The Privilege of Participation
Lisa has two young children. She is married to Andy, a kind man who works hard and cares about Lisa and their kids, but he doesn’t share her faith. Every Sunday morning Lisa takes her kids to church while Andy swims and lifts weights at the local gym. While she wishes he would come to church with her, Lisa has made peace with her situation. She loves Andy and is grateful that he is a loving husband and father, but she knows that she is the spiritual leader of her family and she take this role very seriously. One Sunday Lisa sat down in the pew next to me. Her kids were with her and I noticed a piece of paper in her hand. Twenty minutes into the service she leaned over and spoke to me in a whispered voice. She explained that she had been asked to lead the intercessory prayer and asked me to take care of her children for her. When the time for the prayer came, I moved in close to the kids and promised that their mom would be back quickly. They looked at pictures on my iPhone while cheerfully pointing and waving to their mom as she stood behind the pulpit and prayed.
The prayer was beautiful. She read words she had carefully written out the night before, conscientiously mentioning every name on the congregational prayer list. She prayed for our country and for our world, for those who are suffering and those who have the power to help. When the prayer was over she came back to the pew where we were sitting and both kids hurried toward her. I smiled and whispered that it was a beautiful prayer and she let out a sigh of relief. It wasn’t until that moment that I realized she had been nervous. I hadn't noticed it before but her hands were shaking. The look on her face communicated gratitude and relief.
Lisa didn’t have to lead a prayer in church. When she was asked, she could have easily said no. Public speaking is scary. She was nervous—about her children following her up to the pulpit or misbehaving, and about speaking the prayer itself. That is why she had taken the time to think about the prayer before the service, written it out, asked a friend to care for her kids, and gathered her courage to approach the pulpit and lay the cares of the community before God Almighty.
It’s a wonder she was asked to pray at all. In many Churches of Christ women are never asked to pray in a Sunday service. There were many other people who could have done it! People who wouldn’t have been nervous and who didn’t have young kids to worry about. But if Lisa hadn’t been asked, and if she hadn’t said yes, what a missed opportunity it would have been!
An opportunity for Lisa to grow in her faith.
An opportunity for Lisa to develop her confidence as a spiritual leader.
An opportunity for the children to see their mother boldly proclaiming her faith in a God who hears our prayers.
An opportunity for those gathered to see a woman of faith courageously approach the throne of God on behalf of her beloved community.
You see, worship is a divine mystery. When we participate in leading the community in worship, we are drawn into a holy encounter. The Churches of Christ have a strong tradition of inviting all believers to lead in worship as they are called and gifted. We are blessed by this heritage. Those who lead are blessed, as are those who bear witness to such sacred speech. All to the praise of God’s glorious grace.