Friday, April 12, 2013

What I Want in Worship

Wants, needs, expectations—we all have them rattling around in us on a Sunday morning en route to church. They vary, of course, from one of us to another by infinite degrees. Yet there are certain commonalities, those hopes and yearnings that persist in each of us as we anticipate gathering with the people of God.

My post-retirement “view from the pew” has given me a clearer perspective on this subject, and a more personal understanding of what others may want in worship. Here are some glimmers of insight I have to offer.

A Serious Celebration

The worship of God, especially on the Lord’s Day, should be a celebration, no doubt about it. The grace and overwhelming love God has shown in the birth, life and ministry, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ calls forth an expression of joy in word and song, from each of us, from all of us together.

At the same time, our worship is not to be giddy and casually gleeful. Sometimes joy is forced by so-called “praise music,” or a presider’s emcee glibness, ignoring the seriousness of the occasion. Christian worship is about life-and-death matters, and deserves sincere and sober consideration. We need to remember that “serious” is not the same as “solemn” and “somber,” but can be coupled with profound gladness erupting in celebration.

Confession Forgiven

It is in the Prayer of Confession and the Declaration of Forgiveness that the idea of a “serious celebration” ceases to seem like an oxymoron.

For individuals, confession is always a serious matter. To share this confession with others publically makes it all the more so. This is not so easy to do, if one is earnest about it. Maybe this is why so many churches fail to include a confession of sin in their orders, because it’s difficult to admit we so often miss the mark.

Yet confession of sin is not just an individual exercise at Sunday worship. It is also an acknowledgement of corporate sin. It’s even harder for us to fess up to taking part in the sins of the church or our government or of other groups to which we belong. This too is a serious subject for honest confession.

The difficulty of confessing, however, is matched by the humility conferred on us by God’s forgiveness. This is very different from confirming everyone’s inherent goodness and ignoring corporate sin in the world. When we are realistic about our failure to follow God’s lead in life, God’s forgiveness washes away guilt and blesses us with a chance to start over, all because of Jesus Christ. Now there’s cause for loud happy song and joyous tears.

Renewal and Change

When we come to worship and hear the story of God’s people told via Scripture, we ought to begin to get the idea that the message is all about change. God’s people have always been summoned and set on missions to turn things upside down, to make wrong right, and bad good. The renewal of life experienced in worship breathes breath into the prophetic voice of God’s people.

This is not simply a matter of personal change, but of social change as well. I used to have parishioners who claimed that social change was beyond the reach of Christian renewal—our job was to get individuals to change and then the world would naturally be altered accordingly. The biblical prophets including Jesus himself, not to mention many of his followers through history up to now, would disagree with that. Groups (including churches and governments) behave differently sometimes than the individuals involved.

The renewal of worship, in order to proclaim the message of repentance and reformation, needs to be high on the priority list for the church today. This is what will enable the church to speak forth for God on moral issues, wherever and whenever they appear.

Encouraging Challenge

All of which leads to the most important thing I want in when I go to church in Sunday. That is to be challenged.

One of the weaknesses in our churches today is that there is not sufficient provocation of people in the pews to act out their faith by following Jesus. Are we as generous as we could be? Are suburban church budgets as benevolent as they could be? Are we Christians caring for the poor and prodding our government representatives to do their job? Do we take the side of the weak and powerless? There are pages of similar questions to be asked.

Sunday morning is challenge time. Let’s have it laid out for us what needs to be done by disciples of Jesus, and then let’s be encouraged by the promises of the Spirit that, with God’s help, we can move mountains if need be.

Without such spiritual prodding, there will be very little renewal or change, and ever-decreasing commitment by the people in the pews. Scripture, sermons, prayers and praise all combine to make us different people when we leave church from who we were when we came in.

What do you want in worship?

1 comment:

  1. Charlotte KroekerApril 15, 2013 at 8:19 AM

    I want worship to be the most important place I go in the week. I hope others will join me in surrounding it with the planning, content, artistry, beauty, respect and dignity that we reserve for the most important places in our lives.

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