Three Questions about Worship You've Not Asked
- Thursday, July 14, 2011
Someone once said the unexamined life is not worth living. I imagine that's right. In the same vein, I would like to propose that the unexamined worship is not worth offering.
Worship that is not examined tends to sink to the lowest common denominator.
Being retired now and in a different church almost every Sunday, I see every kind of worship service you can imagine. Some give evidence of much thought, serious planning, and loving attention. Others appear to be the same form that congregation has followed since the Second World War, with even the hymns being unchanged.
Once or twice the thought has popped into my mind that it would be interesting to stop that deacon in the middle of his prayer or the song-leader in the midst of his/her exercise and say, "Hey! What is this all about? Why are you doing this?"
Those are good questions. I suggest anyone involved in worship leadership pose them (and a few others) to himself.
Why are we doing church this way? Why do we sing these hymns and not those? Why do our prayers sound the same week after week? What would happen if we changed the format? Why would I want to do that? What are we doing here on Sunday mornings? What is our purpose? What do we expect to get out of this?
Worship that is not examined tends to become routine quickly.
By "routine," I mean the worship service is characterized by a sameness in form, a dullness in expression, a pointlessness in purpose.
C. S. Lewis once said something to the effect that he could worship in any kind of format so long as it was unchanging and unvarying from week to week. He clearly liked the sameness and predictability of his worship service. I expect he has plenty of company, but I'm equally certain this is not good.
The human mind needs to be awakened and challenged in church, not sedated. It needs to be redeemed and focused, not lulled into a lethargy.
When Hosea and later Jeremiah called on God's people to "break up the fallow ground," they were calling for a personal humbling and repentance before a Holy God. However, that command pertains to worship also. So easily do we fall into our ruts, offering up hymns and prayers mindlessly, giving offerings thoughtlessly, hearing sermons passively.
Worship that is not examined soon ceases to focus on God and turns its attention to man.
Listen to the congregation as they exit the worship facility. "I got a lot out of that today." "I didn't get anything out of that sermon today."
Man-centered. The object of worship deteriorated into meeting the needs of the worshipers, a task no human agency on earth (the pastor, the staff, the choir) can meet. Only God can meet people's needs at the deepest level. And those needs are met best through worship.
Recently, in an article on this website, I suggested many in our churches are going about worship all wrong. They go to church for what they can get out of it, rather than to "give unto the Lord the glory due to His name" (Ps. 29:2).
The reaction to that article was divided. Some sent notes of appreciation for awakening them to how they had been worshiping wrongly--coming to 'get' instead of to 'give,' putting too great a burden on their minister, and then blaming him when they were not fed adequately.
Others treated that line of thought as though it were blasphemy. One person (who did not write me; I found his blog accidentally) called it "utter nonsense." The very idea that we do not "go to church to be fed spiritually." I left a response, but have had no communication from him.
At no point did I suggest that we do not need to be spiritually fed. We all need to have our minds awakened and our hearts moved in worship. We all want to leave church different from the way we entered. However--and this is the point--it should be something God did, not the preacher. Something God gave us, not something we worked up. Something God chose to bless us with of His own will and for His own pleasure, not some kind of bargain we made with Him.
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