One of the areas of church life I’ve encountered most joy and pain, in equal measure, is over the ‘worship service’ – that thing churches do mainly on Sunday mornings.
Times I’ve loved it is when the Word somehow seems to preach itself, when the worship seems to lead people to encounter God, and when people’s lives are changed in response. Those times can be beautiful.
On the other hand, over the years in churches I’ve encountered worship wars over song styles, service formats, and the usual complaints: too boring, too loud, too quiet, sermon too long, sermon too short, why are you wearing those jeans, I don’t like that change, we should change more, I hate the organ, I only feel blessed when the organ plays, I can’t stand the choir, the choir keep this church going, I can’t do with modern worship songs, I can’t stand these stodgy hymns, I don’t like…. you get the idea…insert your own.
We all know this, but the worship of the church isn’t actually for us. It is for Him, to Him. It is the people of God holding him up in high esteem, seeking his will and learning from his way and teaching. It’s not about me. The fact I get a blessing is simply a byproduct. In fact, the gathering of the church isn’t just about worship. It is also about community.
There are two times in my life where I can identify some really special times of ‘being church’ together with others. The first was at Salvation Army training college when Tracy and I opened our flat for teaching and fellowship on a Wednesday night. Those were special times of deeper sharing and building relationship with some great people. I was so encouraged by the faith of others and really learned so much about God and his ways with those people. It was in our small college flat, people sat on every surface, some decent food, and often well into the wee hours of the morning. It was there that some people learned to prophesy, pray in tongues, get to grips with sanctification, and more. Special times…and I don’t think we ever sang one song. It was church at the deepest level. Friends supporting one another and encountering God together. I wish you could have been there, in fact, some of you were.
The second experience is during our time at Torry Salvation Army in Aberdeen. The whole church was mainly a couple of house groups. There we explored releasing each and every person in the church into leading one another in studying God’s word, worship and prayer. It was our first real experience of ‘everyone gets to play’ and I still remember with a lot of joy the experience of being led in those times by others. We ate, we laughed, cried, explored, learned, conquered our fears and built ourselves up for mission in our community and all its challenges. Our monthly ‘Open House’ gatherings brought everyone together to worship and eat. We went from a small community of 4 or 5 meeting on a Sunday, to a larger community over over 20 gathered in the space of two years. Not dynamite, but something to speak of. A chaotic time, busy time, and for us, a testing time with our relationship with the Army, but nevertheless the time that finally convinced us that something else could be tasted.
I think sometimes the gatherings of the church should be like a school, sometimes they have to be a hospital, sometimes they have to be a brigade on the march, sometimes they are for prayer, sometimes just to laugh or cry. Sometimes they can be all of those, or a combination of some of them at least. But when we come together, each one should have a word, a prayer, a song, a prophesy, an encouragement, a teaching or a testimony to share and Christ is the present orchestrator of it all for the building up of his people. It should be a place where all are equipped for life in their worlds and for the work of ministry, whatever their ministry is. Its a place where the leader’s role is to work herself our of a job and allow others to grow into maturity.
What a church should never be is a cold institution with empty ritualistic performance, or even high octane performance to tickle ears or satisfy consumerist choice. They shouldn’t be places of inequality, abuse or damage. They should never be places where one or two ‘professionals’ are supposed to pray, preach, worship and care vicariously for the rest of the community…we’re all in it together. A church should not be detached from the real plight of its wider community, detached behind closed doors in a holy of holies, but actively touching the lives of people lest we get so focussed on the form, that we forget the substance.
Can you imagine such a church?