Steve Macchia Blog

Liturgies

I call myself an EpiscoBaptiPentaGationalist. My worship preferences have changed over the years, and my love for the variety of styles in the body of Christ has correspondingly deepened. I grew up in a Congregational Church (UCC). My beloved hero grandfather introduced me to worship in a Lutheran Church (Missouri Synod). College years were in a Reformed Church (RCA). I was ordained in an Independent Baptist-like Church (Grace Chapel). In my previous leadership post (Vision New England) and now at LTI we work with dozens of denominations. And, for the past two years my wife and I find ourselves worshiping most Sunday mornings with Episcopal Monks in a Cambridge (MA) Monastery.

In each of these settings, there exists a particular liturgy. A liturgy is what a church customarily does in their worship service at approximately the same time and place within the hour (or so) that the community gathers. Also considered a set of ritual practices, liturgies are found in all traditions, even in those church settings not generally considered “liturgical.” For example, even in the most contemporary worship services, the opening song set occurs generally at the same time and in the designated tempos (i.e. a song of praise, followed by one of thanks, ending in a more serious tone of confession). The prayers, offering, and sermon happen at roughly the same time each week. The public reading of the Scriptures occur from about the same place in the order of service and usually by the same person or representative member of the team.

Yes, liturgies exist in 99% of the churches we attend. Pay attention to your own church over the next several weeks and notice the ritual. Some would see liturgies as boring, redundant, and lifeless. However, I am of the opinion that liturgies are good for the soul of the congregation and the souls of the congregants. Although I encourage pastors and worship leaders to consider ways to creatively change up their normal order of service, I find the liturgy of worship something that comforts worshipers and provides a structure by which the people of God are guided into a shared awareness of the presence, power, and peace of Almighty God.

What part of the liturgy of your church’s worship means the most to you? This past week I found several aspects of the worship service which were most meaningful to my soul, especially the recitation of the Nicene Creed, singing the Lord’s Prayer, and savoring the Eucharist meal. I also enjoy holding the hymnal with my wife, as there’s something special about seeing each other’s thumbs holding down our respective pages. And, listening to the reading of the Gospel seemed to penetrate my heart in a special way too. The time together with this eclectic group of hungry souls was particularly rich. I left the sanctuary renewed and grateful.

Not only do our liturgies provide important structure for the worship life of our congregations. But, they remind us of the importance of liturgies that define our broader experiences as Christ followers in all aspects of our life. In essence, there are “liturgies” we follow at work, in the home, among family and friends, and in our personal lives. Crafting a rule of life provides a way for us to consider and reconsider our personal liturgies, keeping in place what gives us life, removing what’s detrimental, and including new practices that foster the relationships and rhythms that enhance our life in Christ.

In this coming week, why not look carefully at the liturgies that define your worship life, and consider prayerfully the liturgies that release the kind of life God is inviting you to pursue humbly and for His glory? What you’ll discover are elements of a Rule of Life…part of the corporate rule of life practiced by your congregation and elements of the personal rule of life you are fulfilling as a pilgrim on a journey toward love and faithfulness to God. Be sure to choose liturgies that create, redeem, sustain, and ultimately transform your life!



Coxswain Leadership

The Head of the Charles Regatta is often referred to as “The Rowers Christmas” – a time when rowers of all ages, from around the globe, gather in Cambridge, Massachusetts for their annual international reunion. From youth to senior adults, college and university teams, and representatives from regional and citywide boat clubs, thousands of rowers and their fans descend upon the city of Boston and neighboring Cambridge to race on the legendary Charles River. It’s a beautiful site for all spectators who line the river from end to end to witness this unique sport.

My wife and I recently met some of the rowers who raced the previous day. They gave us the inside story about the history of the race, the significance of it for rowers worldwide, the demanding schedule for preparation, and even showed us their blistered hands…with pride and joy! We were delighted to hear about the regatta from those who experience it first hand, and have done so for many years. Since it was a gorgeous weekend in New England to race this October, they compared it with previous years when heavy rains, blistering temperatures (both highs and lows), and challenging river conditions, made the race all the more challenging. This year all the elements combined together to create a positive experience for all.

