By Fred Koenig
Townley is a deacon in the Minnesota Conference and has worked as a consultant helping with new church starts. She led a learning time at Annual Conference around the theme of “Why Do We Build an Altar?” based on Joshua 22, verses 26 -27.
Therefore we said, ‘Let us now build an altar, not for burnt offering, nor for sacrifice, but to be a witness between us and you, and between the generations after us, that we do perform the service of the Lord in his presence with our burnt offerings and sacrifices and offerings of well-being; so that your children many never say to our children in time to come, “You have no portion in the Lord.”
“Building an altar is creating a worship environment in which we teach regulars to reach out into the neighborhood to bring others to experience God with us,” she said. “God will lead us outside our doors where people live who have no part with God. If we don’t take the steps to build this kind of altar, we will never pass our faith on to future generations. Without passion there is nothing to pass on.”
Isolation is the plight of the church in the 21st century, Townley said. Churches aren’t counter-cultural, they are isolated. To be counter-cultural you have to connect to the culture in some way.
Townley advised people to focus on God, and follow him right outside their doors, developing relationships with their banker, massage therapist or baby sitter.
“This isn’t random activity if you’re building an altar,” she said. “We follow God by intention, and that is not about the head, it’s about the heart. It’s a bold prayer to ask God to lead you into the mission field, because God actually answers it.”
Townley said if people will ask God to combine worship and witness in their lives, the prayer alone will stretch them, let alone what comes after.
“You can grow comfortable in your own skin, and talk about life and faith in a way that goes deep,” she said. Speaking to the Annual Conference theme of Passionate Worship, she said passionate worship requires authenticity, transparency, openness, truth-telling. She then asked the audience some questions that they could use their cell phones to answer via text.
Is our church regularly using contemporary cultural means to engage non-regulars and non-members in worship? This vote was an even split.
Can I articulate my faith story when God gives me the opportunity to share it? 300 yes, 50 no.
Do I pray for God to lead me into conversations about faith with others? Even split.
Are we convinced that newcomers would attend existing worship in our church? Only a few more yes responses than no.
Townley discouraged using worship time on Sunday morning for announcements to recruit volunteers to struggling ministries.
“When did worship become about keeping the machine alive?” she said.
She advised engaging people through music, but not singing too many verses, noting that the average song on the radio is just over three minutes long.
Townley said every worship service should end with a Call To Action, and she closed her learning time with this one: “What will be the first thing you do to build your altar of worship and witness when you leave this place?”