I’ve been around church for years. And I think I’ve seen so much of what makes church, church these days–
Worship by the Common Book of Prayer
Worship where tongues are spoken
Worship where hands are raised
Worship in shorts
Worship in suits
Worship with shouts
Worship in silence
Worship from the pews
Worship from the pulpit
Is there a correct way to worship?
Is there a way of worship that is more pleasing to God?
Is there a worship style that will get more people to attend your church?
Such are the kind of questions church folks like to ask each other. Such are the kind of questions that church folks like to think they have complete certainty about.
We go to conferences to seek to worship in mass numbers. We go to conferences to learn better ways to lead our kind of worship. And we go to conferences to learn about the latest trends in worship.
But is such worth all our energy? What does God think of all our shuffling around like this? Does “better worship” or “bigger worship” really help us draw closer to the Divine?
I’m not so sure.
We’ve become good students at the art form of worship, but we’ve lost sight at what encountering God looks like– the kind of God that Annie Dillard says we need to wear crash helmets to experience in church. We’ve lost sight of believing that worship begins with a relationship. Worship begins with a desire for adoration of the One who is greater than us all– who could never to be controlled
And no fancy templates or worship orders are always needed. We can worship with or without drums, the piano or the organ.
And most of all, it’s never about emotion alone as is the most popular trend in so many churches today– it’s about an alignment of our entire being.
And worship most of all is not about us– not about what we “get out of it.” Not about the feelings we leave a worship service with and most of all worship is not for worship’s sake. Worship, as given to us in the Christian context is about setting our feet on holy ground. Holy ground which we may “feel” once in our lives– or if we are lucky maybe more . . . but the emotion is never guaranteed.
Consider this wisdom from Roberta Bondi about the emotional traps of whatever kind of worship practice we choose:
“If we have a powerful religious experience, we need always to remember that just because a religious experience is powerful it is not necessarily from God.”
Bondi goes on to ask us to consider these questions in our discernment of worship: “Does this experience make us feel singled out and either superior or not accountable to others in or out of the community because of it? Does it lead us to be judgmental of others, to say who deserves to belong to God’s people and who does not? . . . OR does this experience give us insight into ourselves, others or God? Do its insights hold good over time, or was it simply an emotional high that not only wears off but makes us seek another?”
If an experience of God in church leads us to want more of the experiences (the high of it all) and not God alone, then it is not worship at its best. BUT, if an experience changes us from inside out, turning over in us bone and marrow, thought and feeling, then it is worship that is about to change the world. It’s heaven come to earth.
What I most like to tell people as a pastor is: if you feel the need to raise your hands in a “quiet” church: do it. If you feel the need to cover your head in reverence in a “high” church: do it. If you feel the need to sit reflectively in a “loud” church: do it.
I think the sooner we stop trying to manufacture experiences of God, the sooner we’ll find the Holy in whatever tradition our worshiping life takes us.