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Wonky (defn) :
1. shaky or unsteady
2. not in correct alignment; askew
3. liable to break down or develop a fault
My assertion: Worship is one of the most wonky and misconceived aspects in the contemporary church!
2. How does worship look in today's church
If you talk to people about their understanding of worship and ask them for examples, you very quickly find one commonality: their responses are mostly about style, the comforts of the ritual, loyalty to an institution, the physical building, how I feel, whether I'm enjoying it, and so on. Whether we admit to it or not, we often talk about worship in terms of how much we're getting from it.
Consider the 3 legged pig.
A traveling salesman was driving past a farm when he saw a pig with three wooden legs executing a magnificent series of backflips and cartwheels.
Intrigued, he drove up to the farmhouse, where he found an old farmer sitting in the yard watching the pig.
"That's quite a pig you have there, sir" said the salesman.
"Sure is, son," the farmer replied. "Why, two years ago, my daughter was swimming in the lake and bumped her head and damned near drowned, but that pig swam out and dragged her back to shore."
"Amazing!" the salesman exclaimed.
"And that's not the only thing. Last fall I was cuttin' wood up on the north forty when a tree fell on me. Pinned me to the ground, it did. That pig run up and wiggled underneath that tree and lifted it off of me. Saved my life."
"Fantastic! the salesman said. But tell me, how come the pig has three wooden legs?"
The farmer stared at the newcomer in amazement. "Mister, when you got an amazin' pig like that, you don't eat him all at once."
We are just like the farmer: consumers of God's grace, rather than being in awe of his glory
Ask people about worship, and most will focus on singing in church. Those who actually think about it for a bit will probably talk about the different parts of the church service. But consider, how would a non-churched person see this. Imagine a web site that was a guide on "HOWTO go to church"
Church for Dummies:
- Expect a total of 20-30 minutes of singing (if you're lucky). In the local small church this will be amateurish, and yet often attempt some form of performance with solo's and choirs. If you go to a contemporary mega church, the music will be professional, loud, and entertaining, so sit back and engage in people watching.
- Greeting others – two extremes here: either professional greeters will ask all sorts of personal questions, or else there'll be a moment when people come to you in a cringe-worthy manner and solemnly say to you “Peace be with you”. Smile and be polite, it won't last long.
- Requests for money. This is not a scam (usually). A token is often adequate.
- Communion. This will be very strange, and you might hear people talking about eating flesh and drinking blood. Don't panic, no-one has been hurt. Just observe, it'll make a good story.
- The Sermon. Someone will talk for a variable length of time ... anything from 15 minutes to over an hour. You can listen, or work on your grocery list. However, a good sermon can be very provocative to your spirituality, even though few people can remember any past sermons. Possibly the biggest value here is that the sermon might make you think (sadly, that's something this world does not do much of - watch this),
- Prayer. This is "talk at God".
- Bible reading. there will be a lot of words that you won't understand, and possibly lots of literary imagery that makes no sense, else it'll be filled with many names that the reader can't pronounce.
- Confession. Often left out in the more contemporary churches. In very traditional churches this may be a big thing so you might start feeling guilty.
- Liturgy: most commonly found in the more traditional churches. It is rich in meaning if you can understand the concepts. The liturgy is a systematic formalization to standardise much of the above, which means most regulars can do what's needed while day dreaming of other things.
Here's the problem: Worship has become compartmentalized within the church service. Without investing personal effort to use the church service as a vehicle for our personal expression, the service devolves instead into a series of semi-passive events. To really make a church service about worship means each individual taking responsibility to actively use the service for engaging in worshipping God.
The Jewish nation had some of this too: they wanted kings, they wanted priests, they lavished expense on a temple, they allocated worship responsibilities – if I was a cynic I might say it was to abdicate personal worship responsibility. But even before Jesus there was compartmentalization ... parts of worship left to "the professionals".
And here we get a glimpse of what worship practically means for us as individuals. For example, on the level of human relationships, imagine if I esteemed my spouse in the same way. I would write down a set of things to say the same way every time we meet. Or I hired a professional to say nice things on my behalf. Elevate that to a God-me relationship! Look at Jesus' angry reaction when thats tried: Matthew 21:12-13 And Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who sold and bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. He said to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer [which is part of our worship],’ but you make it a den of robbers.”
Steve Brown put it well when he wrote "If there is no joy and freedom, it is not a church: it is simply a crowd of melancholy people basking in a religious neurosis."
Yet, as A.W. Tozer said "Without worship, we go about miserable."
So what is a person to do?
(Next steps to come in part 3!)