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How Mission Partnerships Can Deepen Worship

Maybe your church always has many people plan and lead worship. But that World Communion Sunday service was special for Faith Presbyterian Church in Emmaus, Pennsylvania. It showed how their long partnership with a Presbyterian parish in Kenya is opening people to rethink stewardship, lead in worship, and share faith stories.

A video before the call to worship pictured the recent intergenerational mission trip. The 15 mission trip members chose songs they’d heard in Kenyan churches, including “Mungu Yu Mwema (God Is So Good).” The candle holder on the communion table was a gift from Kenya. Three teens and an adult gave the sermon.

Maybe your church always has many people plan and lead worship. But that World Communion Sunday service was special for Faith Presbyterian Church in Emmaus, Pennsylvania. It showed how their long partnership with a Presbyterian parish in Kenya is opening people to rethink stewardship, lead in worship, and share faith stories

Stewardship is about Everything

Faith Church began in the 1950s, when people assumed it was the minister’s job to plan and lead worship. “The Riamakurwe Parish partnership was life changing for the prior pastor. He came home believing that lay people ought to be invited to pray in worship,” says interim pastor Roberta J. Kearney.

Now volunteer worship assistants lead responsive calls to worship and prayers of adoration and confession. Deacons and elders open and close in prayer. Kearney says that most write out their prayers because they’re not comfortable praying extemporaneously.

During their summer 2010 mission trip, adults and youth got asked on the spot to pray, read Scripture, or sing. “I had a cold so my voice was cracked and scratchy. They loved my singing anyway. They dance and sing so much in their worship. I’d been a little nervous that I’d be uncomfortable but I felt like I fit in. Maybe that was something God intended for me to experience. I miss their jubilant worship in Kenya,” Rachel Shussett said during her part of the World Communion Sunday sermon.

Rachel’s dad, Steve Shussett, found out minutes ahead that he’d be giving a sermon in Kenya, and that someone would translate sentence by sentence for him.

“The Kenyans’ witness to us is that stewardship is not simply money, but about everything. It is the lifestyle of discipleship. It is joyful giving of all we have, and all we are, to love God, neighbor, and self. It’s thinking more of loving God than embarrassing yourself when asked to give in worship,” he blogged.

From Small Beginnings

Faith members learn from Kenyans’ Sunday worship and daily group devotions. “Hearing those freewheeling wise prayers helps us realize we don’t need everything perfectly scripted,” Kearney says. She welcomes the worship committee to take on more responsibility for planning and leading worship, choosing music, and so on.

Members value visiting Riamakurwe Parish, hosting Kenyan visitors, and sending Faith youth and their adult leaders on annual workcamp mission adventures in the U.S. “This is an incredibly generous church,” Kearney notes.

Still, as in many churches, people more easily talk about logistics—rooms painted, wheelchair ramps built, health cases treated—than what they’re learning about following Jesus. “We’ve done a lot of debriefing and discipleship to help articulate the power and meaning of mission partnerships,” Kearney says.

In his sermon remarks, high schooler Grady Millick said he went to Kenya excited about how he could “give others something they don’t have.” Instead, the experience changed him. “They opened our hearts to the loving, kind people every one of us could be without all the drama, complexity, and fast pace of our country. They opened our minds to take time to think about what just happened or the moment we’re in. They opened our eyes to never-ending possibilities,” he said.

One Kenyan woman’s resolve to feed one street orphan led to God working through many churches to feed, clothe, shelter, and educate hundreds of children affected by poverty and AIDS. Millick marveled that “a community of hope” started with “one idea and a patch of dirt and grass near a church.” He asked several kids what they’d do when they left the orphanage. “Go to college,” they said. He asked where they’d live. Their reply showed their trust in God’s continued care: “At a Good Samaritan’s house.”

Kingdom Stories

Trip leader Jack Decker explained that Anna Kariuki paying attention to a neglected orphan was like Jesus noticing a woman who’d been crippled for 18 years. “Visiting our partners in Kenya let us witness the power of the mustard seed. We saw firsthand how God transformed the lives of children, gave them hope, and showed all of us grace,” he said. Decker challenged worshipers to “come to Jesus bent over and broken…believing the kingdom of God comes from inconsequential beginnings.”

His daughter Jackie spoke in her sermon portion about finally meeting “Dora,”* her pen pal and prayer partner. Dora has AIDS. Dora’s friend “Nancy”* confided that her own mom had been killed by an aunt who was tired of dealing with the mom’s AIDS. “Nancy wanted to take care of Dora the way that she couldn’t take care of her mother. Almost every adult I met would say their name and tell us that Jesus Christ is their personal Savior. They taught me not to be afraid to express your faith even if others might not believe the same thing you do,” Jackie said.

*Names changed to protect privacy.

    The Halverson Benediction

    In the worship service before the Faith Presbyterian team left for Kenya, the pastor closed with a benediction prayer by Richard C. Halverson, former U.S. Senate chaplain:

    You go nowhere by accident. Wherever you go, God is sending you. Wherever you are, God has a purpose in your being there. You go nowhere alone. Christ is at work in you, and has something he wants to do through you, wherever you are. Believe this, being present to the grace, love, and power of the Holy Spirit.

    Consider praying this benediction before mission trips, at graduations, or when someone moves to a new church, job, or city.

    Learn More

    • Read Steve Shussett’s blog about Faith Presbyterian Church’s 2010 intergenerational mission trip to Riamakurwe Parish.Watch this brief video of photos taken during that trip.
    • Use the Faith Presbyterian Church liturgies from August 1, 2010 (joint worship), and October 3, 2010 (planned by mission trip team), as models in planning services that fit your church’s mission context.
    • Just as people affected by AIDS are often overlooked in Kenya, the two million young adults aging out of foster care are often overlooked in the United States.
    • Choose resources to help you discuss what helps and hinders true friendships between mission partners, especially when they’re at different income levels. Steve and Rachel Shussett read Reggie McNeal’s Mission Renaissance: Changing the Scorecard for the Church before they went to Kenya. Other good choices include When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty without Hurting the Poor…and Yourself by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert and the Lausanne Global Conversation about mission partnerships.
    • Get guidance on designing worship together.
    • Buy Global Songs for Worship to expand your congregation’s repertoire.

    Start a Discussion

    • Is your congregation’s worship more scripted or spontaneous? Which five local churches could you visit to taste a different flavor of Christian community and worship?
    • In what ways do you help mission trip participants reflect on what they learned and share that learning as stories of what God is doing? How do you make that learning stick?
    • Who in your congregation has the responsibility, freedom, authority, or possibility of introducing changes that might lead to worship renewal? How many people in your church know about or have access to this process of change?