A few weeks ago I mentioned three categories of worship – private worship, community worship, and living worship. You may remember my article on personal worship. Now I want to reflect a little more on community worship. While this discussion will feature some of the issues of community worship I want to remind readers that all three categories or worship are important and we seriously missing something if we leave out any one component.
Many respondents have made the point that worship is about God and have left it to the imagination of the reader as to how that should be interpreted. But community worship is more than just about God isn’t it? It is about God, us, and one another. I grew up in a church where, if you sang three hymns, put something in the offering plate, kneeled reverently in prayer, listened to the sermon without falling asleep, and didn’t bolt before the benediction, you would be considered a model worshiper. It occurred to me that worship centered on this model has the potential to be boring. And church has not changed all that much even now. We probably sing a bit more, preach a bit less, it all takes longer and there is a tendency of the young “married with children” folk to bolt out the door before the benediction so that they don’t get embarrassed by kids reminding them loudly that it is lunch time!
We have treated church as though there is some liturgy that if repeated often enough will make us better Christians and ultimately save us.
Here is a little illustration: I have been married to the same woman for over 40 years. It is true that we do the same activities in the same way many times. But Carmel is anything but boring. She likes to surprise me. I had been away teaching in Thailand for over three weeks and arrived back home to settle down to family life, but that very first weekend home she whisked me off to a posh get-away place down on the coast. I protested a bit about the cost but she said, “Look I have not seen you for three weeks and I just want you to myself for a couple of days, so shut up and enjoy it!” So I did. A complete surprise – doing something she had never done before – and now it is one of those times that I treasure. The surprises do not have to be big. I don’t eat ice cream very often even though I like it. Every now and then Carmel will buy ice cream for me. She enjoys surprising me because we both share the pleasure of making one another happy.
I think God would like to be surprised sometimes too.
God must look at us sometimes sitting in church in straight lines with sober faces and think that we are a mob of boring old so-and-so’s. If all we have to offer God in our community worship is silence, then I think we have the wrong definition of reverence. There are so many ways that we can be creative in our community worship and still maintain joyful reverence. Here are just a few that I have seen that work effectively
- Break a sermon into two parts with a hymn, song, or special item in the middle.
- Have a responsive reading in the middle.
- Have more than one preacher each giving a different perspective.
- Conduct an interview/ testimony in the middle.
- Finish 20 minutes early (One of the best sermons I ever heard did that. Still remember it – made a difference)
- Get so involved in a Sabbath School discussion that you need to cancel the service. Now wouldn’t that be a great idea.
- Have a gospel reading day – you can read a whole gospel in less than an hour.
- Conduct a wedding service at the end of the church service. One of my friends did that – they still talk about how beautiful and meaningful it was – and the congregation was both surprised and delighted.
No you do not have to have a surprise every week but involving the congregation actively in the church worship program, encourages them to come back for more.
There are three things that I think are important in community worship.
- We need to let God know that we love him. What surprise have we got for him this week?
- We need to share God’s love with some one else at church. Can you do that when you are all staring at the front of the church with your mouths shut?
- We need to go away from church feeling empowered to interact with our wider community. Church is about God, but it is also about and for us as well. God is not selfish.
It would be interesting to hear readers’ experiences of “surprises” that have made worship meaningful and or have helped build the community of believers.