Idol worship?

In my career I have had several conversations with people who have stopped attending church. And usually somewhere in the conversation they have told me that they “get nothing out of worship”.  Or people deciding to change churches talk about getting something more.

Much of the change in worship over the past decades has been based on a subjective model of getting rather than giving. Most people in looking at worship see the participants as the clergy and lay persons assisting in worship and the congregation as the audience/ the consumers of worship. But if we were to change that theatre image to an accurate one – we would all be members of the cast on stage giving our best for an audience of one holy and triune God

The word worship itself – gives another sense – it comes from Worth-ship. The act or process of giving or acknowledging the worth of the other. And the Catechism of the prayer book tells us  “In corporate worship we unit ourselves with others to acknowledge the holiness of God, to hear God’s word, to offer prayer and to celebrate the sacraments…”

Worship either individual or corporate is based and grounded in what we give to God, what we are there to offer, not what we are there to get. If it is based on what we get then what we are doing is giving worth to (worshipping) ourselves, not God.

Once we accept that we come to corporate worship to give worth, thanks and praise, and to encounter the risen Christ – only then we can ask the question of what for us is the part of worship where we encounter God… encounter the risen Christ. It will not be the same for any of us.

My Uncle Dave – didn’t care about the sermon – it was in the music where he encountered God.

My Dad went to the 8 am service because he did not like church music or hymns.  …“dirges and moaning” he once called it – which my mother, a member of the choir, seemed to take personally.

My great aunt needed to have an instructive sermon. It was through understanding the scripture stories that she found God present in life.

I know others for whom it is in their participation in hymns, and prayers where God is most present.

It is not wrong to seek to make worship relevant and meaningful so that people leave inspired. But it is wrong to believe or expect that the purpose of our worship is to inspire us. Or that if I am not being regularly inspired and brought to some sort of religious or spiritual high by our worship then it is not good worship.

We need to honor what helps us to experience the risen Christ and offer our sense of worth, thanks and prayer. At that point we are keeping God central and not making worship each week a vote on whether we like any of it or not – whether we were moved or not. That approach should be left for American Idol not for the Christian church.

Don

About don

The Rev Don Hill is an Episcopal priest, rail fan and writer. He and his wife the Rev. Dr. Nancy Woodworth-Hill are currently Co-Pastors of St Paul's Episcopal Church, Jeffersonville IN, in the Diocese of Indianapolis. They also work as parish consultants in Appreciative Inquiry, strategic planning and spirituality development for parishes and vestries.
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