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.