I’ve been doing some studying … mostly because I’m coming to the end of my six months of messages and teachings for the church I serve and am asking God what’s next. In the process I am looking in the mirror and seeing a change in myself that I do not like.
I’ve been at our little church revitalization work for just over five years now. When I started, I was just on the other side of the liver transplant journey that shook me to the core. It was a process that stripped me back to nothing.
When I started at this historic building on Main Street, I was in a place where I was vulnerable and absolutely awed by a God who I came to know more intimately than I ever before. I had been through difficult seasons in life. but I had never been totally broken and desperate. I always had some core strength or belief that I could do something, make some changes and pull myself through. The transplant journey offered none of that. Everything was entirely out of my control. All I had left was my faith and my people. And even some of “my people” distanced themselves from me because, like Job of the bible, I was too much to look at and too uncomfortable to be around.
When I started with this small group of people, all I wanted to do was worship and show others what I discovered. All I wanted to do was tear down barriers so that people could find the life-giving, always faithful, sustaining Jesus I had come to know so intimately. I remember times of singing songs in our gathered worship service and having to take a few minutes to compose myself before being able to speak. I went to worship. Not much else mattered.
Skip ahead to 2018. I am relatively healthy, just having the normal immunosuppressed challenges of catching most every virus and every bug going around. I am reestablished and financially secure in middle class Americana. I have appointments on my calendar, planning meetings to attend and even long-range goals. I remember not being confident enough to even plan things two months in advance because I didn’t know if I would be in the hospital or even alive. I am not desperate for God and the intimacy of suffering has faded. I’m operating on my own strength.
I have been studying why Americans go to church. I’ve been reading blogs, watching videos and studying church growth resources with their formulas for building attendance. I see things listed like:
- attractive children’s spaces
- quality coffee, welcome area
- comfortable and inviting lobby areas
- quality music
- engaging stage design
- practical, upbeat messages
- parking lot greeters
I am being offered resources for attractive, targeted, direct mailings promising 1-2% response rate.
I just watched a young man make a very good and passionate plea for Christians attending church for the “right reasons.” It was all basically good stuff:
- Because Jesus went to temple and the church is His Bride. He values it.
- To contribute and serve.
- To give your children a faith foundation.
- Community – caring for each other and receive care.
- Connections – personal and professional networking.
I’m reading a lot and watching a lot of presentations. There is no shortage of materials aimed at helping struggling churches attract people. That makes sense because the American church is not even keeping up with population growth. The American church is searching for the formula to fill the seats.
Worship, beyond a well-produced musical package, is missing.
I am trying to discover when all-encompassing worship left the equation. When was it that gathering to simply worship God moved from the key reason for believers gathering to not even making the list?
I attended a large church service recently with a few hundred others and though the message was strong and the people welcoming, I was bothered. The band was tight and well-produced and the two large screens gave us the lyrics we needed.. We sang about how we can do anything in Christ, about how much God loves us, about our power in him and we sang about God’s “reckless” love pursuing us and chasing us down.
I sang “boundless” because I can’t assign “reckless” to anything my God does. It was all good in reminding us of our position and standing in Jesus. But, I left feeling like I had worshipped myself rather than my God. Does that make any sense? It was all about me somehow … or, at least, that was my perception. The energy was great and the enthusiasm palpable. It was so good but I still felt like something was missing.
Worship is missing. Worshipping the living God for who he is, worshipping him for his character, his mercy, his love, his justice and his position is missing. It’s been missing in me.
I’ve been going to teach good Truths. I’ve been going to church worrying about who comes and if this person is happy or why that person doesn’t like me anymore. I’ve been going hoping that people will get something out of it and even hoping people find hope in Jesus. I’ve been hoping our children’s program grows and hoping we can see our music team add musicians in key spots. I’ve been putting presentations together and searching for memorable object lessons. But, I haven’t been going to worship.
When worship is my focus not many of the details matter. When worship is my focus I don’t tend to notice who came and who skipped and I don’t leave wondering if my message landed as a 9 or a 3. When worshipping God is my motivation, other things flow out of it naturally.
