A New Model for How We Gather in Our Local Faith Communities

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By Jack LaValley

Jack LaValleyAmerican Unificationist faith communities need to adopt a new model for worship. This will solve three major headaches currently facing our American movement: lack of numerical growth, aging local congregations and the absence of a compelling and persuasive national vision.

Robin Debacker’s recent article, The Present and Future of our Unificationist Sunday Service, provides a clear indication it is time for us to earnestly consider creating a new style and kind of worship program. I also believe the 1996 inauguration of the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification (FFWPU) in Washington, DC, marked the beginning point for the American movement to create and adopt a different model and style of worship.

A proposed new model

Under the old Sunday service model, we understood we were meeting to “hear the word of God” delivered through our local pastor (or someone else who volunteered to deliver a message). Through hearing the word, we would be edified and encouraged to better ourselves in all areas of our lives. Under the new model I’m proposing, the worship service style we’ve been using for the past 25 years will stop. Instead, we would start meeting as a faith community once every five weeks (maybe shorter or longer). When we do come together, we will do so with a different orientation and purpose for why we’re gathering.

This proposed new model calls for us to gather together and experience the presence of God as Blessed Central Families, without the burden of inherited sin and where all people can be “reborn” by receiving the Blessing from True Parents. Such a gathering will be, in effect, a recognition ritual where we share in how God’s love is revealed and experienced within the context of “Blessed Family Life.” Children will be recognized. Husbands and wives will be honored. Parents will be praised. Friends and neighbors will be invited to participate in this joyous gathering and they will want to return again and again to get more of the same.

Utilizing available speeches, textbooks, audio and video materials, the Internet, and existing programs in our varied Unification organizations, Unification families will tap into these resources and use them to edify and educate themselves and their neighbors. The small groups/home church/tribal messiahship activities are the ideal settings to deliver such education and moral uplift. The transformation of lives and maturation of the “four levels of love” (child, brother/sister, husband/wife, parents) will occur most strikingly during the four-week period we are engaged in before we gather together again to honor, recognize and celebrate.

We could call upon our talented architects to come up with a creative design and construct a “Unification House of Joy” building. This building would have a distinct design, feeling and quality specifically crafted to allow such gatherings to take place. The building will also allow for a multitude of programs and activities to be run, programs that are helping to solve real problems in people’s lives. In the cities large enough where such a building makes sense, our national headquarters would do its part to support the construction of such buildings. These buildings will represent part of the “Unification brand presence” here in America.

Why we need to move in this direction

Since the mid-1990s, development of worship service in America has resulted in our weekly Sunday gatherings looking like a peculiar mixture of current Catholic and Protestant services, sprinkled with a few Unificationist cultural norms. Although we’ve had Unification Theological Seminary for nearly forty years, during that period we did not — as an intentional strategy — send graduates out to existing faith communities charged specifically with “being a preacher and peaching the Word of God.”

For decades we’ve used a model of worship that required someone to deliver a sermon to those gathered, without focusing on the ministerial aspect of what it means to “be a preacher and to preach the Word of God” or on “what is supposed to be happening to the people who are gathered listening to the sermon.” Valiant efforts have been made over the years to provide good sermons, but as Robin’s research seems to indicate, the results overall have been less than satisfactory.

The primary reason why there is discontent and disappointment with our Sunday worship program is because we have been using the external format of a modern-day evangelical church while trying to deliver Unification theology and doctrine. The format used and content delivered don’t match up. We have been behaving like Christians on Sunday morning (via the choice of our worship format) but at the same time preaching a different “gospel.” This behavior has resulted in our suffering an identity crisis. Unification theology and doctrine include and transcend the Old and New Testament. We are Christian…and then some!

In Protestant Christianity, the primary task has always been preaching and teaching the Word of God from the Bible. The Book of Acts and the Epistles demonstrate the primacy of preaching and teaching the Word. Revivals centered on great preaching have always ushered in great movements in the history of the Church. The Scriptures and Church history clearly demonstrate the importance of preaching and teaching the Word. The “act of preaching” coupled with the biblical message of the whole Gospel was expected to manifest the Holy Spirit upon the congregation, bringing about life-transforming changes in the sinner, and awakening him or her to the need for repentance and regeneration through Jesus Christ.

Our Founder, Reverend Sun Myung Moon, himself was powerfully influenced by this kind and type of preaching in Korea during his teenage years. Accounts by his early disciples show that when Father began his public ministry in Korea, he used preaching as the primary way to influence his followers.

