Reflections About a Sunday Morning Worship Service. I went to Church on Sunday! Sometimes that’s a hard thing for me to do. Why? Because I find the theology of the songs, emphasis on performance and preaching often depressing. So, why did I go? To hear my son play drums. And to use what I see and hear in the service to lead me beyond churchianity to a faith that is real, deep, authentic and transformational by continually honing in on what it means to be a follower of the way of Jesus rather than just a worshipper.
Here are just some of the thoughts that crossed my mind and rose up from my soul during the service.
It’s not about religion! It’s about relationship. And a lot of our religion, even our Sunday morning worship, can get in the way of a real, vital, relationship with God and living for God in the real world. It’s great if worship can be a moment of encouragement in the week with others in community. But I was struck by how much time and money goes into Sunday morning worship at the expense of real ministry in the real world. Can’t we Christians find others ways to be encouraged in our faith without the emphasis on the show on Sunday morning?
The church is in the city in an old theatre. A cool, hip place to go for all the white christian suburbanites on a Sunday morning. But as I sat in the auditorium I was amazed at how the demographic of the church – majority white, with only a handful of people of color, didn’t match the demographic of the people I passed as I walked down the street to get to the church.
We sang a song, “I long to be where you are O God.” And I wondered (in a dualistic way) where is God? Here in this theatre hearing all the beautiful music? We’d rather sing beautiful songs about God than bring the free donuts we received when we arrived to the hungry homeless just outside the worship doors. But the donuts were to attract us to worship, not them! And I heard God say in my mind, “I despise your religious gatherings.”
We sang, “Your glory is what I long for.” I don’t even understand what that means? And it seems a bit impractical. Wouldn’t it be better if being overcome by God’s glory or presence moved us out into the streets, the real world, rather than a worship service secluded form the real world?
The American church has a real deep problem – the focus on Sunday morning worship.
We sang about the Savior who knelt to wash our feet and now at his feet we bow. Wouldn’t that Savior be more pleased that instead of singing about him we were out washing the feet of others, and thereby actually washing his feet? (Doesn’t it say somewhere, “Whatever you do for the least…”). I don’t think Jesus is interested in us bowing at his feet, but more interested in bowing at the feet of others to serve them in love. I’m convinced God doesn’t want what we think is worship. We sang about “Longing to be where you are.” Where is God? Isn’t God with the least, the last and the lost who are waiting for us right outside these doors?
It’s so much easier to sing beautiful songs in a beautiful worship setting than go out into the messy world to serve and love. We even felt so good about our experience in glorifying God that we “clapped” for God. “Cool” people, in a “cool” worship auditorium, clapping for a “cool” God they think they know.
Then some empty phrases from the worship leader about “walking in victory” while we transitioned from songs to prayer. What does that even mean and how is it connected to the real world?
Then a token greeting to others sitting around us in the dark. Like saying good morning and shaking a hand can do anything to build community. But that’s part of this formula.
Then a long commercial for church – about all the wonderful things that the church has scheduled to do for God.
Worship it seems is the end all. But what is real worship? We sang about “Lifting holy hands to heaven.” And it reminded me of the story of the Asencsion where the angel asks the onlookers, “Why are you standing there looking to heaven?” Why all the worship? As if to say, “Go back down to the real world and get to work.”
And then to the sermon. Oh, the sermon. Maybe it was a “bad” Sunday for the preacher, but it was about Heaven – the new heaven and the new earth and the book of Revelation. Long passages were read as if the bible held some kind of magic just by hearing the words read out loud. It was a literal preaching of the book of Revelation. Wondering if there will be a literal sea in heaven or not? Observing that the New Jerusalem would be the size of India. What? And I thought how an absolutely literal interpretation kills and uninspires. And I thought how can those who are intellectually honest ever buy into the crazy beliefs that we Christians come up with? And I wondered how the church or christianity will survive with beliefs like this -unapplicable to modern life, focusing on a heaven in a distant future rather than real life now. It was all about “evacuation” – that someday we’ll be in heaven and then we’ll truly live. Rather than the message of Jesus which is more about “transformation” in and of this world now. And I longed to hear a message about that.
There’s more I could say about the sermon, but it reminded me of a saying I’ve heard, that we can be “So heavenly minded that they’re no earthly good.” (Maybe especially true for pastors and preachers like me?!) And I wondered if that was true about our modern day version of “churchianity” itself, so far removed from the way and message of Jesus. O God, take me beyond churchianity!
In some ways, the service couldn’t be any better. The best of what the American Church has to offer for contemporary worship. A sick, polished performance. (But just think for a moment of all the time, money and resources that go into one hour on a Sunday morning – which often leaves little time, talent and energy for anything else. It’s insane!) But I realized I don’t want to be a part of this kind of church no matter how cool or hip it is. (Though as a Pastor of a church back in the day I would have loved such a polished performance like this to try to attract and influence the masses!) Now I’m realizing that people may not be attracted to Jesus or his message through it, becasue it’s more of a hindrance and barrier to his message.
I’m not writing this becasue I’m superior, or to put down the church or christians who love these kinds of worship services. But I’m longing for something more. I feel the longing in my soul for something more beyond shallow, churchianity to the radical, transforming love of God and to rediscovering the way of Jesus and recovering the heart of faith.
“It is the way of Jesus, and not Jesus as the way, that is crucial. Traditional Christianity has largely ignored this distinction. In emphasizing Jesus as the one who saves the world, we’ve made his way of living insignificant, if not irrelevant.”
Is God looking for more Christ worshippers or followers of the way of Jesus?!
So, I find myself like Hafiz – understanding that the religions are like great ships taking us on a ride. But there are poets, like Jesus and many in his company – pastors and people who know a truth that is deeper than religion and are calling out to us to come to our senses and jump overboard. I’d like to be one of those poets – those pastors, who is helping people become free and fully alive.
“The great religions are ships. Poets the life boats. Every sane person I know has jumped overboard.”
Related post: A Parody of a Modern Worship Service