The person I enjoyed chatting with the most was the “coxswain” – who happened to be the smallest one in the group. This is the person who huddles down low and issues commands to the rowers, who are turned the opposite way and provide instructions to the rowers to ensure racing strength and speed for the boat. Those in singles and doubles competition don’t have a coxswain, and need to navigate the accuracy of their races on their own. But, in boats with teams of four or eight rowers, a coxswain is essential for guiding them across the water toward the finish line safely.

A most unusual name, coxswain is the person in charge of navigating and steering the boat. The etymology of the word comes literally from “boat servant” since it comes from cox, a coxboat or other small vessel kept aboard a larger ship, and swain, which is an Old English term meaning boy or servant. In rowing, the coxswain sits in either the bow or the stern of the boat (depending on the type of boat) and verbally controls the boat’s steering, speed, timing, and fluidity. The primary duty of a coxswain is to ensure the safety of those in the boat. In a race setting, the coxswain is tasked with motivating the crew as well as steering as straight of a course as possible to minimize the distance to the finish line. Coxswains are also responsible for knowing proper rowing technique and running drills to improve technique.

All who work with leaders and teams, like we do at Leadership Transformations, can quickly derive the association of coxswain leadership to servant leadership. To be a good coxswain, you work from a smaller placement in the boat and sit lower than the rowers (exercising humility), must keep your eyes and ears open for safety sake (be shepherd-like and protective), serve as a motivator of those doing the rowing (providing encouragement), and give guidance to those on the front line of the competition (coaching and attending), in order for the boat and its rowers to successfully complete the race (offering persevering hope for the team).

Jesus invites us in church and ministry leadership to be coxswain in our efforts too. When we exercise humility, be shepherd-like and protective, provide ongoing encouragement, coach attentively, and offer persevering hope to our team…then we are leading as a servant, with our eyes not on ourselves, but toward the goal and always for the sake of the team.

All of this is in keeping with the coxswain-like words of Jesus, “Whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:44,45).

That’s the kind of leader I want to be…what about you?



Free Manure

There’s this crazy sign on the side of the road that makes me smile each time I drive by…simply put, it reads “Free Manure.”

I’ve yet to stop and take advantage of the deal. But, the sign’s always there no matter the season of the year. And, quite noticeable to all passers by. What intrigues me the most is the story behind the sign…who lives up that driveway, and why was the sign put there in the first place? Does someone bag it up and there it sits for anyone who turns off the road and stops for their supply? Is it from horses, cattle, pigs, chickens, turkeys, or other animals (it certainly wouldn’t be human waste…or could it be)? Is it for gardens of all kinds, or most appropriate for certain plants?

Manure is organic matter for organic growth, most specifically for agricultural purposes. Manures contribute to the fertility of the soil, adding organic nutrients such as nitrogen, and contributes effectively to the chain of life in the soil food web. Bottom line…it adds humus to the soil. And humus is good for inspiring growth of all plant life.

So, I’m assuming that the person behind the sign is someone who cares about organic growth – the sign maker recently added two words “go green” so I’m pretty convinced that verifies my assumption. But, I wonder if his/her spouse embraces this home marker/welcome mat and likes the sign too? And, if there are children in the family, how do they feel about describing their house location as the one “on route 1A at the free manure sign on the right”? Can you imagine the conversations this sign has evoked?

Across the street and down the road a bit is a local church. What if someone put the “Free Manure” sign outside the church entrance one day? It might be a creative trick to play on the church, but it most certainly would not be very funny to the congregants. Or, should it be?

If the church really cares about organic growth, then all manure-of-life should be welcomed…and then set free to be given away (at the foot of the cross) and redeemed for good (eternal) purposes. Consider the following: when the manure of our life is brought before the Lord and becomes soil for our soul…it becomes humility. When we’re willing to get close to it with all its filth and stench…it’s amazing to see how it can be redeemed for creating new life and then prosper in the service of others. Yes, freed up manure – the dirty stuff of our lives that isn’t very pretty, when welcomed at the doorstep of the church, is what frequently produces humble confession, forgiveness, renewal, and organic transformation in the hearts and lives of broken-yet-restored people.

