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Peter Beck Christian Blog and Commentary

A United State of Worship

  • Peter Beck
    Peter serves as assistant professor of religion at Charleston Southern University where he teaches church history and theology. While serving as senior pastor in Louisville, Ky., he completed his PhD in historic theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. His dissertation, The Voice of Faith: Jonathan Edwards's Theology of Prayer, is soon to be published. He, his wife Melanie, and their two kids, Alex (12) and Karis (7), live near Charleston, SC. Peter's goal for his teaching and writing ministries is "love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith" (1 Tim 1:5).
  • 2009 May 04
  • Comments

It has been said that Sunday morning is the most segregated hour in America. Unfortunately, that’s the case in my own church. We’re located in a predominantly white neighborhood in the middle of a city that boasts an African-American population of nearly 50%. Yet, we have very few people of color in our pews. It’s not that we’re prejudiced. It’s not that all people aren’t welcome. It’s just that we’ve not been able to build a bridge to that community and it’s disheartening for a church that desperately wants to see people saved.

 

Well, I’ve heard an idea being bandied about to help congregations in just that situation. The suggestion is that such churches start an African-American worship service. Hire an African-American preacher. Focus on music styles that appeal to that population segment – maybe a little more hip-hop, maybe a little rap. In general, cater to the African-American crowd by creating an African-American congregation within the larger white congregation with the hope that some will one day cross-over and join the majority in the regular Sunday morning worship hour.

 

Offended? You ought to be. Does it smack of racism? You bet it does. Will it work? I hope we never find out. It’s a ludicrous idea thrown out here for the sake of discussion only. I would never suggest, support, or promote such a sinful idea.

 

Yet, many of our churches do the same thing every week. We segregate our congregations into age-specific worship sessions. We have traditional worship for the older generation. We have contemporary services that appeal to the 35-50 year old contingent. We’ve got full-blown Christian rock worship for the singles. We’ve got celebratory worship services just for the youth. Sure, one population is welcome to worship with the other, and we hope they will, but by offering a smorgasbord of diverse worship experiences we’re in essence creating many mini-congregations who happen to share the same facility. That’s not a church. That’s a community center.

 

“Wait a minute,” you protest. “We offer these types of worship services in an honest attempt to appeal to segments of our population that we’re not reaching. They’re just not coming to the Sunday morning, 11 o’clock services. If we want to reach them with the Gospel, we’ve got to do something that speaks to them.”

 

Really? How is that any different than my offensive illustration about an African-American worship service? In the end, it’s not. It’s just a horse of a different color. The same presuppositions are at work. We assume that the way to reach different people is to offer different services.

 

That is true of the various ministries churches can and should offer. Not everyone needs marital counseling but some do. Not all members are struggling with dependency issues but some can’t break the habit. To those folks, and myriad others, we can offer something uniquely targeted to help them.

 

Yet, worship is different. While Christ reached out to people with the Gospel in their various life situations, every biblical example of worship reveals a church united. Revelation 4 and 5 promises us that the heavenly choir will feature voices from every nation and tribe. Yet, there will be one choir, singing with one voice, not various choirs doing their own thing in their own way. After all, that’s why we call it “corporate worship.” We do it together.

 

If unity in purpose and worship is the heavenly goal, should it not be our churchly goal? Shouldn’t we be directing our efforts here and now to that end rather than creating divisions within our churches?

 

If our current worship services are not meeting that end, unity in the worship of our God and Savior, it’s not time to start a new service. It’s time to fix the old one. We need to teach our people what the Bible says about worship. We need to show them God cares about worship. We need to lead them to set aside their differences and preferences in the name of Christian unity. When we do we’ll attract new audiences with our love for them, not our love for a style of music.

 

Please note, I am not saying that all churches have to be alike. I am not arguing that differences won’t exist between Church A and Church B. I’m not even arguing that differences don’t exist between the 20 year old and his parents. I’m arguing that Christ overcomes all those differences and so should our worship, if Christ is the object of that worship.

 

Sunday morning is, in fact, the most segregated hour in America. Unfortunately, many of us don’t even notice. Worse yet, we may unwittingly contribute to it as we continue to sort and to separate one believer from another simply because they’re different in age or color. Humanly speaking that might seem to make sense. Divinely speaking, that’s not the plan. God saves us one-on-one and then adds us to the one church. It’s time for local churches to minister to human needs individually and worship their Savior collectively.