Across this country there are new churches being planted every day. This is especially true in the South. In my little town south of Nashville, it seems like there’s a new church plant every month. This is good news, right? I mean, the growth of the kingdom necessarily means that we’re gonna need more churches. Right? Well, in theory, that’s correct… but I don’t think that’s what is happening in this case. Instead, what I think we’re seeing is a whole segment of Christians who are church hopping. Yes, there are new churches being started, but at the expense of older ones. This is not necessarily a bad thing if the older ones are bad churches, but, again, I don’t think this is what is going on. Rather, I think what we’re seeing are dissatisfied Christians looking to revitalize their relationship with Christ. They’re looking for something new, something exciting. A new church means new possibilities – a fresh start.
The problem is, most Christians do not know why they are dissatisfied. They usually attribute it to community – they’re not clicking with anyone at their church. Sometimes they attribute it to the music – it’s not traditional enough, it’s not contemporary enough, etc. Sometimes it’s the lack of a “sold out” youth group. Or a pastor’s preaching style. Or not enough service projects. Or they’re not culturally relevant. The list goes on and on.
Remember that movie Unbreakable? Directed by M. Night Shyamalan and starring Bruce Willis and Samuel Jackson, it was about a man who had extraordinary powers that he didn’t understand until it was revealed to him that he was a super hero. He was a broken man with a failing marriage, a son who didn’t respect him, a dreary job, and no ambition in life. When he was able to understand his powers, though, and how to use them, he realized that he had a responsibility to do something with them – to protect the weak; to fight the bad guys. He found his purpose in life and as he fulfilled his duties as a superhero he became a new man. He gained confidence. His son looked up to him. He loved his wife like he was supposed to and their marriage improved. He was satisfied because he was finally doing what he was created to do.
Similarly, we are created to do certain things. Number one on the list? Worship God. In fact, you can’t really do anything else on the list very well unless you get #1 right. The good thing is, for the most part, the church knows that she is supposed to be worshipping God – this is why we predominantly gather together every Sunday. It doesn’t end there, though. If it did, there would be very few dissatisfied Christians out there. But there’s not. And it’s because they’re not doing their job.
I often see status updates or tweets from my pastor friends encouraging their congregation to serve. They often sound like rehashed Presidential quotes: “Ask not what your church can do for you, but what you can do for your church.” They want people to serve in the nursery, teach the Adult Sunday School class, help out with the food ministry, chaperone the Awana events, greet guests, and any other number of duties. This sort of reminds me of getting my children to do their chores. I have to constantly remind them to pick up their toys or make their beds. I often employ the “you’re part of this family and you have a job to do!” argument. Of course, it is important for them to contribute if the house is going to function properly, and it’s the same way with the church. People must pitch in if things are going to get done, and we need the church to be well-organized and clean in order to better serve the community. Well, a well organized, clean church is a good thing, but it’s not our main goal. These are, in a sense, secondary jobs. Worship is our primary job, and as I alluded to earlier, if you don’t get that right, you won’t get all these other tasks right either. It’s no coincidence that despite the church emphasizing various ministries, community service and even doctrinal educational, the course of our country is headed downhill.
A large part of the problem is that we see worship only as something that we receive. Now, there is a large segment of the evangelical church who would take issue with this statement and would claim that their worship is more purposeful than the fluffy, pop worship that is common nowadays. They only choose the theologically accurate praise music; their sermons are verse by verse exposition and doctrinally sound; they take serious the practice of baptism and communion; yet, they still approach worship with the wrong perspective; regardless of intention, their deeds prove this to be true. Worship is simply a means to prod the intellect. This is why preaching is central to their worship service – this is when the intellect is fed the most. The worship music is there to stir the emotions, but the preaching is there to enlighten us. To a lesser extent, the same is true of the sacraments. Baptism and communion are observed out of obedience to Christ and serve to prick the emotions (remind us of our sin and helplessness), but the sermon stimulates our mind.
