In the last few days, I have been part of three worship services. At one, I was speaking–someone else designed and lead the worship and there were several other people taking part. The service had several hundred people in attendance, a large band providing music and a well trained community choir. I was both leader and preacher at the other two worship services. One had twelve in attendance–a good number for that service–and a musician who lead the music on her guitar–always a treat since the other option is a capella singing. The third service had about 13 in attendance–just over half our regular number and I was the accompanist–or at least, I pushed the buttons on the remote for the CD player.
All three worship services went well–there were no major mistakes, interruptions or problems. All three were well received by those attending, or at least the comments I heard and the non-verbals I perceived during and after indicated that. As worship services go, I would put all three on the positive side of the evaluation scale. I have been at worship that was better and I have been at worship that was a lot worse.
So far, anything I have been saying about these worship services is pretty normal and common. We, or at least people I associate with a lot, talk about worship in those terms a lot. I (and we) are evaluating the worship and we have some basic requirements for good worship. It needs to have some recognizable structure that we are comfortable with, good music that we can all identify with, an intelligible message that is relatively short and maybe has some point or at least some humor is there is no point and a comfortable number in attendance. There are probably many other basic requirements–for example, when working in Kenya, I generally preferred a worship service in one of the languages I could understand.
We all have a set of requirements for worship and if enough of them are met well enough, we declare the worship good and feel it was worth our time. If a major requirement isn’t met or a lot of smaller ones aren’t met, then worship isn’t good and we aren’t happy. If worship continues to make us unhappy, we will probably adjust our attendance by going less, finding a worship service that meets our requirements better or not attending at all.
We tend to evaluate worship on a very personal level, looking at what touches us and what moves us and what we like and dislike. And truthfully, that isn’t all bad. I much prefer worship in a language I can understand. I have attended worship in languages I don’t understand and while parts of the worship are accessible and understandable, mostly it is a confusing and frustrating activity. Some worship music helps me focus and some makes me wonder who in their right mind would appreciate that kind of music.
But it may be that in our concern for what moves us in worship that we miss the actual point of what we are doing. The point of worship is to recognize God, give him praise and thanksgiving, renew our relationship with him, reaffirm our submission to him, remind ourselves of God’s supremacy over creation and generally let God know that we love and appreciate him for all that he has done.
To give God true worship doesn’t require that I end up feeling good as a result. It may happen but that really isn’t a requirement for true worship since in the end, worship is supposed to be focused on God not on me. But it is too easy to confuse my feelings with the reality of worship–if I feel good, worship must have been good and if I feel bad, worship must not have been very good. And so we who lead worship begin to structure worship so that those in attendance will feel good because if they don’t feel good, they probably won’t come back.
I have been attending worship regularly since I was about nine or so leading worship regularly for over 40 years and have actually taught courses on worship to theology students–and I still find myself evaluating worship from my perspective, looking for what makes me feel good and what makes those attending feel good. Periodically, I need to remind myself of what worship really is–and so that is what I will look at in the next post.
May the peace of God be with you.