While most Adventist churches are sermon-centric worship services, many of these newer churches use a style of worship that is more worship-centric. Believers are packing out many of these spaces to stand and sing their guts out to Jesus. They lift hands (1 Timothy 2:8) in praise as a natural worship response. They sway, sing, weep, laugh, pray, and shout to their Lord. When in the midst of it, one can’t help but feel close to Jesus.
I pastor a church with other preferences.
Different Ways to Worship
In my current church, we have orchestras, choirs, and a massive pipe organ. We have a grand piano that’s likely worth a quarter million dollars. It used to grace the stage of a large theater in Portland, Oregon. (Rumor has it that Janice Joplin’s signature is hidden somewhere in it).
We have a hymn of praise, a hymn of worship, and a closing hymn accompanied by one of the above classical musical means. Special music is classical and performed as if it was in a large concert hall full of tuxedo-wearing patrons. It’s powerful and moving and beautiful. And then I preach my guts out to a group of people who truly love digging deep into Scripture every week.
If you were to have the folks that enjoy the first kind of worship come to my church, they would sit politely and observe the worship service. Then they would leave feeling like they were missing something—maybe feeling a little empty. It’s not for them.
If you were to have folks from my church drive down the road and attend Crosswalk PDX, they’d walk out into the lobby filled with the aroma of fresh brewed coffee, plugging their ears. They would wait for the “music” to be done so they could go in and listen to a sermon.
Neither group of people thinks the other group of people is worshipping incorrectly, or that how they worship is somehow dishonoring God. Not at all. It’s just that they find more meaning in the way they worship God vs. their brothers and sisters down the road.
In both the above worship scenarios, believers are looking for an experience that they will be blessed by. Yes, they believe they are blessing the Lord while worshipping, but in the end, if we are honest, the way we worship is how we like to worship. It really doesn’t have much to do with what’s important to Jesus.
How We Worship
This is from an article I recently read, “For many Christians today, worshipping Jesus is pretty much all they want to do. They want to sing to Jesus for 4 hours in a rock concert worship event. They want to listen to worship songs in their car, or on their smartphones 24/7. And they love, love, love to worship Jesus. But, what if worshipping Jesus is just another way to avoid listening to Jesus? What if we’re all subconsciously choosing to worship Jesus because we’d much rather sing songs about how awesome Jesus is than turn around and love our enemies, or forgive those who hurt us, or bless those who curse us, or do good to those who hate us?”
Lest you get all judgmental about a particular style of worship, this quote from a Christian author and blogger could easily say,
“For many Christians today, believing all the right doctrines is pretty much all they want to do. They want to have seminars about Daniel and Revelation that last for weeks. They want to listen to their Bibles while riding in the car, or on their smartphones 24/7. And they love, love, love to believe the right things and avoid eating anything that isn’t healthy. But what if studying the Bible and believing all the right things is just another way to avoid listening to Jesus? What if we’re all subconsciously choosing to study all the time because we’d much rather study about Jesus than do what Jesus asks us to do in the world? To turn around and love our enemies, or forgive those who hurt us, or bless those who curse us, or do good to those who hate us?”
Doing What He Says
A favorite author of mine says, “Lots of people believe in Jesus, but not many people want to believe in Jesus’ ideas.”
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus confronts us with the idea that there are a bunch of people doing church together. They’re studying, worshipping, singing, praying, fighting demons, and dropping gifts in the offering plate (Matthew 7:21-23). In the end, this group of people are completely confounded when Jesus says, “Excuse me, do I know you? Have we met? I don’t recognize you.”
It’s a similar experience to the folks (goats) in the last parable told in Matthew 25. All believers, all worshippers, all church attending, Bible reading, singers of all the songs. They’re all seemingly attending the right worship experience for themselves so they can get their personal religious experience. Their fate? The goat hole.
So, what’s the problem here?
At the end of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 7), Jesus says, “Smart people will do what I say. Dumb people will ignore what I say” (MRV—Mark’s Revised Version).
In other words, “Smart believers will believe and carry out my commands; dumb believers won’t.”
Is Worship An Idol?
Is it possible that we could get so wrapped up in our worship experiences that we become no earthly good? That I get so focused on MY relationship with God and MY spiritual connection that I forget that Jesus has asked me to go out into the world and touch it with tangible love and beauty? Can I become so heavenly minded that I’m no earthly good?
Has our worship experience become an idol that takes us out of the world and into our own worship spaces? Has our collective worship preference caused the church to be a gathering in a space vs. being a force in the world that is mobilized to touch its citizens with healing care and love?
I hope not.
True gatherings in Jesus’ name, whether singing for an hour with lifted hands or singing a couple hymns, and studying deeply for an hour with an artfully preached sermon ought to fuel us to go out into a dying world and DO Jesus’ ideas.
If my worship experience is solely for my personal growth and experience, honestly, who cares? It’s just a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.
Let’s build our house on the Rock. Sand is for religious idiots.
Mark Witas writes from the Pacific Northwest.
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