CeCe Armstrong, Annual Event 2023 Conference Preacher

When we, the church, reach out to help others, we tend to follow traditional protocols–as if assistance is one size fits all. We are forced to use patterns or rhythms that seem to work out and ultimately give God glory. And why would we not? After all, all things work together for good for those who love God and are called according to God’s purpose, right? (Romans 8:28) This may be the very rut that keeps us complacent enough to whisper the seven last words of an ineffective or dying church: “That’s the way we’ve always done it.”

In our theme passage, Jesus invites us to do things differently.

Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly (Matthew 11:28–30, The Message).

  • What if we did things differently? What if we used discernment to determine what would be the best practice? What if, when things looked different to us, we acknowledged that God may be doing a new thing? Will we make mistakes? I am sure we will make mistakes and we have grace for that.
  • Will there be misconceptions about our intentions? I am sure there will be many who will misunderstand new efforts and we have the freedom of being unforced.
  • Will there be those who feel that the work we do will lead to the mistreatment of the tenants of the church? I am sure that there will be moments when our fixed patterns of how to do things might be disrupted and we then must admit that there are new rhythms.

With unforced rhythms of grace, we can move forward. Moving forward is not necessarily fixing anything but giving us an opportunity to sit with and waste no compassion.

I recall rough patches in ministry and in my life. It is rough and tough to experience hurt or heartbreak. During these patches, as my friends and family gathered around me to show me support, half of them had no clue what to say or do. What they did not realize is that was exactly what I needed in those moments. I did not need someone who knew everything. I needed someone who did not know anything but was willing to sit with me while I did not know anything either.

In Job 2:11–13, this is what Job’s friends did. When Job’s three friends heard about his troubles, they set out toward his home so they could console and comfort him. When they did not recognize him, they wept loudly. Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and nights. No one said a word to Job, for they saw that his suffering was too great for words. Their response was unusual and offers us another invitation to explore the things that might be different.

When we encounter “different,” our initial prayer should be to ask God what we are supposed to do and what are we supposed to get out of this experience. There is a cliché that says, “God won’t put on us more than we can bear.” People have heard this and said this so much that people tend to believe it is in Scripture. It is not!! The Scripture verse associated with this phrase is 1 Corinthians 10:13.

No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and God will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing God will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it.

This verse allows us to see challenges, complications, and changes with new perspective.

Whenever we run into something that is different, whenever things are adjusted, whenever there is a modification to the norm, whenever we alter the plans, whenever we amend the course of action, whenever we meet a transformation of some sort, there will be a three-fold process that we will endure–whether we want to or not. This process might be a way to overcome the use of traditional tactics and propel us into doing something different.

It is my hope that while I am with you for the APCE Annual Event 2023, I can share with you a few unforced rhythms of grace that help boost us in using our gifts to transform hearts.

We will walk through a simple three-fold process so that we can endure the changes that are bound to come. We need to pay close attention to how we tend to make blanket statements that speak more to our traditional actions of the church rather than to our faith. “Traditional” is the dead faith of the living, and tradition is the living faith of the dead.

I heard a preacher ask, “Will your faith have children, or will your children have faith?” It is my belief that an answer to that question depends on whether we focus on tradition or focus on being traditional. What if our call to worship is the benediction sending us to go forward in a different way?

During Annual Event 2023, we’ll explore these questions together. I look forward to it.

Not registered for Annual Event 2023? Check out the Registration Page and join us!

Author Image

Rev. Cecelia D. Armstrong

is a cradle Presbyterian who held membership at Calvary, New Life, and Belle-Terrace Presbyterian churches in Detroit, MI; Atlanta, GA; and Augusta, GA, respectively. She was educated at Spelman College, the University of Southern Mississippi, and the Interdenominational Theological Center, where she attended Johnson C. Smith Theological Seminary. She is currently enrolled at the University of Dubuque Theological Seminary pursuing a Doctor of Ministry degree. She was ordained as a Deacon and then an Elder before she accepted the call on her life into pastoral ministry. Pastor CeCe served Grady Memorial Hospital as a chaplain and Beth Salem as Supply Pastor. As Minister of the Word and Sacrament, Rev. Armstrong served as Solo Pastor of Grace in Lantana, FL. Currently, she is the very proud Associate Pastor of St. James Presbyterian Church on James Island in Charleston, SC. “I love you and there’s nothing you can do about that!