I’ve been a pastor now for nearly 28 years. I’ve survived the “Worship Wars” and witnessed much of the upheaval that has taken place as “Christendom” has given away to whatever we call it now. I’ve read the books, listened to speakers, participated in conversations, discussions, debates, arguments, and am gearing up for the no holds barred Mime Wrestling Smackdown over worship styles.
Some background: I love to chant the liturgy, I also play guitar, electric bass, trumpet. I have played with praise teams, and polka bands for worship. I enjoy worship in all its fullness and diversity.
Really the answer is simple: It’s ….. wait for it ….
First a story about my maternal grandmother. She came into the world as a Methodist, and even though she spent the last 30+ years of her life worshiping at a Lutheran Church she was still at heart a Methodist. She frequently querried, “Why do Lutherans have to do the same thing every Sunday?” And she knew this because she was not only in worship EVERY Sunday; but, at age 70 when her Lutheran Church needed a secretary she volunteered to be the temporary secretary until they found a full time replacement. BTW, she retired from that position on her 80th birthday.
POINT #1: My grandmother worshiped every Sunday at a church whose liturgical worship style she didn’t particularly like.
At age 84 my grandmother moved from the little house across the street from the church to a Senior Living Apartment. It became harder for her to get there but she continued to attend worship every Sunday. The true revelation came after I was ordained and installed in my first call. Mom and grandma drove from Minnesota to southern Nebraska to visit me for a week and attended worship at the church I was serving. When I first told my grandmother I was going to become a Pastor she gave me one command, and only one: “You may sure to speak loud enough so that everyone can hear.”
After that one and only time my grandmother ever heard me preach, I was nervously standing at the back of the sanctuary greeting worshipers and waiting for my grandmother. When she came out, I asked the question that was foremost in my mind, “Did you like my sermon?” She smiled and replied, “I heard every word of it.” actually I spoke so loudly she even turned her hearing aid off and could still hear me.
She never said whether or not it was a good sermon. It took me the longest time to understand that interaction and what it really meant. And it was not until 27 years later that I finally understand the full significance of what she said. You see, she never even considered judging the sermon for content, delivery, effectiveness, style, or any of the metrics preachers and parishioners use to evaluate worship. She went to worship every Sunday to worship God. She didn’t go to “church” (a noun), she went to “worship” (a verb.) Because worship was not about her, it was an act of devotion to God.
POINT #2: My grandmother worshiped every Sunday because it was not about her, it was about God.
The next thing that brought the truth of Point #2 home to me was when grandma could no longer attend worship because she didn’t have a way to physically get there, the person who had been bringing her was no longer able to do so. I could tell she was disappointed but she consoled herself with being able to watch worship services on TV. When I asked her about this she commented, “At least with the TV I can turn it up loud enough so I can hear the preacher.” I came to find out that for the final 10 years of her experience worshiping at her little Lutheran Church in Lester Prairie, MN, she hadn’t been able to hear a word the pastor said.
Now stop to ponder the significance of that statement: For 10 years my grandmother worshiped every Sunday without being able to hear a word of the 500 or so sermons that were preached during that time.
POINT #3: My grandmother worshiped as a Spiritual Discipline, because she knew that worship was a central part of what it means to BE a Christian, despite the fact that her physical hearing disability prevented her from “Getting anything out of the sermon.”
My grandmother chose to worship God regularly, it was part of the fabric of her life. She never asked questions like “Should I go to church today or stay home and read the newspaper?” She never refused to worship God because the service wasn’t designed according to her specifications.
Could she have chosen to do other things on Sunday morning rather than worship God? Yes. Did she? NO.
POINT #4: My grandmother worshiped every Sunday because she chose to do so.
And why did she choose to worship every Sunday? Because worship was important to her, it was a priority, it was the thing she put on her calendar before anything else.
Another story to help in understanding this issue:
When I served in Randolph, NE there were four men from Ohio who came every year to hunt pheasant on the farm of one of the members of the church. And every year they got up early Sunday morning and went out hunting, but they came back in time to clean up and attend worship on Sunday morning, every year. Why, because they chose to. Why, because it was important to them, a priority.
(I understand fully that nurses and others have to work on Sundays, and so for some of us our options and choices are limited. If you have no choice of where to spend your time on Sunday morning then you have a different issue to address regarding your Spiritual Practice of worship.)
Every one of us has 24 hours in a day. I know people who will move heaven and earth to watch “Dancing With The Stars,” or have the schedule of their favorite football/basketball/baseball/etc. team in their Google calendar the minute it is available. Their tee times are sacred, and opening day of fishing season is a high holy day.
So, Let’s be honest about worship. If you are in worship on Sunday morning, it is because worship is important to you, because God is important to you, it is a priority in your life, you make the time to attend worship. If you are not in worship on Sunday it is because you choose not to worship God. You can come up with all kinds of excuses why you make the choices you make, but in the end it comes down to priorities.