the desert to bloom, and gives children to the barren.  God brings life out of death.  God saves us when we cannot save ourselves.  Our God is a God of promise and of power. But do we have the faith to believe God, even when circumstances tell us not to?  Do we have the faith to go on an adventure with God to the frontiers of faith, when others might despair?
There is a remarkable story told in Amy Tan’s best-selling book, The Joy Luck Club, about an immigrant Chinese mother's unquenchable faith in God.  The woman was always a religious sort.  She had always half-trusted in the ancient Chinese fates and half trusted in the Christian religion of the Baptist church which sponsored her as a refugee.  But both dimensions of her faith apparently crumble when her youngest son is drowned on a family outing to the beach.  The mother is convinced the boy is not dead, yet despite many hours of searching, there is no trace of the boy or of his body.  In despair, the mother claims she has lost her faith.  God is not to be trusted, she says.  Many years pass.  The mother's grief is not assuaged, but the narrator of this tragic tale -  the woman's daughter - leaves us with two small hints that despite the circumstances of loss, the mother still trusts in God.  First, the daughter tells us that the mother never discarded her Bible.  Not that she ever looks at it, though.  Still, it serves a purpose.  It is fitted under one leg of an uneven table in the living room, keeping the table in balance.  Second, the daughter tells us that on the page of that family bible where there is a column for listing family deaths, the young son's name is printed - but only in pencil. 
Despite all evidence to the contrary, the mother believes that God is able to bring life out of death.  The Word of God, which balances the living room tables of our lives, fills the emptiness in her life and makes it level.
This is the faith of Abram – the faith that trusts in God to bring life out of death.  And God does!
 Today, we are like Lewis and Clark cutting loose their boat.  We are like the Peter and James and John, leaving their nets behind them.  We are like the aged Abram and Sarai, heading out of Haran on nothing more than the promise of God.  The great English statesman David Lloyd-Jones once said, “Don't be afraid to take a big step. You can't cross a chasm in two small jumps.”  Today, we are taking a big step forward in faith. 
If you were to look at our congregational statistics for the last 30 years, you might say we were well into our “barren years” as a congregation.  With rare exceptions, we have been declining in number and increasing in average age.  It is not an exaggeration to say that our church has been slowly dying.
In his book, The Death of the Church, church consultant Mike Regele compares our situation, which is shared by many mainline churches, to that of the City of Seattle in 1970.  You may remember that at that time, Congress cut off funding for the Supersonic transport, and Boeing was laying off thousands of people.  The mood of that year was reflected in a rather peculiar bumper sticker that read, “Last one out of Seattle, turn off the lights.”  Regele describes a declining church, which he advised in the mid-1990s to meet the needs of its changing environment if they wanted their mission to be reborn.  One elderly woman complained, “Why do we have to change?  Why can’t you just leave us alone until we all die, and then change the church if you want to?”
I understand that feeling.  Change is hard.  It involves risk.  And when you have spent many years doing things more or less the same way, it is easy to say, “No thank you, Lord.  Life in Haran suits me just fine.  Wait till I die and then you can make a great nation of someone else.”
Perhaps there are some in our congregation who feel the same way.  But friends, we are Abram’s children!  God is calling us to the frontiers of faith, and we are headed to Canaan!
 I believe with all my heart that there are greater days ahead for Pullman Presbyterian Church.  And today is the first step on our adventure.  It is our time of radical abandonment and radical trust.
We might not be able to see what lies at the end of our journey.  I don’t think Abram could have envisioned the One born from his line who would be the conduit of blessing for all the earth.  I don’t think the disciples could foresee what lay ahead for them when they left their nets behind and followed Jesus.  But we know the One who calls us forth.  So let it be written in our journal today that leaving our security behind, we esteem this day one of the most happy of our church’s life.  Amen.
Eternal God,
you call us to ventures
of which we cannot see the ending,
by paths as yet untrodden,
through perils unknown.
Give us faith to go out with courage,
not knowing where we go,
but only that your hand is leading us
and your love supporting us;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.  [The Book of Common Worship]   


[1]Kübler-Ross’s five stages of denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance are addressed in Kotter through establishing a sense of urgency (to force recognition of the need); creating a guiding coalition and communicating the change vision (to minimize anger through building public trust and understanding); empowering constituents for broad-based action (addresses bargaining by building ownership of the change); generating short term wins (counters depression); consolidating gains and anchoring change in the culture (promotes acceptance of the change).  Similar correlations can be made with the reframing strategies of Bolman & Deal.