Struck by the warmth and dynamic character of Trinity Presbyterian Church (click to see 4/2/09 blog review), I wanted to look under the hood of this unusual church to see what makes it so uniquely different from many other Anchorage area churches. To accomplish this, I posed some questions to Pastor Tom Letts. I was intrigued by his responses, and believe you will be too. Oh, by the way, at first I was in shock and disbelief thinking I may have visited Trinity on a good Sunday. However, subsequent visits reveal this overwhelming hospitality and warmth is genuine, a weekly hallmark, and normal behavior for this church.
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Thompson – What were your background motives for the recent sermon series based on Reggie McNeal’s book “The Present Future”?
Letts – I don’t want to sound trite but I am simply attempting to remain faithful to what God places in front of us. The Christian church culture of America is on life support (self absorbed and sick). Time to tell the truth. Time to regain our identity. The leadership at Trinity (elders and staff) really are fearless so they stand as one as we speak to what faithfulness looks like today. The worship service is the time when the congregation gathers uniquely before God and receives unique grace. What better time or place to call us to a renewed sense of mission? We have read books, had town halls, done small group work and taught Sunday school classes on the missional church. Now it seems time to ‘go public’ on Sunday mornings. I can’t wait to see what happens.
Thompson – I observed Trinity uses the “meet n’ greet” form of welcome during services. Why?
Letts – Two reasons- it is my personality (and I believe in a community gathering having a personality). I tend to be a warm, friendly, outgoing guy. So…
Second, the congregation as a whole (and the leadership exemplifies this) really sees that hospitality, where it is genuine, is a gift from God to all people. We also understand worship as a participation sport. Put that together with Jesus’ “insomuch as you do to the least of these you do unto me.” [TL paraphrase] and I think we begin to see the ‘least’ in a worship service as the first time folk and the hurting. We teach our congregation to really care, and the greeting time, when entered into honestly, can be a gateway to grace and connection. Sure, there will be those who struggle with genuine care and warm greeting but it is worth the risk. We are either who we say we are, a community of joy and grace, or we are a sham. The greeting time is simply one opportunity of many on a Sunday to exhibit Christ’s nature (rather than sitting back for the show).
Thompson – What is the true role of music at Trinity?
Letts – Darrell Guder writes, ‘Worship is the public celebration of the presence and reality of God.’ The quote is from ‘Missional Church’ a formative book for our sense of call and identity here at Trinity.
Music at Trinity, especially in worship, is simply the community’s attempt to put into sound their often indescribable encounters with God through the week. We take this expression really seriously. Our musicians, technicians and up front leaders are close friends (of all ages) who have come to enjoy one another. We pray together, laugh together, and have devotionals with real meat in them at rehearsals. We are in one another’s homes. Many of the musicians are among the mature leaders and servants at Trinity.
Musicians touch truth in ways even poets cannot. There is a language without words that touches their souls. So, regularly, we find one of the band bringing a pre-Christian friend into a rehearsal. They practice with the band and hear the prayers and devotions too. Eventually they may join in participation in worship, and quite often their lives are changed forever. We have had four of our band’s friends come to faith through this ministry and now they sing and play of a Love they know. Look, everything we do at Trinity is about the Kingdom of God. We don’t put up stumbling blocks, we open our ‘home.’ There were about fifty people involved in leading worship on Easter. A few of them are still moving toward relationship with the One we are singing about. We don’t need them in the band because we want to sound better. They play and sing because musicians need followers of Jesus to speak with them in their ‘language.’ We are trying to do that.
I guess the final thought on music in worship is that it really can be the bridge that brings scripture to a human heart. Life is so fractured. A song or hymn offers synthesis, harmony, unity. Music and word focus our hearts on truth. The songs we sing on Sunday at Trinity are tied to our scripture and the talk and our prayers. I hope and pray that they tie to our conversations over coffee as well.
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Thompson – What is your vision for Trinity?
Letts – Trinity is to become a community poured out for others as Christ was poured out for us.
* I believe in the incarnational (God in flesh) identity of the church. We exist as God’s mission in and to the whole of creation. We exist to serve this community of Anchorage sacrificially (and with joy!). We are to exist as a community of grace and reconciliation. We exist to exhibit the very character of Jesus by our activity in the world.
* We will not prioritize facilities. We will not prioritize programs. We will not be driven by ‘getting more people to come to church.’ We will decide to live our faith seven days a week, choosing sacrifice over comfort, the faithful thing over the easy thing, making disciples over creating ‘adherents’, and the Kingdom of God over Trinity.
* We have a bunch of stories about how this is beginning to happen. Our staff spends 20% of their paid time outside of church business (helping at schools, Peanut Butter & Jelly Sandwich table at UAA, volunteering at the nature center, helping with recycling efforts, cross country ski events and food drives in the community, visiting the elderly and shut-in…). Our goal is to spend more than half of all money we receive outside of Trinity (we are currently above 25%). We regularly hold 30 minute services and then go out into the community in groups to serve. All groups at Trinity (home groups, youth and children’s groups, elders, deacons…) have an active missional component and mandate.
My thanks to Pastor Tom Letts for his candid and revealing sharing. Trinity’s story is still unfolding. They have just started seventeen house groups to focus on Phillip Yancey’s awesome book, “What’s So Amazing About Grace?”. Surely there will be further sermon emphasis to cement the knowledge gained from these studies, and a renewed sense of mission and mandate.