I want to stand up and say, “hey, if we’re here for something other than worshipping the living God, we’re here for the wrong reason” because that’s true of me. My God saved my life and preserved me not to revive a little church in Westbrook; that is not my primary purpose. He preserved me, saved my life so that I might worship him, give him all and then stand back and see what he brings out of that worship. This privilege I have to shepherd here in Westbrook is not about me at all, it’s an outflow of worshipping my God.
We’ve been fooled into thinking that our evaluations and our opinions are what matters more than anything else. We give our reviews and feedback immediately on Google or Yelp. Waitress too slow? 2Two stars. Meat overcooked a little? Two stars. Temperature in the theater just right and popcorn good? 4 stars. We really believe our personal opinions, preferences, likes and dislikes are the most important thing. We write our blogs, tweet our thoughts and compose our rants on social media fully believing that our “right to be heard” is tantamount.
And then, we bring that mindset into our churches where we evaluate everything, Children’s program? 1 star. Music, 3 stars. Coffee, 1 star. Decor, 1 star. Preaching, 3 stars. People, 4 stars. It goes on and on. It’s about us. It’s our job and responsibility as reviewers. We are the consumers.
I’ve been doing the same thing. It’s not unimportant to have quality programs. Cleaning is important and comfort is not a bad thing. But worship is to be our primary motivation.
I am not talking about ‘worship music,” if there is such a thing. I am not looking for a 4 star, tight, energetic, get-them-on-their-feet, great lights and sound, “worship experience.” What I long for is a total focus on being in the presence of God to worship him.
I’ve been blessed to worship singing along with a terrible guitar player trying her best. I’ve been blessed to experience powerful, authentic worship inside a large, hot, very uncomfortable big-top, tent. I’ve been moved worshipping with believers with no PA system and no electricity and I have worshipped in a setting with 5,000 others lead by a song-leader who became almost invisible, directing everything to God. I’ve been immersed in worship where the speaker was not polished or funny or energetic. In each circumstance nothing mattered except for gathering to worship the living God.
I’ve gone to our worship gathering for the past two weeks refocused on the immense privilege and mystery of joining with other believers, as the church, to simply worship. It has been good to get back to what matters. I haven’t worried about anything. In fact, I forgot my watch Sunday morning. I don’t know if I finished on time or started on time. But, I do know that I sang my prayers to my God through lyrics that focused on worshipping him. I know that I sang songs reminding me of my position in him as his child. I didn’t really notice much else. And I didn’t worry at all about the teaching time and who would like it or not like it. It was part of worship.
“Worship” is the word we use. But the Greek and Hebrew languages use a bunch of words to describe all the elements of worship: aboda, latreia, latreuo, latreia, leitourgia, proskyneo, shachac, gonu, gonupeteo, histahawa, shachac, proskyneo, homologia, thusia. Somehow we’ve reduced all of it into a 60-90 minute block of time that we attend when nothing better is pulling us away. For many people, it’s reduced even further into just the music portion of that 60-90 minutes. Somehow, worship is now about us and what it does for us. Did we sing songs I like? Was it the right length? Did it move me?
Worship is the response of grateful and humble people to the living God where submission, sacrificial service, praise, profession, testimony and gratitude are freely expressed in innumerable ways. ~ Lee Campbell, PhD
This relationship with God is so much bigger than a Sunday morning event. Worship is saturating, shaping and defining every day. Worship is not about me at all. Worship is my response to an omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient God who holds everything and is worth everything.
Worship is response, praise, sacrifice, obedience, fear, service, adoration. Worship is confession, testimony, study, conforming and bowing. Worship is always.
Sunday mornings are just part of worship. Gatherings of believers is when the supernatural mystery of God’s pleasure, power and presence meld when two or more show up to focus all on him together. He indwells corporate worship for his glory and his purpose.
Worship is not about me at all. And that, in itself, has freed me from so much of the pressure I was carrying.
Why do you go to church? To worship?