Pastors, leaders, and overall churches (people) are led down a path of decisions of "how" to setup a context like a Sunday service, small group Bible study, kid's ministry, Sunday school, outreach ministries, and the path seems to never end (which is revealing in and of itself). The "how" mainly translates into setting the mood to keep the attention of people engaged or ensuring reverent order of tradition. Variables and conditions are looked through like that of curriculum or teaching content to location and even ambience to align and support the "how."
Conversations linger around how will people feel, will the kids enjoy, how can we comfort people, etc. Do we choose a cappella or instrument music? Do we make the lighting light or dark? Do we keep kids away from the adults or include them? How do we market to the neighborhood around our location? Do we have all the electronics setup, ready, and functioning? And there's another thousand questions to process if you like.
One may think they can create a context to have a mood to control or lead people's moods like that of a Sunday morning service, "If we just create a service to attract and keep them, they will be comfortable, engaged, and return." And depending on one's trend or tradition, the mood can swing from hip-hop and hype happiness to emotional heaviness of self-flogging despair to become sinless. Play a video to sink in the emotional hook to bring out laughters or tears then cue music accordingly. Formalize the hour and half to two hours to become stricter than a prison schedule preventing any emotion. And what if it has nothing to do with either and any of this.
What if we are looking and planning for the wrong end and thus making decisions in an unhelpful direction to that wrong end. We are making people or even the mood of a context about us and stating it's about God. It's almost a bait and switch. We are not here to manipulate a mood to cause us to be in a mood. Rather, God has called us to abandon the focus on ourselves in order for it to be on him regardless of our mood. This then is recognized as a mood of repentance.
Repentance is not somber or jubilant. Repentance is just not about us. Repentance is turning to focus on something or someone else beyond ourselves regardless of how we feel, what we think, how much we know, and what comes out of us -- righteously or unrighteously.
If one makes repentance about us, then we take verses like Jesus' words in Luke 9:23 to mean completely different and even selfish than what he intended, "If anyone wants to come after me he must deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow me." We know what Jesus means even more so by the context, especially the immediate preceding verse 22, where he describes who he is and what he has come to do, "'The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised'."
Jesus is admonishing and commanding them to take their identity, purpose, and focus on him and in what he's about to do. He's not saying deny food, liquids, joys, failures, or any other way to make one's life better in quality or quantity. He's calling people to listen to him. Trust him. Understand him. Follow him.
This means we transform to his will and way, not transform him to us and our will and ways. This means we are on his agenda and purpose. This is why even Sunday morning services become such a financial cost because we are trying to replace God's work in people's hearts with insufficient ways and motivations that leave us needing to repeat and sustain the mood with more and more and more. When is it enough? No temporal cost can replace an eternal cost, hence why Christ Jesus is the eternal redemption. And so, more importantly, this means we had nothing to do with salvation or sanctification, but we are included in it by God's gracious gift of Christ and he certainly affects us.
Humanity seems to always turn a corner to look for the next thing to twist and place back into our control, plans, and direction. And God continues to call humanity back to himself -- repentance. Let that be us and our mood. Repentance is not a somber, willow drooping life drained of personality and nor is it an emotionally excited negligence of life.
It's just not about us but about him. Therefore, fight and live to that end -- his end by his means and beginnings. He affects us to then gather to teach, preach, sing, pray, commune, baptize, give and also scatter to live and love others. He identifies and characterizes us. He creates in us a heart filled with conviction and courage to stand for him. He transforms us to be the light in the room just as much as a light in the workplace and neighborhood. He then becomes what we preach and teach about. He then becomes who we sing about. He becomes who we live for -- instead of living for the next mood setting service to reset or "fill" us up.
We become his people living among the world programmed with a mood of repentance wherever we are at or who we are among.
Could you imagine people that have yet trusted in Christ being engaged by those that do? Could you imagine what their response would be when they recognize that mood of repentance where Christ is more important and valuable than life itself let alone a mere mood setting in a service. They will recognize a love rare and unique to this world, and they will recognize the rich truths of God. They will be drawn to repent like we have been.
What would you rather have, a pristine and perfect service or a perfect and propitiatory savior?
He is the "how" we discuss and talk through, leaving decision details about a church service or community group to be minor and aligned leaving him exalted and us humbled. God is wise, and we better listen to him.