How do I get more out of Sundays at Chapel Hill?
"Let us consider how we may spur one another on towards love and good deeds," says the writer of the Book of Hebrews, "not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another."
But how do we do this? And how does this work at Chapel Hill?
I don’t know much about art. But my wife Emily does. We look at a painting in a gallery and in about thirty seconds I drift off. But Emily can spend an age looking at small details, little intricacies in the art work that look absolutely meaningless to me. It’s only once she expains to me the context, the background, the history, the techniques that I fully appreciate what I’m looking at - and suddenly the painting just pops.
The same thing can happen with church. What exactly am I looking at here? Why does stuff happen the way it does? What things should I be on the look out for so that our services can really ‘pop’?
It might be counterintuitive, but Christians have almost always talked about what happens at church (the ‘liturgy’) as a story we act out. And If our Sunday church meeting is ultimately a story we act out it is always God who is the main character, not us.
There are lots of details in our church services you might miss that speak of the gospel story we act out each Sunday morning at Chapel Hill. Like an art expert appraising an artwork, Christians in a post-christendom world need to train themselves to see these details and learn to immerse themselves once more in God’s great story.
So what should I be looking for?
Welcome, Call to Worship, and Prayer
We begin our time with a welcome from our Service Leader. We never start church at Chapel Hill with “so I hope you’ve had a great week!” Whatever week people have had is not why church matters. God is why church matters and we need to stop listening to ourselves and start listening to him. As we begin the aim is to prepare our hearts to meet God through his Word. This can happen through a 'call to worship', a short reading from scripture chosen to focus us not on ourselves and how we're feeling but on God and his unchanging, loving character. The Service Leader will then pray, thanking God for his fatherly kindness and asking that we would have hearts willing to listen to his Word.
Next, we sing. The Book of Psalms is full of music to God and the Apostle Paul told the church in Ephesus to encourage one another with "Psalms, hymns and spiritual songs" (Ephesians 5:19). At this point in the service we sing songs that particularly praise God for who he is, reminding ourselves of the God we worship and who we are as his people.
Prayers of the Church/Interview
The message of the Gospel is handed on from one generation to the next. As Christians we are supposed to be faithful to the good news of Jesus we have received it from those who went before us. This is why after singing we stand and say together the creeds of the Church, declarations of what it means to be a Christian. We say bits of the Apostles’ Creed, and the Heidelberg Catechism, as well as the Lord's Prayer. Sometimes we have an interview at this time too.
Prayer of Petition
Having been reminded who God is, we are ready to present our requests to Him. Depending on the week, we ask His fatherly care for our congregation, our neighbourhood, our country, our world, and the global Church.
Bible Reading/Kids Out
We are ready to hear the Word read. The Service Leader will read the passage for the day's sermon. Children are part of God's family and so join us up till this point, but here they head out to Kids' Church.
Sermon/Prayer of Response
We hear God's Word preached. The preacher explains God's Word and helps us to internalise it in our own lives. To finish he leads us in prayer so that we might respond faithfully to what we have heard.
We sing again, but this time as a response to God speaking to us through his Word. The kids come back from Kid’s Church here so that can be included in the Lord’s Supper and the end of the service.
The first Sunday of every month we celebrate the Lord's Supper: a sacrament (a remembrance) that reenacts Jesus' last meal with his disciples before his death. Who we are is not about who or how we feel but depends on who God declares us to be. It is in this remembering and hearing God speak that we discover who we really are. And so the Lord's Supper declares who we are as Christians: people reunited with God into a community deeper and wider than family, politics or anything else.
The Service Leader will call our attention to some announcements in our bulletin. This happens here because we have heard God's Word and are ready to be 'sent' back into the world to live the coming week for God's glory. After the announcements the Service Leader ends the service with a verse of Scripture.
So how do I get more out of Sundays at Chapel Hill?
At Chapel Hill we want every part of our service to speak the gospel. Because God’s the hero and we’re just bit-characters, how we feel doesn't determine how Sunday goes. It’s all about who God is and who he declares us to be. Whatever sort of weeks we have had, we prepare our hearts to hear God speak his unchanging words into our lives, then listen and respond.