Sunday, February 17, 2008

Me-Centered Worship

Sometimes I raise questions about things that, I think, most people wish I would leave alone. Believe me when I tell you that I don’t take any twisted pleasure in this. It’s just that there are things about the way I have always “done church” that nag at me; they get stuck in my head and I can’t let them go. One of those things, as of late, has been corporate worship time.

By corporate worship time, I refer to the music / singing time that is a staple at most protestant worship gatherings. We stand. We sing some songs. Some churches engage in liturgy. Then we’re done. If the right songs were selected, or if the music was particularly moving that day, we feel satisfied. And perhaps some people genuinely connect with God. I certainly don’t want to deny that. Connecting with God in our music / singing is not what I’m taking issue with.

I’m concerned that a room full of people, who call themselves followers of a faith that binds them as brothers and sisters, join their voices together, but otherwise, make no other kind of connection. The “worship” they offer is worship in their heads and in their hearts to God for what God has done for them…in them…maybe even through them. Again, let me affirm that I believe that these are all good things!

But should there be more to it?

Oddly, the New Testament says very little about how to conduct our worship gatherings. The focus of the majority of the New Testament is on how we live in relationship to one another. Remaining united and committed to fellow brothers and sisters is of the utmost importance. The writer of Hebrews addresses the concern that some Christians are not meeting together as they should. They are urged to meet together and are challenged to “encourage one another” and “spur one another on toward love and good deeds. (10:24-25)”

In two other places in the New Testament, singing (presumably in a worship setting like a house church) is mentioned. In both cases, our singing is to be accompanied by the act of speaking hymns and songs to each other; to admonishing one another.

“…speaking to one another with psalms, hymns and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord…” Ephesians 5:19

“Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.” Colossians 3:16

I picture the early church meeting together and sharing what God has been doing in each life, and through them as a unit—the body of Christ—the Church! Perhaps some are discouraged by persecution or because they have had to leave their biological families to join “the Way” and are brokenhearted over their loss, only to have their new family members rally around them to sing a hymn or psalm of encouragement to them. Then, in the next breath, they lift their voices to heaven to give thanks and praise to God for this new family, this new life, this new way of loving and being human.

I can predict that some might be thinking this thought: "Don't we have small groups for things like this?” Of course! Any environment where we can encourage one another in worship, we should! However, what do we do then with the music / singing time at our worship gatherings? Do we limit them to songs / experiences that deal largely with me—my relationship with God, my blessings, my issues while neglecting the dozens, or even hundreds, of people (brothers and sisters) we are standing and singing next to?

At worship gatherings of The Well, we’re going to begin experimenting with this kind of worship. It’s funny to say it (after 15+ years of “leading worship”), but I’m not really sure how to go about it.

But, I know this for sure: our collective worship times should be celebrations of what God is doing among us: me, you, we. I should share and celebrate the things God has done for and through you and I should share and celebrate the things God has done for and through us.

How can we change what we do, what we sing, how we interact, etc. so that our corporate, collective gatherings are not merely a bunch of Christ-followers singing me-centered worship songs? What can we and what should we do to breathe life into one another and into God’s purposes for us as a united church when we come together?

I’ve got a short list of ways to begin experimenting with these ideas, but if you’d like to contribute a suggestion, I’d love to hear it!


Esther said...

ha! I just read this today! I wrote a blog on it too in reference to the "short list" from McLaren's interview

I had a musician friend comment:
One of the things that frustrated me most about playing worship music was that most contemporary worship songs are in first person. In many, God isn’t even mentioned by name, let alone poverty, vulnerable classes, injustice, environmental responsibility, and peace. Talk about the wrong frame of mind for worshiping Him. The dumbing down of sacred music is a very underrated factor of the church’s decline in contemporary times.

Are you going to share your suggestions?

Anonymous said...

Thank you for being the type of follower of Christ who leads others by sincerely trying to be for what is right rather than simply for what is common--what has been traditionally done. With a broad enough historical perspective, there are few things that are "traditional."

It seems to me that the point is not so much what we/people DO as much as what we/people BECOME in the process. Not how people worship, but what people ARE and the transformation from within that occurs. I think the conversation should be directed to the deepest level--the impact that occurs within the heart that helps people become more Christ-like in their Being.

In fact, it seems to me that the purpose is to practice what will help people be transformed from within, and that the purpose is for the benefit of the worshipper's development (it's not selfish to work on spiritual growth) because Divinity is not in need. Not all will like this final comment, but it's worth chewing on nonetheless.