GCI Update

Ordering our worship

This “From the President” letter is by GCI Vice President Greg Williams.

Dear Pastors and Ministry Leaders:

Greg and Susan Williams

Is there a particular way that worship services in the church should be conducted? That’s not a new question—the apostle Paul addressed it in his first letter to the church in Corinth. Their services had become contentious and chaotic, and Paul wanted to help them solve the problem. He did so by noting that, while their desire to exercise their spiritual gifts in worship was commendable, they must do so in ways that build up the church rather than causing division and confusion (1 Cor. 14:26, 33). Paul exhorted them to conduct their worship in “a fitting and orderly way” (1 Cor. 14:40). Believing that Paul’s exhortation is relevant for us today, I encourage all our pastors to gather with their leaders (including those who plan and direct worship) to evaluate their worship services.

History of worship liturgy

Let me share some relevant history. As various worship traditions developed, some churches and whole denominations adopted a “liturgical” approach to structuring their worship services, while others adopted an approach called “non-liturgical.” By definition, liturgical churches follow a set liturgy (order of worship). Some utilize a “high liturgy” that is fully-scripted while others have a “low liturgy” that, being less-scripted, allows more flexibility. Non-liturgical churches, while still having an order of services, are even more flexible. Historically, many Protestant churches became non-liturgical—not because they were against order in their worship, but because they did not like what they felt was the excessive ritual of the liturgy practiced in their day.

Whether liturgical (high or low) or non-liturgical, all churches (whether acknowledging it or not) have a liturgy—some sort of “order” to their worship. That’s good because a lack of order can lead to the chaos Paul addressed in 1 Corinthians 14. Interestingly, there is a movement today among some non-liturgical churches to return to certain elements of the ancient, more formal liturgy of the church (click here and here for more information). They find that this shift makes their worship more appealing and inspiring to both regular attenders and visitors.

GCI’s history and a challenge for us today

Historically, worship in GCI (reaching back to WCG and beyond) followed a highly structured, standardized order. With our reformation came greater flexibility in how our congregations ordered their worship services. However, it is my observation that in adopting a less structured approach, some of our services have become somewhat chaotic and thus not as edifying as they need to be. Given that situation, I ask all our pastors and fellowship group facilitators to gather with their leaders to examine how they are conducting their worship services. Here are some questions to ask:

  • Do our services focus on who God is as revealed in Jesus?
  • Do they reflect the communal nature of our triune God who exists in harmony and unity?
  • Are our services uplifting and hope-filled, or are they uninspiring?
  • Do all aspects of our worship build up the church, or is there confusion and chaos?
  • Do all who are open to hearing the gospel (including non-Christians) feel welcome in our services?

Conducting this evaluation and making needed changes will take careful and intentional effort. That’s appropriate since the root words of liturgy mean “the work of the people.” Wanting to assist you in that work, we have published in this issue an article that addresses worship in GCI congregations. It includes a standard order of services (liturgy) that, though not required, is strongly recommended. Over the next six months in GCI Equipper, we’ll publish additional articles that will provide further guidance to help you discern the Spirit’s direction concerning your worship services. As you go through this time of discernment and restructuring, I encourage pastors to discuss their insights and plans with their Regional Pastor (U.S.) or Regional Director (elsewhere).

Points to ponder about congregational life

Though our worship services are vital, they are only one part of a congregation’s life. With this broader perspective in mind, as pastors gather with their leadership teams to evaluate their liturgy, I challenge them to also evaluate some other key issues. To help them do so, I’ve listed below some points to ponder. It’s my observation that we’ve tended to overlook some (many?) of these issues. Perhaps that’s because we’ve been (necessarily) focused on doctrinal and theological renewal over the past several years. I believe it’s now time to attend to these other issues as we enter a new season of living out of the loving, inclusive relationship we have through Jesus in the power of the Spirit.

