I’ve been expecting to hear about a church somewhere that has used that exuberant Cole Porter song from Kiss Me Kate as a prelude or opening piece of music for Sunday morning worship.
Especially after a conversation with a Honduran couple a few weeks ago who are leading a Monday night fellowship and Bible study group as a deep study and worship opportunity. They felt the need to do this after being frustrated by what might be called “worship light” at many churches on Sunday morning.
Noting that there are numerous mega-churches in this country, I asked them why so many people are attending those gigantic congregations, one of which meets weekly in a structure that closely resembles a football stadium in architecture and size.
“It’s for the entertainment and the amenities,” he answered quickly.
I can understand the amenities. In a hot, poor and extremely violent country such as Honduras, it must be a relief to spend time in a facility that is air-conditioned, has comfortable lounges, a good restaurant, a safe soccer field and tennis court and a place where kids can learn sports, crafts, dance and other pastimes in a secure atmosphere even if it has to be guarded by machine gun-toting men who patrol the facility and check everyone who enters.
The entertainment is another issue. Maybe it’s because I was trained in seminary to know what worship is and how to lead it that I am growing increasingly concerned about what happens in the hour or two that we gather as Christians on Sunday morning.
Congregational worship, as I understand it, is when we gather as a church to corporately praise and worship the Lord, to give Him thanks, to confess our sins, to hear His word for us and to commit ourselves to Him.
It is God-focused. The praises are sung to Him. The prayers are lifted to Him. His word is proclaimed. And, we “present our bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is our spiritual worship,” (paraphrase of Romans 12:1).
All of that means that each and every aspect of worship is focused on the Lord, not on ourselves, which is difficult to do given the number of times that I, me, we and us appear in so much modern music. (At a recent gathering in one verse of a Christian song I noted the word “I” seven times, “my” five times and words referring to the Lord (“You, Your”) only two times.)
Our terminology has changed enough that we are set on the wrong course. We now have “worship teams” which lead “worship” but whose work is confined only to music. In fact, the entire corporate experience from music to the reading of scripture to the sermon to communion, to baptism to the benediction or closing prayer is also worship.
If only the music is seen as worship, I don’t know what people think is happening with the rest of the morning. The reality is that all that occurs during our Sunday morning gathering is worship and needs to be treated as such.
I read recently about some churches that are televising their Sunday service to other sites and even to other churches. The article mentioned that corporate prayer has been stripped from those services because the taking of prayer concerns and the slow, eyes-closed congregational prayer isn’t appropriate for the smooth, flowing, dare I say entertaining worship that is televised. People watching a smooth presentation on a screen won’t take well to watching people talk with their heads bowed and eyes closed.
Never mind that prayer is an integral part of worship and for some the high point of a service.
But, there is an interesting trend occurring, especially among those known as millennials (those who are 18-34). In increasing numbers they are being drawn to the historically liturgical churches such as the Episcopalians/Anglicans, Lutherans and Roman Catholics. It seems that this group has become disenchanted with the shallow, entertaining nature of some worship and are looking for something that goes beyond the glitz of another show.
They are looking for worship where they can participate through corporate prayer, the participative reading of scripture, a musical focus on the Lord and an emphasis on the preaching of the Word.
They are looking beyond entertainment in order to worship the Lord “in spirit and in truth.” (John 4:24)
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