When Father moved to America, he continued using preaching as the main way to influence the American members. Between the years 1977-94 alone, Father delivered over 700 sermons to the members on Sunday mornings (at 6:00 am!) from the stage of the former Belvedere International Training Center in Tarrytown, New York. Our American church does have a long history of listening to sermons and we have been holding Sunday services for a long time. It’s a tried and true model in American Christianity and throughout the world. However, with the providential inauguration of the FFWPU, I believe True Parents opened up a new and different way that people can “be with God.”

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The “new good news” ushered in with the inauguration of FFWPU is we are now in the providential age where families, not individuals, can receive a salvation that transcends any particular religion’s progress or success. In other words, the mission of religion as we have known it up until now has come to end. The new paradigm of salvation is through marriage between husband and wife and the maturation of true love via family life.

Naturally, we no longer need preachers charged with being the impetus for the Holy Spirit to manifest upon the congregation during a service to bring about life-transforming changes in the individual sinner. If any preaching needs to be done, it is through the Blessed Couples. The authority of a Blessed Couple rests on how they apply in their daily lives the cultural norms and values embedded within Blessed Family Life. Blessed Family Life is the “Holy Spirit coming down and resting in the hearts and minds of the husband and wife and parents and children.”

This is why we no longer need to be using anointed individual pastors and the Christian church Sunday service format for gathering together. We no longer need to behave like this in order to secure our salvation. This has all been made possible through the emergence of the era of FFWPU, an era that ushered in the unfolding grace of God’s love, transcending any particular religion’s success or progress.

The proposed format for gathering together  I’m calling for is a way out of our current identity crisis and will provide the way for our friends and neighbors to join in with us so they too can “be saved.”

To gain the necessary momentum that will allow us to move forward with this proposal we will need to create an “issues group” dedicated to moving this discussion forward and eventually before our FFWPU National Council.

Quickly implementing this new model will allow our American Unification movement to escape from the oft-debilitating stagnation, status quo thinking and faltering hope. This new model could be the solution to resolve the three major headaches of our current American movement I noted earlier. Perhaps it is an idea whose time has come.♦

Jack LaValley maintains a full-time career in the hospitality industry in New York City. He is the founder of true4ever.com and the author of the eLearning book, Seven Secrets to Finding True Love. He received his M.S.Ed. from the University of Bridgeport. Jack and his wife, Wha ja, are the proud parents of three grown children.

12 thoughts on “A New Model for How We Gather in Our Local Faith Communities

  1. Many members of the UC have been facing an identity crisis, particularly since the passing of True Father, but I’m not sure the reason for this has much to do with the various Sunday service models. I have experienced at least four models:

    1. Center Life, where everyone prays together every day, and Sunday is often just another day of fundraising and witnessing.
    2. A home church model, or hoon dok model, where 5-10 families in the area met at my home for a community gathering with some worship on Sundays.
    3. A traditional model of worship on Sunday as described above, with Sunday school for the children, and,
    4. The Lovin’ Life Model, which focused on mass youth and youth energy.

    In my experience, these models all work for different types of lifestyles, but (1) and (4) tend to work better for unmarried youth on the go or on mobile teams, (2) for communities with few members, and (3) for mature communities where adults work during the week, seek mutual support, Sunday School, and a place to help us with life’s significant moments — birth, marriage, and death.

    None of these models, by themselves, bring membership. Rather they are ways that existing members assemble for centering themselves and their social life on God.

    The Unification wedding bands have a symbol that indicates “12 gates to the kingdom,” meaning that people join in various ways: e.g., the truth they find in the Divine Principle; the love and care they experienced from members; or being part of a movement to change the world. However, people only stay to the extent they find support for the accomplishment of the three blessings, which are an original ideal implanted by God. When one’s original nature is frustrated because these ideals are not realized, a desire for change is voiced, and if not addressed, members may leave.

    Only about 2% of the Mormons joined because of the young people who go out witnessing. They go out, like STF or GPA members, to grow their faith before marriage. People join the Mormon Church because they see families and individuals that seem to be more happy and successful than other people, and they want to become happy as well. They join despite the esoteric doctrines or rituals performed by inner circle members.

    I think that the UC will become successful as a church (in a somewhat traditional form) when its members become successful as individuals, and create the type of families that other people want for themselves. The extent to which the UC is presently dysfunctional is a reflection of the level of functionality of the people in it. I see both dysfunction and possibility in our Minnesota Family Church. But ultimately it will grow to the extent that it teaches people the Divine Principle (which is a worldview far more contemporary than Mormon doctrine) and its members succeed in accomplishing the three blessings, so that other people will view their lives as models for themselves and as people they want in their social community.

