Is it possible that Christianity’s massive investment in worship is misguided?
Think about it. We invest a lot of time, money and energy into worship, don’t we?
One morning or evening each week is devoted to it. Our society is very much oriented toward a weekly schedule that keeps Sunday mornings free.
We also build buildings for worship. We don’t have to. We could worship without them. But it is also not wrong to build buildings. The simple matter of fact, though, is we build buildings, lots of them. I don’t know the specific number, but I have heard that there are about 800 churches in Lancaster County, and most of them have buildings and property. Some are massive, some tiny, and many sizes in between. Drive around Lancaster County and start tallying up the church buildings and you lose count. Think about that with me for a minute. What would you estimate the average value of a church building and property to be? Now multiply that by 800. Then add the years upon years of furnishings, utilities and upkeep. That’s a lot of money, isn’t it? I wouldn’t doubt the figure is in the billions of dollars.
Then think about the other costs of worship. Staff is the big one. That’s me. The pastors. Then there are worship leaders and the many other staff. Multiply that by 800 churches, and here in Lancaster we spend a lot of money on hiring people to be involved in worship and worship programs, don’t we?
Next think of the time involved. Not just the 1.5 to 3 hours that you spend attending worship service and classes. Also add in the prep time, the volunteer time. Multiply that by 52 weeks every year. The result is a boatload of hours.
Put it all together and what do you have? We Christians make a massive investment in worship, don’t we? Why do we do this? The standard answer, and it is a good one, is that we give so much because God is worthy of our worship.
Not so fast, though. God is worthy, no question about it, but does that mean we can worship him however we want?
Because we invest so much into worship, it is incumbent on us to evaluate our investment, right? When you give time and energy and money to something, you are being responsible if you evaluate how that time, energy and money is being used, right?
How many of you would want to stand before God in heaven and hear him say “Your worship was seriously wrong. All that time and energy and money you spent on Sunday mornings in your buildings with your professional staff and worship services with songs and sermons and classes…I didn’t want you to do that!” You would want to know that, right? And you’d want to know what God wants sooner rather than later, wouldn’t you? I would. In fact, even if he said “You were on the right track, you were mostly right, about 75% correct in your investment in worship, but here are some things I wish you had done differently…” I would want to know that too! I would want to know even if we only got 5% wrong. Even if it was 1%. But how can we know?
When I meet people who don’t know much about Faith Church, they often have a series of questions they ask me: How big is the church? Is it inter-generational? And what kind of worship do you have? When they ask about worship, they’re not wondering about my sermons. They are wondering about the music! Is it traditional, contemporary, blended? We had a guest musician at our church a year ago or so for a special service, and he asked me that question: “What kind of worship do you have?” When I answered “experimental”, you should have seen the wrinkled up, confused look on his face. It was great! More recently I have changed my answer a bit. I still describe our worship as experimental, but I try to explain it a bit because people don’t know what I mean.
So what do I mean by “experimental”? People from Faith Church reading this might actually be confused by what I’m saying here because most Sundays we have a typical standby kind of worship. If you’ve been with us for a couple months, you know what I mean: welcome & announcements, focusing prayer, worship songs (mixture of old and new), sharing time, prayer, dismissal of kids, sermon, closing song, fellowship time. Doesn’t sound very experimental does it?
But I say that we are experimental because about once per quarter we try to do something completely different. Silent Sunday, Church has left the building, Worship in the park, worship in the Fellowship Hall around tables, artistic Sunday, change up the order of worship, change the method of communion, etc. It has been wonderful having the variety!
Why do we experiment with worship?
We experiment because we don’t ever want to give ourselves the idea that we have worship figured out. We always want to have the posture of learners when it comes to worship. There is no one right way to worship. We can learn from many different Christian traditions and new and upcoming styles about worship. Silent Sunday, for example, was informed by Quaker and Taize worship. We want to keep learning.
Why am I saying all this about experimental worship and being learners about worship? Because on our next two Sundays in our study of 1st Timothy, Paul teaches Timothy about worship. This is perfect for people who see themselves as learners of worship. Learners of worship don’t come to worship expecting to worship how they like to worship. Instead learners of worship come to worship services expecting God to teach them. That’s you and me. We are learners of worship. Disciples are learners from Jesus. And when we come to worship we come with hearts and minds that pray “Lord teach me today. Teach me how to worship you. Teach me what you want to teach me.”
Learners come to worship with teachable hearts and minds! And for the next two Sundays we are going to learn from Paul how to worship. Paul wanted Timothy to teach the church in Ephesus about worship. You are welcome to join us at Faith Church on Sunday if you want to learn about worship too! To prepare you might consider reading 1st Timothy 2. Hope to see you there!