Sunday, June 3, 2012


I often wonder what other people expect of church worship as they roll out of the sack on a Sunday morning. The question is not what people want to get out of church, but what they anticipate the experience might hold for them. I sometimes wonder if anyone really considers such a question.

It’s a good query to pose to oneself, however, as a part of getting ready to go to the Lord’s Day service. What is waiting for me there? What should I look forward to? What should I be prepared for, and how might I brace myself accordingly? The expectations I bring with me have a great deal to do with what happens effectively in the course of the hour or so I’ll spend at worship.

For example, in those few shining moments when parishioners have told me why they really come to church, some have admitted that it was because they expected to see their friends. One person even fessed up to attending in order to be in the company of his boss—and when his boss went to another church, so did he.

I knew others who came with more noble expectations, looking for peace and quiet, a dose of calmness, and a comfortable pew all to themselves. These folks, as you might imagine, were the first to glower or grumble when the child acted up or the senior citizens conversed at full voice.

Some came to hear the beautiful music, the soaring tones of the organ and the bright, uplifting harmonies of the choir. As long as the hymns were familiar old friends, they were enjoyed as well, but a new hymn, a total stranger, was not eagerly welcomed.

“A good sermon” was occasionally mentioned as what a person expected to hear, although that was never clearly defined. One I thought was a homiletical gem might draw no response at all, while another thrown together among wall-to-wall pastoral and other crises played to rave reviews. Go figure.

Expectations of this kind are low-level, and basically miss the point of worship all together. If all we are looking for are friends, there are many venues for socializing. If we want to go someplace for serenity and soundlessness, the library might do as well or better. Granted that church services often offer music that is outstanding, but to get only what you want to hear, you’d be better off with your stack of CDs and stereo at home. Oratory is hard to come by these days, given the political climate, and maybe the local pastor’s sermon actually is the best one can expect after all.

For Christian worship, higher expectations are called for.

The part of the service called “The Gathering” leads us to expect that we will be part of a different group—not just a collection of friends or people we’d like to be friends with, but people summoned by God to be special people. Not that we come to church because we are special people already; God knows we’re not. Sinners, every one.

So included in "The Gathering" we find the Prayer of Confession. A personal expectation one might have coming to church is to be called upon to admit shortcomings and accept God’s forgiveness—neither of which is very easy.

“The Word” is proclaimed in Scripture and we should expect to hear ancient wisdom and story as timely as the morning newspaper. We can always anticipate hearing something fresh and new, some liberating thought or inspiring challenge.

“The Eucharist” is the thanksgiving celebration that is at the heart of Christian worship. Around the table set with God’s gifts of new life, we rejoice in the presence of our risen Lord—we expect to meet him there, as he promised.

And before we leave there is “The Sending”. We can expect to be challenged and prodded into discipleship, set on our way with a blessing as we go to serve the Lord.

Wrapped up in all this is the primary expectation for us all to be conscious of and alert to the presence of God. We anticipate the experience of meeting Christ in our midst. We look and listen for the movement of the Spirit within and among us.

Therefore, we can expect that whenever we worship God we will be changed, our lives will be forever altered. God will claim us as special people with special responsibilities. God will teach us new wisdom, and nourish us toward new strength. God will shove us out into the world to do the worship of service.

Life will not be the same again. You can expect that, for sure. And if we come to worship with that expectation, worship will not be the same again either.

What do you expect when you come to church? How does worship change you?


  1. I have the joy of co-leading worship most Sundays. Because I have not composed all the prayers, they fall fresh on my ears. Bringing me to a place of prayer and praise I might not have entered.

    The other joy of co-leading with the Sr Pastor, the choir director, and the organist, is the chance to witness the work of the Holy Spirit weaving our separate unagreed-upon offerings into a coherent message. That gives me such hope for the church going forward.. this reminder that it isn't human power and ingenuity holding it together. The Holy Spirit is alive and well, we only need listen.

  2. Your blog reminds me of a quote from Robert Taft "One constantly hears in the west that people do not go to church because 'they don't get anything out of it anymore.' What one 'gets out of it,' let me repeat what I have said on other occasions, is the inestimable privilege of glorifying almighty God." I think that is related to what we Presbyterians know as "the chief end" of each of us, to glorify God and to enjoy God forever.
    Arlo Duba

  3. We expect the surprises of the Lord our God because His Grace in Truth is ever surprising to us who are sinners saved by Him and His Mercy for us,

    Jack McKenna '57


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