    • On the topic of a new model for how we gather as BCFs, let’s read what Father said in 1969. This quote can be found on page 1505 of the first edition of the CSG:

      “In the future, the Sunday Service of the UC should be in the format of a report, not a sermon. The contents of the report should be about something a family can be proud of. Therefore, the whole family would need to attend the service. In this way, the other families can model themselves after the exemplary families and be guided by them to the right path. In such a manner we can establish the heavenly kingdom for the family, on earth. You should bear in mind that before this is done God’s Kingdom on earth cannot be established.”

      So, yes. We need to do things differently in this age of taking ownership of settling down CIG on earth. Each family can figure out what their unique ministry is — what each couple wants to take ownership of (besides actualizing a true family). People who come to my mind when thinking about pioneers of unique ministries “on their own” are Richard Panzer, Richard Cohen, Jim Stephens, Bob Maddox, and their wives, of course (there are many others not mentioned). By the way, my new calling is developing UT psychology. I will submit an article about that in the near future. I know there are others with that calling, so let’s connect and make it happen.

  2. Something to think about, for sure. I myself have long rejected absolutely the Christian model of services and the Christianization of our church. Our movement has become utterly irrelevant in the world for a number of reasons, our service model among them…and it hasn’t been able to solve a single issue among its peoples so as to advance God’s providence of restoration.

    America’s been the great light upon a hill used by God to move the world closer to restoration. Now that light is faltering significantly, along with God’s providence. Our people need a third Great Awakening which, like human freedom, we can spread…and that must come from Divine Principle, not Christianity (which has nothing left to give…it’s an empty gun, so to speak). How we can bring it about is a tough question, for me, at least.

    So, definitely, a new model of how we relate to God as a group (even as individuals) is long overdue. The idea of a “worship” service is terribly outdated and a relic. Unificationists do not “worship” God. He is our parent, not an object of veneration or fear. That, all by itself, would be a significant liberation to the world’s people, yet DP has so much more to give!

  3. Thank you for the article and comments. Having lived in Korea for almost 14 years now, and traveled all over the country, its islands, mountains and villages, I have seen that people here are able to make many kinds of gatherings, companies or events into a success. The secret of it isn’t easily shared by them, but True Father has shed some light on it. I have come to the conclusion that, keeping the clearly good things we know we have in whatever nation we live, many good aspects of Korean culture need to be clearly identified, and then substantially added to our family cultures and communities. This means not only making offering tables and reciting pledge, although that’s a good start of course…

  4. Jack shows us the courage to voice what others sometimes don’t want to face or explore. He exercises leadership thinking from his original mind to envision beyond past patterns and to explore the nature of marriage and family in relation to our traditions.

    He explores how we can create a truer community from understanding the fulfillment of marriage and family as community models rather than the hierarchical model of single priesthood authority to a group as the main mode of engagement.

    His vision empowers blessed couples and families. It suggests more group engagement among couples and families rather than the narrow scope of single leader overmanagement of individuals in which they become conditioned to overdepend on one person’s power to validate existence to the neglect of inclusive interrelationships with others and families. In this original thinking, the couple is validated by their marriage relationship and relationship with others as a couple and family.

    Thus, the marriages that have endured through faith and love are validated and praised rather than subjected to the dysfunction of group dynamics where individuals compete for hierarchical power from one authority person to the exclusion of others…as well as showing the need to disempower others to form alliances. (Studies of dysfunctional groups show how the competing for power/dominance, both unconsciously and consciously, is intense in these groups…and are at their worst in church politics and corporate politics that thrive on the “buying of influence” from VIPs and those in single hierarchical order.)

    As blessed marriages, we can feel the joy of family and God’s love in our marriages that have not only endured but have found true love and joy together in our blessing. This is ours to praise, protect and share with others. Similar to the Catholic sacrament, our marriage victory is for the salvation of the world as we are anointed with God’s presence in our unity. We are to live and teach for the sake of others.

    Thank you for the inspiration, Jack, and I look forward to more original thinking on creating a truer community.

  5. As blessed marriages, we can feel the joy of family and God’s love in our marriages that have not only endured but have found true love and joy together in our blessing. This is ours to praise, protect and share with others. Similar to the Catholic sacrament, our marriage victory is for the salvation of the world as we are anointed with God’s presence in our unity. We are to live and teach for the sake of others.

  6. I appreciate Donna’s statement (repeated above as a recognition of the fact that her statement resonates deeply with me) because I think this discussion is a helpful exercise defining our core values. In this case, the value upheld in her testimony is a Blessed and Fruitful Marriage. As best as I can understand our founder’s purpose, the Unification Way of Life calls us to live by moral and ethical precepts emerging from our sensitivity to God which can lead us to an ever-growing understanding of the heart of Heavenly Parents of all humanity.

