The Perfect Church Service – the Worst Experience

13 12 2007

worship1.jpgI posted some questions about the church on a forum I frequent and received some enlightening responses I’d like to share (with their permission).

Below is perhaps the most thorough and thoughtful description of a church service I’ve ever read from the perspective a new comer.

WARNING: His language is real and raw and we hereby deny any liability for flashbacks or offenses that may result. It’s important to see things from a variety of perspectives and as these churches almost always give new comers feedback cards that come back with canned responses, here’s what you won’t get in your survey.

Enjoy –

“My biggest issue with church is the suffocating emotionality of it all.

First, I pull into the parking lot and make my way past the hip, extroverted greeters who high five the youngsters and give me the over-friendly welcomes.

Then I make my way through the halls of people milling about and chattering. This part isn’t so bad except that I get the distinct feeling that everyone is “being Christian” at this point. All the body language and vernacular seems calculated to reflect their true Christian core. Everyone is suddenly called brother and sister and the amount of caring they show over the most trivial aspects of each others lives is both impressive and disturbing. Frankly, I suspect many of them are just doing what they think a dutiful Christian should do with no actual understanding why they should even care.

After that, I sit in the pew and consider why I’m there. Why did I come to Church? What am I seeking? What is going on here.

About 5 to 10 minutes later, some lead vocalist person shouts into the mic “Let’s all stand up and praise the Lord!” and the cool-Christian-rock-band tears into an up-tempo worship number. Wow, everyone is having such a GOOD TIME! The vocalist inevitably starts clapping in time to the snare hits while bopping their head and lyrics from the powerpoint slide flash across those nifty projection screens backed with some artsy-fartsy image of a cross or serene lake or the clear blue sky. The music is usually based on a verse from Psalms, but fixed up to show that this church understands rock and roll and is cool with youthful energy.

Some people in the congregation squish their eyes shut and extend their arms upwards and palms out while getting real into this praise and worship time. Others, bop and clap along with the beat and others stand next to their spouse seeming very robotic like.

After 10 to 15 minutes, someone (usually the worship/music director) segues into a soothing piano piece. Everyone closes their eyes, the lights dim and (s)he starts a prayer in a voice that, frankly, sounds like they’re getting good oral. Very breathy and overwhelmed by the majesty of the Father.

The worst part is when they (sometimes) do the “let’s turn around and greet each other this morning” and the pews come to life with hugs, handshakes and more over friendly greetings.

At this point, I feel like a turtle that’s having it’s shell ripped off by a bunch of curious, but unruly schoolboys and the actual message hasn’t even been delivered yet. Once we get to that part, I’m fine. But once it’s over we have to back to more flamboyant praise-and-worship. Ugh.

It’s just the sheer ritual, robotic, trance-like nature of it all. Very uncomfortable to me. And I don’t dare ask questions or tell people that I’m not a Christian. Or tell them I’m a truth seeker who’s read just as much of the Hindu and Buddhist texts as I have the Bible. They’re not so happy-go-lucky then.

I just hate being around anything that tries to twist my emotions around before delivering some bit of self-proclaimed truth. I wonder if lots of people in the congregation are like that. Is their knowledge of God just what they get after hearing some loud worship songs and being told what they already know? Or do they go home and read texts authored by apologists from other religions when they’re not emotionally high?”

How Worship Services Subvert the Christian Mission – Discipleship

16 10 2007

Great Ommission“All authority on heaven and earth has been given to me. Therefore, go and make disciples…”

Could it be any simpler? Could it be any clearer? Jesus sent us out to make disciples. This IS the mission. Why is this so hard to grasp? There are many reasons why almost no Christians believe this is the central mission. I’d like to explore just one of those reasons namely the pervasive, black hole we call the weekend worship service.

After being on staff at 7 churches and encountering hundreds of others I can say with confidence that, to date, I have NEVER discovered a church with a worship service that believes and practices discipleship as the central mission of the church. Why is this? Is there any causal relationship between having a worship service and a lack of discipleship? For a long time I’ve thought there was not. But the more I’ve pondered the connection I’ve begun to believe that there are elements involved with the maintenance of a weekly worship service that discourage our mission as disciple-makers.

1. Worship Services form the Church’s Identity – Have you ever been to a church with a worship service where that was not the event that defined the church. Every element of the service speaks to what that church is and stands for. What kind of music do they play? Who preaches the sermons? What type of building? etc. What a terrible place to form an identity as a Christian body! We are a worship rockin’, bible preaching church. Really? Is that how the church should self-identify? Not with relationships, nor with beliefs but with music and preaching style.

2. Worship Services communicate that the bar is low (instead of radical discipleship) – The last worship service I went to the Pastor persistently referred to the congregation as “regular attenders”. Huh…so that is who we are. We’re not “the Household of God” or “Disciples of Christ” or “The Light of the World” we’re “regular attenders”. And whether explicitly or implicitly this communicates that what it means to be a good Christian is to regular attend a worship service. What a tragedy! Jesus died on the cross so that we can “go to church”. You may say, “I don’t believe that” but then why does 95% of Christianity act out this belief? Because of the weekly worship service. We’ve trained them well.

3. Worship Services suck up the discipleship resources – Even though we have a hundred million case studies on how useless worship services are at making disciples 99% of churches use their worship service as their primary means of disciple-making. There are a small number of churches that, after tremendous effort, grow large enough to develop other ministries outside of the worship service but when they do discipleship is usually not the focus of those ministries. They feel they need to launch ministries that the worship service does not meet like missions and community so once again discipleship – the central mission – gets the shaft.