Everything felt “low” that Sunday. Attendance was low, my physical energy was low (due to a cold), the sermon seemed to fall flat. It was hardly a Lord’s Day service that anyone would consider memorable. I left church mildly discouraged, trying not to think too much about the day.
Have you ever had an insignificant Sunday like that?
Pastors of small churches (such as myself) can be perhaps especially prone to the emotional rollercoaster of attendance, how smoothly the service went, the giving amount, how many new faces were present, and a long list of other metrics. Even in the confessionally Reformed world, we can still buy into the spirit of the church-growth movement.
But it is within our confessions’ and catechisms’ summary of the biblical teaching on the ordinary means of grace that we find a rest and a refuge for our busy, wind-tossed, minister’s minds. Our confessional documents remind us what truly defines a significant Lord’s Day in regards to our public worship.
For example, the 2nd London Baptist Confession (14.1) states:
The grace of faith, whereby the elect are enabled to believe to the saving of their souls, is the work of the Spirit of Christ in their hearts, and is ordinarily wrought by the ministry of the Word; by which also, and by the administration of baptism and the Lord's supper, prayer, and other means appointed of God, it is increased and strengthened.
The Westminster Shorter Catechism (Q. 88) likewise asks:
Q: What are the outward and ordinary means whereby Christ communicates to us the benefits of redemption?
A: The outward and ordinary means whereby Christ communicates to us the benefits of redemption are his ordinances, especially the word, sacraments, and prayer; all which are made effectual to the elect for salvation.
Both of these documents provide a profoundly rich yet refreshingly simple picture of what should occur during Lord’s Day worship: the ministry of the Word in reading and preaching, the administration of baptism and the Lord’s Supper (sacraments), and prayer. A significant Sunday, therefore, is not defined by the production value of our services, the functionality of our technology, the eloquence of our preaching, or the skill of our musicians, or the assimilation path for visitors. No, a significant Sunday is one in which the ordinary means of grace that God has ordained in His Word are carried out reverently, worshipfully, sincerely, and faithfully from a desire to glorify Him.
True, from all outside appearances, some Sunday mornings seem “off” at best or train-wrecks at worst. Yet if we are faithful to preach Law and Gospel, to administer baptism and communion, and to pray together as God’s assembly, then we can have great confidence that God is at work because He has promised to be at work through these simple means.
The Apostle Paul reminds us of the character of our salvation and the message of the Gospel in the world:
But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. (1 Corinthians 1:27–29)
Indeed, when things are too polished and produced, there is a very real temptation to think highly of ourselves. When our goal is an earthly concept of a significant Sunday, and we achieve that goal, there is a real risk to boast in ourselves. But when we have a Sunday that seems to fall flat from our perspective, a Sunday that causes us to pray extra hard for God to bring good fruit from our preaching (since we may appear to have botched our sermon!), it may very well be the gracious reminder of our God that the power and the effect of our ministry rests not at all in our hands and efforts.
What an encouragement it is to know that God’s power is not hindered nor improved through our efforts, which are so often feeble. What a relief it is to know that our Lord chooses to glorify Himself through plain and ordinary things. What a comfort and a joy to know that even an “insignificant Sunday” has eternal significance as God’s people are called, saved, and sanctified through His means of grace.
Daniel Ruben (MDiv, Midwestern Baptist; working on MA in Biblical Counseling) is a pastor at Fellowship Bible Church in Carson City, NV. He is husband to Shaelby and father of two.
Note: The views expressed in this article are that of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of other contributors on this site.