    Simply put, I joined our movement in California in 1976 because it offered me a better way of relating to other people and a supportive community to help me grow and develop my own potential. My better experiences with the Unification Movement have been the ones which helped me build my character and allowed me to practice living with integrity. I have to thank our elder brothers and sisters for paving the way for a person like me to connect with True Parents. I must say that I alone am responsible for my own responses to life’s inevitable challenges both within and without the church structures and entities.

  7. Hats off to Jack LaValley for offering an original thought here, and while we are at it, let’s thank UTS for this wonderful platform of discussion.

    Jack’s thesis is a projection of religious imagination: he takes seriously the belief that Unificationist salvation is reflected not in the body of a righteous individual, but in the crucible of a husband, wife and progeny. It logically follows that a new theological order might lead to a new paradigm of worship, and one that exhorts families to invest their energies and wisdom into serving, changing the world. I followed Sun Myung Moon because he explicitly asserted that changing the world was the mission, not merely changing lives of individuals, as salutary as that is, too. Let’s just stop thinking that going to worship service and passively “receiving a message” is sufficient.

    A second thing I like about Jack’s idea is that he recognizes the innate wisdom of Blessed Central Families. Yes, yes, we have some dysfunctional families, and some have failed. However, I argue that the remnant of Blessed Families scattered across the 50 states are light-bearers for a dark world. Unificationists have suffered. Their children know it, and they know it, and suffering begets wisdom. Sometimes. Jack’s model would encourage elders and second gens to celebrate who they are, and who they are not.

    Jack’s proposal reflects the exuberant optimism of the Divine Principle and of True Father himself. The early church members believed in the perfectibility of individuals within their lifetimes. They looked to members of the True Family as individuals predestined to become “True” perfect moral exemplars within a short period of time. We also believed that our families would be world-shaking incubators of perfect children. Such hopes have proved to be, in former Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan’s famous phrase, an “irrational exuberance.” As for me, I can say that the theological insights of Evangelical Christianity, in particular the idea that we are all sinners, and we all need to repent, is an enduring truth that every Unification family needs to cherish. The so-called “New Testament” worship services remind us of such enduring truths and do so without apology.

    Still and all, the paradigm put forward is deserving of more discussion and could lead to fruitful initiatives in ministry at the grassroots level, where our church still is vibrant.

  8. Jack’s article truly speaks to the action steps needed to move from “Servants” of our faith to “Owners” who embody the hope and model of our Founder.

    It is dynamic to see a presentation that not only highlights an inspiring forward direction of our faith practices, but even offers the outline of efforts needed for immediate positive results.

    I hope the article aids in awakening others to their original aspirations, as when they originally came to support the movement, and recharges our Blessed Families to become owners of their faiths — which will contribute to us moving “as one”….

  9. I agree with your idea that the model of the preacher being the only one expressing the inspiration to the flock of believers is obsolete. The age of direct dominion has been proclaimed 14 years ago.

    As you wrote: “If any preaching needs to be done, it is through the Blessed Couples.” Each person has so much to offer. Each one has something to teach, some treasure of the heart to share, some testimony to offer that may inspire someone else who is going through a difficult time.

    One question I have is what is really the definition of salvation? Is it similar to the Christian model: “Accept Christ and you will be saved.” The UC version being: “Receive the blessing and you will be saved.” Is that just the beginning of the journey? Isn’t it a lifelong unfolding, a work in progress, a process of growth?

    What are the scholars opinion on this?

  10. Sister Doris, to understand and explain salvation, one doesn`t have to be a scholar.

    Salvation has different aspects though. It basically means to be saved from a sinful state. Obedience, faith and practice or attendance are all important aspects of it. Although more practice or attendance is emphasized and expected in the UC tradition (especially after the Marriage Blessing), in the OT and NT these were important too, just like obedience is important in this time as well.

    Another aspect is that salvation is like restoration into a new self, which is a process in itself. It follows certain principles of (re)-creation, like again faith, responsibility in our life with regards to faith and obedience, doing certain ceremonies, following new traditions and making (often monetary) offerings on the way to that state of original self; this also is a process and not always easy or comfortable.

    There are aspects of grace and patience as time and growth is involved, too….All in all, it is basically easy to understand, but it is also possible to make it quite complicated and hard.

    In the Divine Principle we can study salvation in detail, and to teach it is one of the responsibilities of the “preacher,” so I do not completely agree with your first statement, as preachers and leaders are still very important for various individuals who are still in need of a lot of guidance, support, inspirations and explanation ….

    Hopefully, this helps!

  11. Frans, I am sorry. I did not mean to come across as if I did not understand the definition of the word salvation and all the conditions attached to it.

    What I was trying to convey is that, even doing all that you describe, formula course, x, y and z…there is still a personal growth process to be done to feel God’s love and grace in our life.

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