Why do we do what we do?
Welcome to The Bridge Church. If you’re new here, you’ll undoubtedly notice that we do things a little differently here than you might be used to at other evangelical churches. Perhaps it’s the geography of the service - the way we set things up and use our space; or perhaps it the style of the service - either more formal, or less formal than you might be used to from where you came; or perhaps it’s the form of the service - the way we structure and order the elements of worship over the course of 90 minutes. Whatever you’ve noticed, I want to tell you that much of it is intentional, and there are important reasons for why they are the way they are.
If you’re not new here, perhaps you’ve been here for a while and find our unique way of doing things familiar, or perhaps you’ve been here so long that you remember a time when things were different and perhaps long for a time gone by. I want to take the better part of the next semester on the blog to remind you of why we do what we do, and to help you remember the very intentional reasons we have for the choices we have made. Last time we looked at the importance and purpose of our end of service prayer ministry, and this week we conclude the series with a look at how we send people out into the world at the end of the service and why a benediction is more than just a dismissal.
The Geography of Worship - what we want you to notice and experience when you walk into our space for worship
A Peculiar People; a Thankful People - why we start with the offering
Perfectly Balanced as All Things Should Be - how we consider both who we are and who we long to be when choosing a vocabulary of worship (song style and selection)
The Proclaimed Word - rediscovering the public reading of scripture
The Applied Word - why the sermon is dialogical (discussion questions matter)
The Great Unburdening - the liberating power of corporate confession
Recognizing the Body - why we take time every Sunday for the passing of the peace
A Community of Hospitality - how and why we centre the service around the open table
The Power of Presence - why the prayer and ministry time at the end of the service is not just an addendum
Sending - what we bring back into the world
When I started in ministry almost 15 years ago I worked under a senior pastor who had memorized a repertoire of biblical benedictions and would regularly cycle through them at the end of every week's service. I was impressed and dazzled, but also a little dismayed. Clearly this man, had a deep commitment to the scriptures and had allowed these words to be written upon his heart - but I didn't understand how he could cycle through the same handful of benedictions all the time and maintain a relevance with the theme and message of the service? Shouldn't every benediction connect the listener back to the lesson and application of the message? So when I had my opportunities to close the service I made that my goal, and crafted a habit of restating the application and sending people out with a reminder of how to live in response to the word.
My convictions were well thought out, and my reasoning was sound, but if I'm completely honest, the biggest reason I stuck with that format was that I found doing something more formalized to be more work than I was regularly willing to put into what I believed deep down was a throw-away part of the service. I had worked hard in the sermon to say my piece and finish strong, and the notion of restating what I had already concluded seemed tedious and repetitive. Every so often over the years I would read something new about the theology of benediction and get convicted in my soul that I wasn't doing enough, and then I would try something new for a season, only to fall back into my old habits when life got busy. But in recent years, those seasons of conviction have grown more frequent and intense, and my sense that the benediction (or sending as it might be better called) is a crucial part of the service and not just an addendum has grown to the point that it can no longer be ignored. And moreover, the way I have always done things had become out of alignment with all the other priorities and convictions that we have adopted at The Bridge Church and so this year we made a significant change to how we do sending. Allow me to explain what that is and why we do it in the space I have left.
The Sending is not a re-statement or re-application of the sermon. One of the mistakes I made over the first decade+ of my career in ministry is thinking that the sermon was the fulcrum upon which the entire worship service balanced. You can imagine how easy it is for a preacher who spends a large percentage of his week pouring himself into a carefully crafted exposition of God's word to believe that the product of that labour is the most important thing that is going to happen on Sunday morning - but I've come to realize over time that it simply is not the case. At The Bridge Church we have chosen instead to shift the emphasis of our service to the Communion table instead (a move that brings us into alignment with the overwhelming majority of Christian practice throughout history), and that decanting of the sermon throws a major wrench into the notion that the sending is for the purpose of restating the application point of the message. If indeed the sending time is to re-articulate an application of what was most important, then it needs to find its source in something other than what I say.
The Sending is not merely a dismissal either Another mistake that I have made in the past is treating the sending functionally as the ecclesial form of "class dismissed." To treat the last words of the worship service as simply instructional is to miss the theological richness of what last words can be. If we look to the example of Christ (which we should always do) his last words to his disciples have meaning and power. They are instructive, yes, but not in a way that merely conveys a to-do list of mundane instructions. They are aspirational and inspirational and motivational all at the same time. If we are to walk in the way of our Lord and Saviour then we need to model even our farewells after his.
The Sending is not merely a blessing This one is a bit harder to defend, but it is something we have chosen in our local practice to embody. In truth, the word "benediction" means "blessing," but the sending is not fully synonymous with a benediction - it contains elements of benediction, but it is more than that. And so while a blessing is an appropriate element of the time of sending at the end of the service, to reduce it to only that is to miss out on some of the richness of the form.
So what is the sending then? Well at its best, it is part of all of these things. It is a restatement of the central teaching of the worship service (which is the presentation of the Gospel around the Lord's Supper), it is a well thought out dismissal with instructional elements on how to live in the space between worship services, and it is a blessing to go with the power and blessing of Jesus. So how are we doing that at The Bridge Church? With a prayer.
This is the vision prayer of The Christian and Missionary Alliance in Canada. The family of churches of which The Bridge Church is a part. Every week we pray it together as a congregation as we conclude our sermon as a way of doing these three things. This prayer reminds us of who we are called to be - a people longing for Christ; it calls us to practical action through participation in Christ's disciple-making commission; and it proclaims a blessing on the congregation that we would be transformed in our inmost being into Christ-centred, Spirit-empowered, and Mission-focused people. This is how we are reminded of who we are, what we are to do, and how we can expect to accomplish it - and it's how we want you to leave worship every week.
In some ways, I guess that 15 years of ministry have brought me around full-circle toward a deeper appreciation of just how that first senior pastor of mine ended his service every week. Not that we are doing the same thing today, but that his practice was probably a lot closer to the mark of what a sending is supposed to be than my convictions in that same season. My hope and prayer as a pastor is that the fruits of my journey of learning will be a blessing to you as we send you out into the world week after week equipped with the good blessings of the Lord and a deep vision for his mission in the world.
This concludes our blog series on "Why we do what we do" at The Bridge Church. We hope and pray that this series will serve as an enduring resource for you to reflect upon our practices and structures so that you can yourself come to celebrate them and appreciate them as you continue to worship the King of Kings and Lord of Lords alongside us every week.