When was the last time you read a book that you just couldn’t put down due to excitement and before you knew it, it was 2AM? When was the last time you watched a new movie that you just couldn’t pull yourself away from? How, in either case, could this have happened? Could it be that this excitement was from not knowing what was going to happen next and you just had to know what was going to happen next? Could it be that you were so invested in that book or movie that you became mesmerized by it?
More than a few times, and usually from those of younger crowd, I have been told that one reason they, among others, don’t go to worship is because they find it predictable and boring. And if we are truly honest, in most worship services this cannot be legitimately refuted. Who was it that first deemed it necessary for certain activities to always happen in a proper and God-honoring worship service? For those who have been in the worship services in a variety of churches, have you noticed that there is a consistency in what occurs from church to church, albeit, maybe in a different order? Announcements are communicated in some way; there is singing by everyone in the sanctuary, usually led by an individual or a praise team; there is usually some type of special number, whether by an individual or a group such as a choir; an offering is taken; a sermon is preached; one or more prayers are said; in many faith traditions, on the first Sunday of the month, communion is observed. Rarely does the content vary, even from church to church. Eventually, it becomes very rote to people. And eventually, it becomes very predictable and loses its luster and its ability to cause excitement in people. In other words, it has become boring.
Was it ever God’s intention that worship of him become predictable and boring? Was it ever God’s intention that humanity substitutes its definition and picture of order for God’s? Why is it that when we, through our human eyes and understanding, see what we would consider chaos, we typically are of the opinion that God cannot be in it, for as I Corinthians 14:33 says, “God is not a God of confusion, but of peace?” What if what we see as chaos God actually sees as orderly because it is order as he defines and gives it, not how we do so.
On the day of Pentecost in Acts 2, there was chaos when the Holy Spirit descended upon the 120 in the upper room. The events of that day were so chaotic that those observing them were of the opinion that way too much alcohol had been freely flowing among the group. But God was the author of what was occurring that day. In human eyes, chaos was seen, but in God’s eyes there was a sweet and beautiful order as he defined and orchestrated it.
For the vast majority of people who found themselves in a worship service sometime over the past weekend, most likely their level of participation in worship was limited to singing a few songs, shaking a few hands while greeting a few people, listening to a special number, a prayer or prayers and a sermon. Is this really participation? I’m thinking that if this is the definition of participation in worship, then everyone in the crowd at a sporting event or concert are participating with the athletes on the field or the performers on the stage. It is a very low level of participation.
What if the way God intended for worship to be was much different than what is normal in sanctuaries on Sunday mornings? What if he desires that different things happen from week to week? What if he desires that one draw for people to worship him is that they never know what will happen any given Sunday? What if how and through whom he communicates changes from week to week? What if, much like what Paul describes in I Corinthians 14:26 where he says, “Whenever you come together, each one has a psalm, has a teaching, has a revelation, has a tongue, has an interpretation for the purpose of building up each other and the body,” this is the common experience for churches today? What if God speaks to and directs someone, in the days leading up to the corporate worship experience, to bring a song, or a word of revelation, or a skit or something else that would bring all deeper in an encounter with the living God?
If what I have just described becomes the norm and not adhering to a set order of service, or even deeming certain actions and activities to be necessary in every corporate worship experience, what would happen to people’s level of excitement about and participation in worship? Much like that book or movie that has its firm grip on someone, there is an increase in the level of excitement because you never know what is going to happen in worship from week to week. The level of excitement will increase because you never know how God is going to reveal himself and his desires to the corporate whole or even through whom. People will walk into a sanctuary wondering, “What’s going to happen this week?” or “How will God reveal himself this week?” or “What will God say this week?” The level of participation will increase and be deeper because now, not only are more people actively involved because God speaks through all his people, but what is being communicated draws us deeper into God and who he is for us and what he has for us right now.
Predictable and boring are not two words which describe the way I understand God, his character and his desires, the way he reveals himself and the way he has worked throughout the centuries. God has worked in ways that cause amazement and marvel because he has done so in ways, places, situations and through people that are totally unexpected and more than a bit chaotic. God multiple times describes what he does as a “new thing.” If all this is the case, why then is it that these two words (predictable and boring), many times, accurately describe the way we present God to others and/or our worship of him? I wonder; does constant predictability and boring worship in some way offend God?
When people are allowed the freedom to bring and present whatever and however God has directed them, there can be a form of chaos, but only from a human standpoint is it so. To God, since it has been he who through his Spirit has directed each person to bring what he/she brings, there is actually a sweet order to that which he has beautifully crafted. This is not to say that what is brought is not of excellence for God likes it when we bring beautiful stuff to him. If a person is given a song to bring, that person should practice that song in order to bring a wonderful gift to enhance our corporate worship of God and encourage the building of the body.
In all of this, it is the responsibility of leadership to create an environment where people are granted the freedom to participate to this level. It is the responsibility of leadership to encourage people to listen to God and bring what he tells them to bring to enhance worship and build up the body.
It is the responsibility of this pastor. And through God’s direction and strength, having the unexpected happen will become what we expect.