Tuesday, August 19, 2008

It's all worship

In the last couple of decades the evangelical church has allowed itself to place a distinction between "worship" and worship. Sound confusing? We are.

In many churches the musical part of a service (we call them "gatherings" - "service" here is action not an hour on Sunday) has become the "worship" and the sermon the "preaching" or "teaching". And in most churches the focal point of the gathering is the sermon. Many see the music as optional (especially if their favorite song or style of music isn't being done).

I have a hard time with all that. First, I believe my whole life as a Christian is supposed to be involved in worship. "Whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God." That's worship. "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, strength". That's worship. So to relegate it to an hour (or like us, an hour and 15 minutes) is not exactly what God had in mind.

Sunday we did an experiment. Probably we should experiment more often, because like any church our group or individual, it's easy for us to get into habits and ruts. Here's what we did.

Instead of beginning the Gathering with a song or two like we usually do, we began with a greeting and jumped right into the teaching. The singing part of worship came later.

Lately we've moved into a rut of having such a good time eating doughnuts and drinking coffee in the lobby that we forget when the Gatherings start. Consequently when the Worship Gathering begins worshipping a lot of people are gulping down and coming in after everything has started - some as much as 15-20 minutes late. Not a few. As many as 25% is my guess. And frankly, for those who have come to worship (which is our purpose) it can be a distraction.

"Excuse me, but could you slide down so I can have a seat?" It's tough to focus on God when you're constantly being interrupted by someone coming in late.

It was hard on me Sunday. The first ten minutes of my sermon there was a steady stream of late comers coming. Our guys did a great job of finding them seats. But it was a challenge for me to keep my focus on teaching with so much movement. And it was distracting for those who arrived on time. And I'm sure that there were a few people genuinely embarrassed for being a distraction.

My guess is that for a number of folks, it's OK to come in late during the music. After all it's kind of entertainment before the real stuff, right? It's the warm up act, isn't it? So wrong. As a pastor I'm concerned we're losing sight of the purpose for our gathering. So Sunday we flip-flopped and put the sermon first, hopefully to bring home a point. Gen. Jackson was known to give orders to shoot stragglers. I don't think we should go that far, however!

The Worship Gathering at church is vital to the health of the church as she worships together. It's a time to get real with God and His Word together. It's a time to turn our full attention to God together. And to do anything together means we have to be where? Together.

What are we saying to God when we say, "I'll come in and be involved whenever I feel like it?" What are we missing out on when we miss even a word of a song or a prayer? Could it have been potentially life changing for me?
We'll experiment some more, and hopefully more often. Maybe it will cause a few to wake up a little earlier and be excited to meet with God and His people together.


RHEA said...

I think that it's okay to shoot stragglers....with water guns :-)

Barb said...

I find this post extremely meaningful & thought-provoking. All of it. Think I'll share it with my pastor! Thanks!

MilePost13 said...

for further discussion: http://practicalworship.blogspot.com/2008/02/chicken-or-egg.html

Bob said...

We recently attended worship at a local "video venue" satellite site.

There were about a dozen folks who sat in the "coffee shop" during the entire service. No aspect of the music portion was in this area.
Reminded me of the old men who volunteered to be usher years ago to avoid the service altogether.

It's a tough balance between a laid back atmosphere and really dedicating time with God.

Debbie said...

Our youth director brings in his group exactly 10 minutes late every Sunday. Rarely they are later but never earlier. I really would like to send this to him (he is a lay leader) but hesitate because he will see it as criticism of our young people, Which it isn't. I love every one of them, however not only is it distracting (they sit on the front 2 rows (which is a good thing) but now I see that they are missing out on worship time.
And I always wonder why if he is always late, then why not start his class earlier. I will have to pray more about this.

Ann said...

I don't know that I've really ever thought about this. The order of a typical Sunday Meeting is opening song, welcome, announcements and praise reports, worship, message. I think I must be rather oblivious because I don't know that I notice people coming in late. Coffee and Ice Cream isn't available until after service, so that may contribute to ontimeness. Also most everyone does some type of Sunday morning class and is already at the Church long before 10:30. I like the idea of switching things up and I love it when worship is a majority of the service.

I'm also the type of person that isn't inclined to come in late at all. Don't really know if I've added anything to the discussion.

coffespaz said...

You know, that's a great idea. I think maybe I'll suggest it to the pastor at my church too. I've noticed that the same thing happens, and it is distracting...for everyone. Though its so nice to see the bond between the community members, we are there to learn too.

Thanks for the thought food, and the idea!

John and Michelle said...

Amen!!! You said it well!

Hot Tub Lizzy said...

I think that was a really interesting experiment. I have issues with coming in late AND those who take off the minute the sermon is done... People are missing out and distracting others...

JonesFam4 said...

We did this before too, and it was really hard on my husband, up there teaching and watching all the late ones coming in. Then there was ME!!!! :) Dropping off the kids late, running in late, having cleaned up the puke that morning and taken away the medicine bottle my daughter was trying to open, and so on and so on. Now, we're up earlier the kids are a bit older and its SO much nicer to be on time...even early! My mindset is so much better...and we don't stress as much in the car ride there. However, there are the days...and our new church doesn't have a coffee bar (boohoo) so there are less distractions...

Andy Lawrenson said...

Our worship on Sunday should begin the moment our eyeballs open up in the morning and shouldn't stop until our eyeballs shut on Sunday night. Isn't that the way everyday should be? Life should be worship.

Corporate worship is important in the life of believers and we need to realize the importance of getting to "worship" time.

MilePost13 said...

As Louie Giglio says (and I apologize because I've quoted this on your blog before), we should go worshipping to church, instead of going to church to worship...

Beth Johnson said...

I was involved in a ministry (Community Bible Study) for 9 years and I saw this all the time. We had a relaxed atmosphere and we got people who didn't respect the start time, even though we did and we repsected the end time.

However, I attend a church that has meduim to high corporate worship and it is completely different. The ushers don't allow you to walk in at any old time you want and the tone at the church is that church has started and you want to be there on time.

In our society of relaxed worship, it seems something has been lost to corporate worship. Since our church is not relaxed this sense has not been lost.

And by the way, our pastor really frowns on us if we bring food or drink in the sanctuary. This is place of worshiping the King, not a coffee shop. And the difference can really be felt by all, even the children and youth.

I wouldn't trade my med/high worship. I have done both so I speak from experience.

Maybe it time for your church to step things up a bit.

Beth Johnson
Montgomery, Al

MilePost13 said...

Beth, there are great qualities of both styles of worship, and my guess is (actually, not a guess, as I've experienced the spectrum as well), your preferred style also has its shortcomings just like ours has its shortcomings.

One of the issues we face with a relaxed atmosphere is that some people will arrive late. There are other issues that come about, at least, partly due to our relaxed atmosphere.

But, there are great advantages for our worship style as well, and, because we have very purposely chosen that worship style, we won't apologize for it.

But, we will continue to look for ways to teach people and correct problems as they come along, just as this post illustrates. We are "stepping things up", just maybe not in the same way your church would.