POSTED ON OCTOBER 5, 2011:
Seeking Biblical worship in a churched comfortable world
This is the second installment of a series of articles on the state of evangelical worship in the West
In the first article in this series, we began to look at false dangers that exist in sanctuaries and worship spaces in the West. We said that when so much is at stake in worship, we must confront the fear of being controlled by these faulty dangers. These obstacles can put us into a cycle of apathy or worse, narcolepsy, sidestepping what should be at the center of our worship -- God.
Last week, we looked at the false danger of hyper-relevance. This week, we look at two more false dangers.
False Danger No. 2: Worship That Doesn't Meet Expectations
If there is anything that I know about church, there is a myriad of expectations on almost every issue that seemingly come from every angle. Most churches, big and small, do a juggling act around strategies for not upsetting people. In the end, the motivation is to try at all costs not to fail to meet expectations.
The false danger here is that a church's chief concern is nullifying dissent, tension or even conflict. In other words, these churches exist to please people. This is no more evident than in sanctuaries of worship in the Evangelical church today. We don't like to say that but in many (if not, most) places, this is the "gospel" truth.
In this paradigm, the weekly worship becomes a kind of service center for those in attendance. It's about meeting their expectations, attracting their interest to keep them coming back. Often under the radar is the practical anxiety of money. If people aren't satisfied, they might stop coming. And if they stop coming, we can't pay the bills and the staff. The church dwindles. We will all look like a failure.
What about God's expectations? We need to let the gravity of this settle in. When we marginalize the expectations of God by investing in "safe" worship, we have lost the very distinctiveness of the very thing we are trying to do: worship Him. God is seeking those who will worship Him in Spirit and Truth. In other words, those are His expectations.
You see, worship that is based on people's expectations is typically shaped by culture more than by the Gospel. The expectations come from lives affected by consumerism, individualism, self-interest, entertainment, technology, race, class and generation.
And here is the sad thing. Sophisticated leaders, like you and me, can out of one side of our mouths say we are all about following Christ but out of the other side of our mouths, flow decisions that pander to people.
Now I'm not saying we need to tick people off intentionally but we need to do the hard work of unearthing those idols in our church communities to get to God's expectations for worship. That is grueling work. But that process could propel you into an impact on your community and broader culture that you would have missed as you were navel-gazing about your worship preferences.
False Danger No. 3: Worship That Isn't Comfortable
This danger assumes that most people come to church for comfort, which means we should do all we can do to make them feel comfortable.
In a post-9/11 world where folks are assaulted by real pain and suffering of contemporary life, people do need a sense of comfort. But I'm not sure they need to be comfortable.
Churches of all stripes have made it a point to figure out how to make both churched and unchurched people feel comfortable. The ministry of hospitality, of welcome, of community can and should mean attending to a sense of comfort of particularly guests and newcomers. It is important to keep unnecessary obstacles out of the way.
The problem with comfortable worship is that comfort has never been very high on God's methodology list. And more specifically, it keeps us from realizing and grasping that attaining real comfort may mean facing pain, admitting wrong, confessing sin, showing weakness, admitting blindness, seeking healing. Sometimes, we are called to suffer. And to find joy in the midst of this suffering. Paradoxical, yes. Biblical, yes. Easy, no.
Giving people what makes them comfortable may feel like it is working in the short term but in the long term, there will form numbness and even apathy for real, deep, messy worship.
We shouldn't make worship intentionally discomforting. We are talking about resisting the temptation to make our worship so comfortable that it breeds inauthenticity in leadership and the congregation. This paradigm turns a church into "shiny, happy people" that doesn't reflect real life. This lack of reflection does serious damage to our ability to speak truth into the communities we live in.
Safe worship sees discomfort as a danger. We can't let this false danger compromise the worship God desires from us.
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