  • If your congregation is functioning more like a small group (with high levels of interaction and sharing of the leadership/facilitation role), it’s likely that you should consider yourself a “fellowship group” rather than a “church” that provides a well-planned and executed worship service. Healthy churches need to have a combination of both well-executed worship services as well as small group gatherings where disciples are enriched, and depth of community is built. Please be satisfied with what you can currently offer, and trust the Lord for the future growth you desire.
  • If you are holding your primary worship service on Saturday, that puts you out of step with most of GCI and the rest of the Christian world. Doing so sends a misleading signal about who GCI is. While circumstances may have prevented some GCI congregations from moving to Sunday services, making that change should now be a priority. In my far and wide GCI travels, I have rarely experienced a strong, vibrant and growing GCI church that is meeting on Saturday.
  • If you are meeting at an awkward time of day that makes it hard for people to gather, then you need to make a course correction.
  • If you are gathering in a hall that is difficult to locate and is out of the flow of normal activity, then consider how to improve your location, and find a target community to be immersed in.
  • If you are renting space in a church building that is owned by another congregation/denomination, consider the problems you face with identity. Is it clear that you are a congregation of a separate denomination?
  • If you have a rotating speaking schedule with multiple preachers, it’s likely that you are in “maintenance mode,” lacking cohesive leadership and vision for your church. The lead pastor should preach a minimum of three times per month, and it is even better if they preach five out of six weeks.
  • If your lead pastor also fills the role of “chief deacon,” then members need to step up. Perhaps the pastor needs to let some things go.
  • If you have people conducting the musical aspects of your worship (instrumental and/or vocal) who are not musically gifted, something needs to change. Get people involved in worship, but in accordance with their giftedness.
  • If your weekly worship service is structured in accordance with GCI’s past tradition, and hasn’t been examined in a long time, now is the time for a “come to Jesus” meeting! Take a good, hard look and have the difficult conversations. You will be glad you did!

Once again, I encourage pastors to discuss their findings concerning these points with their immediate supervisor. Let us work together as a team to bring improvements to the worship and other aspects of congregational life in our churches and fellowship groups. Thank you for your cooperation.

Your brother in Christ,
Greg Williams, GCI Vice President

Visits “down under”

Joseph, Tammy and Greg attend conference in Australia

Joseph and Tammy Tkach and Greg Williams recently attended a conference for GCI pastors and members held in Australia’s Gold Coast. They joined more than 230 people attending from six countries. The conference provided an opportunity to say “farewell” to outgoing President Joseph Tkach and his wife Tammy, and to welcome Greg Williams, who will become GCI president at the end of this year.

The conference was a wonderfully warm occasion for fellowship and learning. As one participant noted, “What an excellent conference. We love our church, and are grateful for the journey we have shared. We are going away encouraged and motivated to continue in faith, hope and love with renewed clarity and enthusiasm.” Another said, “We loved the interview format and learned so much. We appreciate the prayerful and professional transition taking place—so good to see the relationship between Joe and Greg.” As shown in the picture below, a highlight of the conference was the ordination of Daphne Sidney.

Joseph Tkach shared this concerning the conference:

Tammy and I thoroughly enjoyed our visit to Queensland for our Australian Conference. It was like a family reunion and a celebration! The praise music and the worship were excellent, and the food and fellowship were abundant. Even though I retire this year, we are planning a return visit in the future.

The McLeans and Tkachs

Greg Williams shared this:

I was overwhelmed by how receptive and welcoming the people were toward me. It was a lovely reunion since my last visit to Australia was in 1982 for SEP. I noticed among our members a deep appreciation about our past and a very positive spirit about our future. Daphne’s ordination, which reflects her deeper dive into ministry, was exciting. She has wonderful experiences and skill sets that should serve our Australian pastors and churches very well.

