Drs Peter Wagner1, Donald McGavran2 and other main teachers and scholars of the church growth movement stressed three contexts of corporate Christian faith engagement and worship expression: celebration, congregation and cell.
Experience and enjoy God and his people by biblical engagement. Look at the biblical pattern of festivals, feasts, and psalms; see rejoicing people relishing the deep gladness of being alive, as one of God’s children engaging in celebration with others. Celebration‘s our response to public worship with ‘God in Mind’. A response we make through three personal and corporate biblical practices: prayer, presence, and proclamation
Prayer as celebration
While we pray in our ‘congregations’ and gathered cell groups, the practice of Baptistic celebration prayer is an historical distinctive. Prayer as a prophetic engagement, where God not only hears us, we hear him. Public prayers are celebration’s rhythm and voice.
Prayer is one of those things we do, and often tell ourselves we should do more often. Some even confess, “While I kinda don’t believe in God, I said a prayer, just in case.”
In music, rhythm is the ordered flow of the music through time, or the pattern of durations in notes and silences in music. One isolated beat does not make a rhythm—that’s a sound—but neither does silence; silence comes between notes. It’s just like that with prayer and prayers. Prayer is rhythm, rhythmic and offers an infinite variety of rhythms.
Prayer is something we grow in, grow by and grow with. As with music, there are more people who develop musical appreciation than those who attain any level of proficiency in music’s performance skills. Musical appreciation is something many grow in, grow by and grow with. So too with prayer and prayers: we grow in our prayer appreciation.
The rhythms of music are enjoyed or experienced in private or personal settings and public ones; so too are prayer and prayers.
Like music, prayer and prayers are important public concerts… we know those concerts as church services. When you go to a concert or ‘gig’, you expect music; when you gather as church in celebration, expect prayer. We go to public musical events to hear music and get caught into the rhythm. Enjoying music privately is cool, yet so true is the common saying “there’s nothing like going to a live performance.” Getting caught up with others into the soul of the music, its atmosphere and rhythmic expectations, is renewing and refreshing; we become part of the music. You leave and the rhythm goes with you; it’s alive in you. It can be just like that with our public prayer and prayers in gatherings. Go along and find out afresh… go celebrate.
Presence in celebration
God responds into celebration. While we invite/evoke his presence, divine participation in celebration is not haphazard. God is with us. He is present. Knowing God is present in our ‘gathered presence’ tells us he is both present in celebration and active among us by his Spirit. As we celebrate, seek, listen, pray, worship and respond, our faith and life perspectives are renewed and re-orientated.
Celebration requires exercising (or practising) questioning as a spiritual discipline—a discipline that will keep us focused in God’s active presence in celebration. Am I keeping mind and body in the same place? Am I ‘tracking’ with the Spirit? In Psalm 139:1-6 David asked and answered these questions really well…
God, investigate my life;
get all the facts firsthand.
I’m an open book to you;
even from a distance, you know what I’m thinking.
You know when I leave and when I get back;
I’m never out of your sight.
You know everything I’m going to say
before I start the first sentence.
I look behind me and you’re there,
then up ahead and you’re there, too—
your reassuring presence, coming and going.
This is too much, too wonderful—
I can’t take it all in! (MSG)
We don’t go to celebration to hide in the crowd… we are there to ‘hear in the crowd’.
Proclamation is celebration
Celebration is proclamation. It is the act of proclaiming. It is an active accomplishment, making known that which is true, available and realisable. Jesus’ own gospel amounted to a direct proclamation: God’s Kingdom has broken into human affairs. “The Kingdom of God is not about going to heaven when we die; it involves God’s reign working its way into the here and now.”3 Celebration is not an end in itself; proclamation is celebration’s call to ongoing reorientation and realisation. In Acts 2:40-47 Peter went on proclaim into the church’s first celebration event.
He [Peter] went on in this vein for a long time, urging them over and over, “Get out while you can; get out of this sick and stupid culture!”
That day about three thousand took him at his word, were baptized and were signed up. They committed themselves to the teaching of the apostles, the life together, the common meal, and the prayers.
Everyone around was in awe—all those wonders and signs done through the apostles! And all the believers lived in a wonderful harmony, holding everything in common. They sold whatever they owned and pooled their resources so that each person’s need was met.
They followed a daily discipline of worship in the Temple followed by meals at home, every meal a celebration, exuberant and joyful, as they praised God. People in general liked what they saw. Every day their number grew as God added those who were saved. (MSG)
Contributor: Dr John Douglas
John, an associate pastor at Bethlehem Baptist Church, is a pastoral theologian/ministry educator who serves as a pastor, church consultant, mentor/spiritual director, ecumenical leader, church planting adviser, and ministry development leader. He’s also engaged through various memberships and chairperson roles on national and international boards and commissions.
- C. Peter Wagner, Your Church Can Grow: Seven Vital Signs of a Healthy Church (Glendale, CA: Regal Books, 1976).
- Donald A. McGavran, Understanding Church Growth, rev. ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1980).
- Joseph C. Dillow, The Reign of the Servant Kings (3rd edition) (NC: Schoettle, 1991).
All Scripture quotations are taken from THE MESSAGE, copyright © 1993, 2002, 2018 by Eugene H. Peterson. Used by permission of NavPress. All rights reserved. Represented by Tyndale House Publishers, a Division of Tyndale House Ministries.