Our worship, though, is not intended to be some kind of intellectual exercise or emotional tune-up. We have a very specific duty when we gather each Lord’s Day. We are to bless the world through worship. There are various ways that we bless the world during the week – from raising our family in the admonition of the Lord, to loving our neighbor, to exceeding expectations at work – and it’s all done with a view toward proclaiming Christ as King over everything. In order to accomplish this, though, it is important that we gather together on the Lord’s Day for worship. Everything we do during the week flows out of what we do at the beginning of the week. If our proclamation of the gospel during the week is the “battle,” so to speak, then worship is where we receive our marching orders. Worship is designed to empower the people of God for their mission. Each step of the service – or liturgy – has a very specific role in doing this. For instance, the Bible tells us that in worship we ascend into the heavens and present ourselves before the throne of God. This is why it’s important to begin our worship with corporate confession – it prepares our hearts for this event.
Before God we sing praises – these are our petitions to God. We pray and sing for peace for the innocent and needy. We pray and sing for justice against our enemies. We proclaim the good news to each other through our praise, and we proclaim to God how great He is. There should be urgency in our singing, not the Christian equivalent of rock ballads. We’re not yearning lovers serenading outside of God’s window with a guitar and a box of chocolates. We’re standing before the King of the Universe as an army. God wants us to sing His songbook to Him – all 150 psalms. Everything we need to cover in our singing is there – He left nothing out. It takes lots of practice to sing the psalms. It requires learning how to read music. It requires learning how to sing in parts. Our voices are weapons against the enemy – but they’re beautiful weapons. Like a soldier in the army, we should be willing to offer our time and effort to developing the skills needed to fight – for our church, for our family, and for the world. Why would we settle for a rock concert? The world needs us to ask God for justice in our singing – instead, we water the psalms down to a few of our favorite phrases and repeat them over and over in an impotent praise chorus. It’s time to take our singing seriously.
And not only this, but our King – through the preaching of the Word – imparts wisdom and truth to His subjects… well, really what He does is He cuts us apart. The Word is sharper than any two-edged sword and it cuts it’s hearers into pieces, piercing their hearts and dividing their souls and spirits (recalling the old covenant offerings). When we approach the throne of God and sit to hear His Word, we are offering our life for the world. Worship requires death. Like Jesus, we must be broken… but He never leaves us this way. Amazingly, He puts us back together again. This is why weekly communion is absolutely vital. Why would you want to go out into the world in pieces? Yet the majority of churches do this. They are cut to the quick every Sunday by preachers faithfully preaching the Word, but then they close with a prayer and get up and leave. No communion at all. Why would you want to forsake a meal with the King? We are His friends. He shares a meal with us – a peace offering (literally, the sacrificial peace offering in the old covenant system). We are reminded that we are united to Him. This is not a solemn time to remember how sinful we are -no, we took care of this at the beginning during corporate confession. This is a celebration! He invites us to sit down with Him and eat! Bread and wine for all! It is then that we are sent out into the world strengthened, empowered, renewed and full.
When the church worships, the world changes. It matures. The kingdom grows. Because what we do in worship matters, when we do it rightly, we are satisfied. There is a sense of accomplishment. We may not always see the resulting outcome – especially on a broad scale (remember, Matthew 13:31 tells us the kingdom starts out tiny and gradually grows) – but we are to believe the promises of God. This is faith. So, instead of griping to your co-workers about the loss of morality in this country, or posting yet another article on Facebook about the evils of our political system, how about giving the psalms a try? Our city needs more voices crying out for mercy as well as crying out for justice. We need more soldiers who are being remade every week in Word and sacrament. The city of Nashville needs churches that truly participate in worship – who give of themselves rather than sit back and merely observe. God has given us a job to do. It’s hard work, to be sure, but it’s very good work… if you can “get it.”
Posted in: Worship