Greg visits New Zealand

Greg addressing members

Prior to meeting up with Joseph and Tammy in Australia, Greg spent three days visiting members and leaders in New Zealand. In church services during the visit, Greg gave a sermon titled “The Big Picture” in which he gave an overview of his vision for GCI’s future. He addressed the goal of developing healthy churches and outlined other goals as well as the structure and culture of GCI going forward. Pastor Dennis Richards submitted this report about Greg’s visit:

What a joy it was to have Greg Williams swing by Wellington, one of GCI’s most southerly congregations. Our gathering started with a finger-foods lunch allowing all to stand around and chat, so by the time services began, Greg had already met many who came. Our service began with an informal Mihi (greetings) given by Louis Smith in Maori, Samoan and English, followed by an explanation of the Maori welcoming customs by Janis Murton, who also spoke in Maori and English. At the heart of Greg’s sermon were his projections for advancing our vision for living and sharing the gospel, and how what he foresees for our future connects to and emerges from what has been accomplished under Joseph Tkach’s leadership. Generally, the word afterward was how much all were encouraged by the message, and how much each appreciated his effort in coming so far to visit us.

Greg with the congregation in Wellington

Youth camps in the Philippines

GCI in the Philippines conducts multiple youth camps (called SEP) each year. Click the links below for reports from two recently completed camps:

Outreach in Waltham

Grace Christian Church, GCI’s congregation in Waltham, MA (Boston area), recently conducted a community-wide event called the Kaleidoscope Festival. According to GCI Pastor Dishon Mills, the congregation established and coordinated the event—determining its theme and theological foundation, designing its logo and other graphics, recruiting other event partners, securing donations for raffles, recruiting vendors, obtaining necessary city permits, recruiting and managing volunteers, setting up the space, and providing advertising. Dishon gave this report:

God has gifted our church to be multigenerational and multiethnic, and we wanted to share that with our community. We also heard from our community that many people were feeling our society was getting more and more divided. In particular, Waltham recently had a few ugly incidents as it adapts to its changing demographics. The Holy Spirit used all these things to guide us to create an event that would celebrate diversity and seek to heal man-made divisions. In addition to the joy that comes from participating in the work that Jesus is doing, our members got to build relationships with dozens of our neighbors. Since the event emphasized open conversation, we got to talk about the gospel in a relaxed, welcoming environment. We incentivized visiting the various community engagement tables, so most guests got to talk with someone who was different from them. Since God made us for relationship, this is part of what living and sharing the gospel means to us.

Police officer (at left) with Dishon Mills

One of our volunteers, who is currently homeless and having a lot of family problems, was beaming throughout the event because it made her feel seen and useful. Another volunteer, one of our members, had a 45-minute conversation with a man about Jesus. The conversation started with him saying he didn’t believe in God and ended with him saying he wanted to visit our church. I had a wonderful conversation with a man who had negative experiences with religion. Interacting with us and being at the event made him want to hear more about our church. I will be having lunch with him soon. We had similar conversations throughout the festival. A captain in the Waltham police force told me that the city needs more events like this and he would be happy to be involved in the future.

Our church received a lot more visibility in the community as a result of this festival. As we continue to reach out, we believe we will become known as “the church that creates community.” Though sharing the gospel is our primary goal, we feel that events like this will attract people to our congregation due to the relationships that are being formed.

Here is a video from the festival:

On YouTube at https://youtu.be/YD8czI8uPTA.

Worship in GCI congregations

Here is information about GCI’s standard approach to worship found on the GCI Resources website.

The worship of God is central to the church. Through its worship services, GCI seeks to glorify God and edify those who attend by proclaiming the gospel through Scripture reading, preaching and singing; the administration of the sacraments (baptism and the Lord’s Supper); praise and intercession in prayer; and the giving of offerings.

Gospel-focused worship pattern

Along with many others in the body of Christ, worship in GCI follows the Christ-centered and gospel-shaped pattern of the Western Christian calendar as detailed in the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL). This pattern of worship is organized around a weekly celebration of the gospel (see the recommended order of services below) that is typically held on Sunday, the day the risen Lord Jesus was first encountered. As shown in the diagram and list below, the worship pattern then includes several annual celebrations that highlight key aspects of our Lord’s life and ministry along with other key aspects of the gospel.

