By Mike Harland
I enjoy the Twitter account of the “Church Curmudgeon.” His profile description is simply, “It’s not like it used to be.”
His tweets employ funny satire that makes subtle and not-so-subtle points about life in the pew.
Honestly, most churches have someone who reminds us of characters like him. And, more often than not, their favorite subject to opine on is the church worship service.
“I’m not so sure I liked the service this morning.”
“Dr. Smith didn’t seem to have his best stuff today.”
“I liked that song, but thought she was the wrong person to sing it.”
“Why did we take up the offering at the end of the service? I hate it when they go changing the order of service.”
Most of us have our own version of this story. If you’re like me, you don’t necessarily like the ways you think about the worship experiences of your church.
But, if you could rebuild the way you think about worship, would you do it? Is there a better paradigm for worship that transcends the role of critic and moves it to something that is a healthier and more biblical way to think about it?
The Old Mindset
Without really meaning to, the modern Christian seems to have developed a consumer mentality when it comes to worship.
We build theaters and equip them with the latest in lighting and sound technologies. The music is programmed and enhanced with the latest in trendy worship styles.
Everything about how we do the corporate gathering suggests that the congregation is there to see something. Church is a place where you go to get something. Corporate worship is more of a “filling station” experience—a place where you go to get something.
This paradigm leads to attitudes that can be counter-productive to the spiritual discipline of worship so needed in the life of a healthy disciple. Very soon, a person with this approach will take on the persona of the old guys in the balcony
If you attend a church that is experiencing a transition, this can be an especially toxic.
In such a culture, the very suggestion of changing something can create angst and confusion if the paradigm of worship stems from a consumer perspective.
Here’s the train of thought for many of us: Since corporate worship is designed for me to receive something and to “fill my tank” spiritually for the next week, I not only have the right to evaluate it against my expectations, but I have the responsibility to evaluate and express my expectations.
There must be a better way. And there is.
A New Way to Think About Worship
Instead of thinking about church as a “filling station” where you go to be filled, what if you thought about worship as an “altar” where you go to be emptied?
Instead of receiving a blessing, why not think about worship as the time to give yourself—your praise, your offering, your commitment, and your love for God and others away.
Abram didn’t climb up the mountain for a blessing. He went to offer his son.
Isaiah didn’t look up to the throne to accept God’s forgiveness. He bowed in repentance, and God’s provision followed. His worship wasn’t “Here am I, bless me.” It was “Here am I, send me.”
Instead of thinking about worship as the experience of receiving something with the purpose of having your expectations met, what if it was the place where you go to give your sacrifice of worship to the Lord?
In this mindset:
- You find yourself less critical of others and more self-aware of your need for God’s Spirit to rule your heart.
- You are not focused on the parts you don’t like, but on the areas of your life not yet aligned with God’s purposes for you.
- You aren’t so much concerned with the music or the order of service, but on the Word of God and what He is saying through it as it is read, sung, and preached.
- You have more concern about the work God is doing in the lives of everyone, and not only on whether or not everything is to your preferences.
The life of the Apostle Paul is a beautiful picture of just how far we can go in this shift to a new paradigm in worship.
Once consumed with the rules of religion, once he met Jesus, Paul slowly loses the demands of his former religion and became singularly focused on the person of Jesus ruling his life.
He summarizes the end of the journey with a simple statement to Timothy, his son in the ministry: “For I am already being poured out as a drink offering and the time of my departure is close” (2 Timothy 4:6, CSB).
At the end of his journey, there’s absolutely nothing left of Paul. He has poured it all out as an offering – there are no unmet expectations or disappointments to reconcile, only a humble child of God who had settled that his life was nothing except Christ alive in him.
This year, you can approach worship with a long list of expectations and preferences, and if you do, you can be assured of being disappointed and frustrated at least some if not most of the time.
Or, you can approach worship—not as an occasion to be served and have your needs met—but as the time you join with the rest of the Body of Christ to pour out yourself in worship, only to be filled through the days of the week as God faithfully walks with you each day.
If you do this, corporate worship time for you will be the place you run each week to add your worship to the sacrifice of praise that Jesus so richly deserves.