What about for you? Are you willing to acknowledge your own sinfulness and then set your manure by the side of the road of grace to be taken away by Jesus for free? If so, then you’ll be able to watch with joy how it gets buried among the good soil, seeded for healthy growth, and then harvested from deep within your soul 60, 100 times more than what was previously planted! Jesus the Redeemer died so that your humus and mine, your idiosyncracies, bad habits, wayward ways, and pridefulness could all be considered dung for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus our Lord (Phil. 3:8).

Free manure…such a deal.



Crack Down on Gossip

When the newly elected Pope Francis declared that the Vatican had become a
hotbed of intrigue and power struggles, he instructed his policemen at the
Vatican to “crack down on gossip” within the walls of the holy city. He
defined gossip as “the devil’s work, a forbidden language, and a war waged
with the tongue.” He told the gendarmes gathered for mass that day to tell
gossipers they catch in the act, “Here there can be none of that!”

“Good for him!” I thought to myself as I read this news report. It made me
consider how deadly gossip can be for any church or ministry. The Bible
references a gossiper as a backbiter, busybody, slanderer, talebearer, and
whisperer. Gossip spreads rumors or secrets, speaking about someone
maliciously behind their back or repeating something about someone else
that you have no right to repeat. A gossiper is a person who has
privileged information about people and proceeds to reveal that
information to those who have no business knowing it.

Lest we think the Vatican is the only place where gossip exists, don’t be
fooled. Gossip is in your church, ministry, city, neighborhood, in your
home, and of far greater significance, in your own heart and sometimes
even on your lips. Are you willing to declare such an admission? Does it
bother you enough to do something about it?

Pope Francis sees the problem and wants it eradicated from his church. His
leadership reminds me of St. Benedict, who in the year 500 AD sought to do
likewise among his followers, reminding them that at times “a little
strictness” of discipline among the brethren will be enforced in order to
“safeguard love” in the community. What the pope is doing today is
exercising “a little strictness” by asking his Vatican police to hold the
faithful to a higher standard of love and cease any form of gossip.

The Bible is replete with detailed reminders about the damaging affects of
gossip. “A dishonest man spreads strife, and a whisperer separates close
friends” (Prov. 16:28). “Whoever goes about slandering reveals secrets,
but he who is trustworthy in spirit keeps a thing covered” (Prov. 11:13)
therefore, do not associate with a simple babbler (Prov. 20:19). “As
charcoal to hot embers and wood to fire, so is a quarrelsome man for
kindling strife” (Prov. 26:20). Other places to consider: Psalms 41:7;
Prov. 25:23; Rom. 1: 28-32; 2 Cor. 12:20; 1 Tim. 3:9-11, 5: 13-14; 2 Tim.
3:1-5…just to name a few more.

Any words that come out of an untamed tongue are likened to a feather
pillow, opened and released from a window on a windy day…free to roam as
far as the wind will carry them, and nearly impossible to recollect back
into the pillow case. The damage of gossip is beyond control, outrageous
in the net negative effect upon all who are connected directly or
indirectly.

“A perverse man stirs up dissension, and a gossip separates close friends”
(Prov. 16:28). Many a friendship has been ruined by a misunderstanding
that began with gossip. Sadly, some people thrive on this and look for
opportunities to hurt or destroy the reputation of another, causing anger,
bitterness, and pain in relationships. To bring it to an end is a
challenge in many settings today. But certainly not impossible.

Some practical suggestions for avoiding gossip: don’t associate with those
you know to be a lover of gossip; when someone starts to gossip, quickly
change the subject to something more positive; stay as far away from
gossip as possible; if you’ve fallen into gossip, ask God to help
change your heart and redirect your mind and words; when you are a
victim of gossip, seek every way possible to lovingly confront the parties
spreading the rumor and cease it as swiftly as possible.

Bottom line…gossip is a matter of the heart. “A fool’s mouth is his
undoing, and his lips are a snare to his soul” (Prov. 18:7). In fact
gossip is a blatant sin against God and one’s neighbor. Will you take up
the mantle of bold leadership among your community and seek to eradicate
it? Or, will you let it continue untamed in your midst? My simple
suggestion: it’s time to humbly, prayerfully, and firmly crack down on
gossip! I trust you agree.