Two things have converged for me today. First, I am in the midst of teaching about worship, namely the purpose and character of worship as our response through celebration of who God is and how He has revealed Himself to, in, and through His people throughout the previous week. Second, I am currently reading “The Rise of the Nones” by James Emery White. In it, he writes this:
“Historian Christopher Lasch has christened ours ‘the culture of narcissism,’ saying that this is the new religion – a religion in which we don’t actually want religion proper but instead, personal therapy. And it is just this spirit that has invaded our thinking and gone to war against the church. Eavesdrop, for a moment, on our rhetoric: ‘I want to go where I’m fed’ – not where we can learn to feed ourselves, much less feed others. ‘I need to be ministered to’ – as if ministry in the life of the Christ follower is something that happens to us instead of something we make happen through us for others. We walk out of a worship service and say, ‘I didn’t get anything out of it,’ as if its purpose is our edification instead of our worship of God.
Such a consumer mindset only looks at the church in terms of how it caters to specific felt needs. This from a people whose Savior said, ‘[I] did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give [my] life as a ransom for many” (Matt. 20:28). A Savior who said, ‘Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last’ (Mark 9:35). A Savior who said, ‘Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant’ (Matt. 20:26). A Savior who said to the Father, ‘Not my will, but yours’ (Luke 22:42). Yet a spiritual narcissism has invaded our thinking to the point that the individual needs and desires of the believer have become the center of attention.”
And that got me thinking about the “typical” worship gathering that happens on a Sunday morning. The “typical” worship gathering is only truly around 50% about celebrating God. The other 50% is about teaching people from the Bible. It’s about education in the subject of God and following Him, not celebration of God. In looking at it this way, the purpose for a worship gathering has been watered down and given multiple purposes when it should only have one. God is being cheated and people are being cheated opportunities to share how God has revealed Himself to them during the week which would then cause even greater worship by those gathered.
It is who He is and our experience of Him that should drive us to celebrate Him in worship. True worship emanates from intimacy and encounter. Seeing Him and His presence and activity should excite us to such a point that we cannot help but celebrate Him through worship.
When a group of believers (a church) gathers together in Jesus’ name for the expressed purpose of worship, each voice matters. That means the experiences and heart that are behind that voice. In order for the worship to be as deep and rich as is possible, two things, and two things only, must be the focus of this time: God and how He has revealed Himself to His people.
As I have considered this, what if celebrating God was, once again, the sole purpose of the gathering and a teaching time was done afterwards? What if, for one hour, the people gathered to celebrate who God is, share how He has revealed Himself to them during the past week, and then celebrate that? That would make people take notice throughout their week of how God has revealed Himself. They would need to be intentionally looking for Him. That means that they would need to be continuously tuned into God and who He is during the week so that they are able to come and help us celebrate Him. It would mean that each worship gathering would be different because we would be celebrating different things each week, depending on what God had done that previous week.
Then, after say a 15 minute break because I’m sure there would be those who wouldn’t want to stay more than 60 minutes and they could leave at this time without disrupting anything, there would be a 20-30 minute teaching (sermon) time. So, all told, if a worship gathering began at 10:30AM, it would wrap up anywhere from 12:05-12:15.
I know that, to some, this probably sounds radical, but what is the purpose of worship? Is it to celebrate God, who He is and what He is currently doing, or is it about us listening to someone teaching? Teaching is important, don’t get me wrong, but worship is about celebration of God, which is focused on Him, not education, which is primarily focused on us.
Adding something additional, no matter how good and important, to the purpose of worship is taking away from celebrating God and is shortchanging Him.
I now have possibilities swirling in my head.