Gavin (the vicar) reflects on worship and the culture of individualism that pervades the church.
As a vicar I get a steady stream of correspondence in the form of emails, letters and webmails. Nothing new there – it comes with the territory. But did you know that nearly all correspondence is about one thing – Sunday worship. People write to me about the style of music, the choice of liturgy, the sermon content or length, the prayers, the church worship furniture, the version of the Bible used, and so on. At church meetings the questions raised are often about one thing? Guess what it is? Yep – Sunday worship. When people ‘leave the church’ or choose to be members of churches outside their immediate geographical community, do you know what the reasons are? Well done, you guessed it again – Sunday worship.
I’m not going to beat about the bush. There is a real underlying problem in the Christian Church (big C).
For many churches, no matter what the tradition or denomination, the church focus is primarily about Sunday worship. One could argue quite rightly that the focus should be on worship of God, however the pervasive individualism of our culture, like a cancer, has found its way into the church such that Sunday ‘style’ of worship has become the main thing. None of us in the Church are immune to this and sadly many clergy and church leaders make one of several mistakes:
- They make a stand for a particular model of worship – be it biblical, early church, contemporary or traditional – “This is how we are going to worship and people should adhere to this way of worshipping”
- They collaborate with culture opting for an attractional model – “We should worship like this to appeal to more people and get them in the door.”
- They become cynical and use ‘emerging church’ or ‘community’ as a cover – “We must separate from all other churches and define worship like this.”
Any attempt to redefine or tackle Sunday worship does not address the underlying problem. It would be very easy to do any of the three above but all that will do is pander to the culture of individualism and people will simply choose the ‘Sunday worship’ that they like best – as they currently are doing. Worship quite rightly has its place in the church but should be the overflow of the gathered community. I suggest that the tail should not wag the dog as it currently is.
To tackle this problem the church needs to reform around its mission in the world. People of all ages – children, teenagers, adults and elderly – need to know that they have a role to play both individually and collectively in the ongoing mission of God in the world. Then, when this community come together to worship – the worship will look like what it looks like – be it contemporary, drawing on tradition, relevant, and so on. There is nothing wrong with style or method, however, as long as the church continues to define itself by its style and method of worship it is disabling its effectiveness for mission and ministry in the world.
My hope and prayer for God’s Church (big C) is that it will teach and enable people to see their place in the church and have the freedom and capacity to allow worship to flow.
Let me leave you with some of the lyrics of a song by Matt Redman,
“When the music fades and all is stripped away, Lord I simply come longing just to bring something that’s of worth that will bless Your heart. I’m coming back to the heart of worship and it’s all about you, Jesus. I’m sorry, Lord, for the thing I’ve made it when it’s all about you, Jesus.”