  • Advent (four Sundays preceding Christmas)
  • Christmas eve and Christmas day
  • The season of Christmas (Christmas through January 5)
  • Epiphany Sunday
  • Transfiguration Sunday
  • Ash Wednesday
  • Lent (Ash Wednesday through Palm Sunday)
  • Holy Week services:
    • Palm Sunday (celebrated as Passion Sunday when there are no Maundy Thursday and/or Good Friday services)
    • Maundy Thursday
    • Good Friday
    • Holy Saturday (Easter Vigil)
    • Easter Sunday
  • Easter season (Easter through Pentecost)
  • Ascension Sunday
  • Pentecost Sunday
  • Trinity Sunday
  • All Saints’ Sunday (Sunday after All Saints’ Day)
  • Christ the King Sunday

Liturgies for church services & ceremonies

To assist congregations in following its standard worship pattern and content, GCI publishes RCL-synced sermons in GCI Equipper (click here to access) and the liturgies linked below for worship services and church ceremonies.

Flexibility granted

GCI congregations may adapt the denomination’s standard liturgies to accommodate local customs and needs (though the basic formats and content should be followed). Congregations may also adapt GCI’s standard pattern of worship, though all should provide services that celebrate Jesus’ birth during the Christmas season and his resurrection during the Easter season. It is then recommended that the other key events in Christ’s life (see the list above) be celebrated in a weekly worship service at the designated time of year.

GCI congregations may hold their primary weekly worship service on any day of the week, though Sunday is the norm. Also, congregations may determine how often to offer the Lord’s Supper, though it should be offered no less than quarterly, and at least once during Holy Week. Offering the Lord’s Supper every week is recommended.

In making decisions concerning adaptations to GCI’s standard worship pattern and liturgies, congregational leaders should seek divine guidance, understanding that worship is the divinely created response to the glory of the triune God revealed in Jesus Christ. Here is a suggested order of services (click the image to enlarge):

Owen Willis

We recently requested prayer for Owen Willis, GCI Pastor in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada (click here for the original request). Here is an update from Owen:

I am deeply grateful for all the cards and kind concern from all over the world regarding my eye injury. I am making good progress in a slow recuperative process. The eye will not see again (without an unprecedented miracle!) and the main decision up ahead may be whether to keep the eye or not. I have low-grade, bearable pain, need to sleep every five or six hours, and am extremely light-sensitive (necessitating wearing two pairs of sunglasses outdoors). I have struggled for many years with my eyes, and the vision in my “good” eye, which has had two corneal transplants, is quite compromised. I hope to return to church before the end of the year. My wife Tina has been an angel. Without her, I cannot imagine what the last month would have been like.

Cards may be sent to:

Owen and Tina Willis
5845 St. Margarets Bay Rd.
Head of St. Margarets Bay, NS  B3Z 2E3

New GCI.org website

At www.gci.org you’ll find GCI’s new denominational website that is formatted to work with computers, tablets and smartphones. Let us know in the “add a comment” box below what you think. If you are having difficulty finding features and articles, use the search feature found at the top-right corner of each page (tip: when entering a word or title to search for, leave out all punctuation marks).

To access the GCI.online (member) website, scroll to the bottom of any page where you’ll find the member login function (circled in red in the picture below). You can also access the site directly by going to https://online.gci.org/

U.S. pastor installed

We are pleased to announce that Carrie Osborne, daughter of GCI Pastor Tom Smith and his wife Pam, after serving as a GCI Intern, Pastoral Resident and member of a pastoral team, was installed recently by Regional Pastor Rick Shallenberger as the Lead Pastor of Voice of Hope, GCI’s congregation in Chillicothe, OH. Here is a picture from Carrie’s installation celebration: