Tuesday, February 02, 2010

The Precious Worship Service

It is quite amazing how strongly a person can feel about the external things that make up the schedule of events presented at a large group meeting of Christians during one hour on Sunday.” – Yours Truly

“The perfect worship service would be one we were almost unaware of. Our attention would have been on God.” – C.S. Lewis

One time, I saw a video played at a church service about a couple who had weathered some very tough situations in their marriage, and let me tell you, by the end of it, my jaw was on the ground at how their impossible situation seemed to be miraculously turned around by God. Everyone was talking about it after the worship service, but not everyone was talking about where they saw God in it. I overheard one lady, with scowled face, pursed lips, and frowning eyebrows complaining to an elder that she “didn’t appreciate the music” track that was gently playing behind the couple as they shared on the video.

Another time, I was at a worship service where this sweet lady who had undergone a very difficult time medically went up to the preacher and asked if she could express her thanks to the church family for all the special help and support. I was undone emotionally by her sincere gratitude as she rattled off just a few of the names and actions that so many had selflessly given. Everyone was noting how they saw Christ in her and in those she spoke about. Except for the people in one email chain, who were only noting (in an appalled way) that a woman spoke into a microphone during the worship service.

Another time, I remember being taken in by the songs being sung. It was so cool how each song’s message led seamlessly to the next. When I was waiting in line to tell the guy responsible how I noticed the presence of God in what he put together for us, I was behind a couple who was lodging a disgruntled complaint about the absence of certain songs that they would have rather sung.

In another worship service, I got to share a teaching of Christ about the forgiving nature of God and the guilt-free living available because of it. I handed out index cards and pencils, and invited the group to privately write down things they still live in guilt about. I ended the teaching by inviting them to get up and throw what they wrote down away in trash cans that I had put around the room as a symbol of what they are free to do with their guilt, according to Jesus. This seemed to merit me about a half-dozen emails from Christ-followers who were there, making the case that I shouldn’t have done it, with statements ranging from “because it makes people uncomfortable” to “we just don’t do that here” to “because it’s wrong.” (!)

Twice, and in two different churches, and on several different occasions, the idea of taking the Lord’s Supper in some other way than passing trays down each isle for everyone to partake privately was suggested, and it was knocked out on the basis of how the Christians who go there might react emotionally to “such a change”. Shew! I thought we Christians placed our belief on doing things by the Bible alone. Yet evidently, some Christians will react emotionally as if not using trays and pews would be unbiblical. Better not suggest the idea of taking it in our small groups at home (Acts 2:46). Or participating in it on a day other than Sunday (1 Cor 11:23-25).

What is it about the precious worship service that heightens some Christian’s sensitivity about what gets to happen within it?

One person who I know full well has TV’s in their home and use computers at their work got upset when his church put a screen and PowerPoint projector in the room to use during the precious worship service.

Another person who I know sang in choruses at school all of their life had issues when her church let a choir sing during their precious worship service.

Yet another person I know got upset when a preacher spoke too long. And another got upset when a preacher didn’t speak long enough.

One girl I know who would totally bust a move at the school dances to all of our favorite songs in the 80s was totally offended when someone in the worship service raised their hands in the air as we sang “These humble hands, I lift to You”.

What gives? Seriously.

The more I engage with human beings who have experienced these strong feelings about these external relatively small variations between different church services, I find myself having trouble explaining the justification for them (the strong feelings, that is).

I have trouble:

  • Explaining these strong feelings about the precious worship service to non-Christians.
  • Explaining these strong feelings to burned-out-on-church Christians.
  • Trying to justify these convictions as necessary to accomplish the fruit of transformation that Jesus is after in people’s hearts.

I’ve read the Bible through several times. I’ve read Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John the most (since they contain the story of Jesus while he was here). All this reading doesn’t make me any kind of authority on answering this question academically, but I am somewhat familiar with the life and teachings of Jesus.

It seems to me that he thinks that everything…everything…should be done out of sincere love for God and love for other people (Mt 22: 40). Additionally, it seems to me that he thinks that everything…everything…is useful or not by it’s potential to help people live the life that he came to give us, which he claimed to be the fullest, most abundant life possible (Jn 10:10).

So…it seems to me that everything…everything…in the precious worship service should be judged by the same. And that’s all.

The only time I can find where Jesus speaks directly about a worship service was when he was saying that the outward, superficial details didn’t matter. That what mattered to God was the “kind” of worshipper a person was. The “kind” that adhered, not to outward expressions of religious practices during a one-hour event on Sunday, but to an inward sincerity that dwells within the confines of “spirit and truth”.

What does he mean by “spirit and truth", you might ask.

Well, I think it means to worship in line with Christ’s heart, character, mission and priorities. So anything…anything…at a worship service that exalts love for God and love for people, no matter how it is outwardly and superficially presented, is just fine with me.

There is an interesting article here about some of the big issues in the Church of Christ, if you are interested. It starts out with one big issue in the precious worship service, but then expands towards the end and offers a perspective that could be used to discern all potential issues.

My advice to all Christians: Seek first Christ in everything that is presented to you within any worship service you attend. Work hard at this seeking, and you will find him. And your reward in the precious worship service will be great…Christ himself.

My warning to all Christians: Seek first what you consider wrong or uncomfortable in everything that is presented to you within any worship service you attend, and you will find it. Then you will work hard at being angry, disturbed, or disgruntled. And the reward in the precious worship service will be missed…Christ himself.


Brian said...

WOW!!! What a fantastic post. It's one that we can easily attribute to "other people" that we know at church and one we can easily attribute back to ourselves if we stop long enough to take a hard look in the mirror. May I have the humility to go into my next worship service with a mind focused on God and Christ and stop worrying so much about the song choices, the actions or others, and whether I am entertained.

Ginger said...

one word....Amen.

Randy Carroll said...

I really enjoyed the post. You touch on some very important issues. I can't agree with everything you have written. Maybe I misunderstood a couple of comments, but one especially stands out. You wrote "So anything…anything…at a worship service that exalts love for God and love for people, no matter how it is outwardly and superficially presented, is just fine with me." Now, I have to assume that there is some hyperbole here, otherwise one could insert anything into the worship service simply by appealing to their belief that it exalts love for God.

I understand your frustration with some of the responses you have had to worship services, but these should not influence our desire to look first to scripture for our answers.

Everyone has a feeling about what promotes or detracts from worship. And those feelings change over time from individual to individual. The only constant is scripture, and I would rather have some foundation for my actions in scripture, rather than in my ever changing feelings.

Brian Mashburn said...

I hear you loud and clear, Randy.

But it sounds like that you think my post is advocating "not" using scripture as our guide to what is "allowed" or "disallowed" in a worship service.

On the contrary, I am using the Great Commandment and the Great Commission as the firm and immovable guardrails on either side of us as we worship.

Isn't that using scripture? I would never suggest using people's feelings as the guide.

Ironically, Randy, most of the limitations churches adhere to as guidelines aren't because you can honestly find them in scripture as expecations from God, but because of people's feelings.

Paul Castleman said...

Good Article!

Laura said...

Loved that blog. And I couldn't help but think over and over about the "precious" ring from Lord of the Rings as you used that word over and over.

I'm thinking about that last scene where he holds so tight to his precious and decides not to let it go...and gets his finger bitten off. =] It's so hard to let go of the beautiful, precious sin we fall in love with. It's so hard to let go of the beautiful, precious traditions we fall in love with and think save us. But the freedom that happens when we let go...oh man. It's glorious. And I hate it when we have to deal with the consequences of "missing fingers" from holding on so long. I'm wondering what the consequences are for holding on to our precious traditions in worship. Maybe just missing out on experiencing the life giving, burden lifting release of writing some long held guilt down on a card and truly throwing it away...finally. Or maybe just missing the beautiful experience of shared, community joy when a sister expresses gratitude in a public way. Those things don't seem like much, but how beautiful they are when they are fully experienced, and how freeing to not have to sit and pick apart that beauty.

Thanks for your courage in writing.

Lisa notes... said...

Oh, my! You state so eloquently many of my own thoughts. Amen, brother. If we could just focus on the Greatest Command and WHO we are worshiping, many of our petty preferences would fade away.

Of course, that means my OWN pettiness would go away, too. I get too easily frustrated at other people's intolerance, thus exhibiting my own.

So thanks for your words. And keep stepping on our toes; it helps us grow. I'll pass this along.

David U said...

Great post Brian! I have said for several years that our "worship service" is our Golden Calf....we worship our "worship service". Hence, people having some of the reactions you mentioned when something happens they don't approve of. It's become an idol. And your response to Randy was SPOT ON.

Love you bro!

Brian Mashburn said...
This comment has been removed by the author.