Over the past year I’ve had a growing chorus of conversations with worship pastors, senior pastors, church staff and lay leaders regarding a troubling trend in our houses of worship. It has many leaders scratching their heads and wondering how to communicate truth which is unwanted and hard to hear. It’s not a trend relegated to one church or gathering, but seems to be consistent – especially within the notorious Bible-Belt! It’s born out of apathy and idolatry. It’s fed by leaders who’ve fostered it into epidemic status by withholding God’s call to obedience before sacrifice. Those Pastors who’ve courageously addressed it have found a kinship and brotherhood with the prophets of the Old Testament: despised outcast, the black sheep of the church.
Nevertheless, this Sunday our houses of worship will have smatterings of stoic, gloomy, detached “followers of Jesus” who with their arms crossed offer little to no sign of life. They will sit & stand, write their checks to God, and keep their eyes focused forward. Their Bibles with them although there is no recognition of it’s power to transform. They’ll take inventory of things for which they disapprove bearing up arms for later discussion with those who share their misery. For some with the spiritual gift of discernment and prophecy, it smells of death and deceit.
We’ve redefined worship and invested in a false image of church, and now worship no longer meets our desires, wishes and preferences.
If you pass among them and are not one of them – the chill of bitterness and divisiveness is alarming. They are quick to take a pompous stand on principle and tell the rest of the world why it’s bound for a fiery hell. They will boycott, stomp and shout righteous indignation while devoid of any fruits of the spirit (Galatians 5:16-25). They’ve forgotten we’re all broken and destitute were it not for the grace of God.
Is it any wonder that our churches are dying while our society has rejected this definition of Christianity? Is this really what God had in mind for the Church?
How far and how deep have we fallen from truth. When did we ever fall for the lie that this gathering of ragamuffins and sojourners is a celebration of personal desires and wants! When did we lose our song? How did we lose our way?
Church leadership will debate the Sunday worship experience – attempting to balance familiar hymns against the new and innovative. Enormous amounts of time will be spent in extra Biblical exploits with a desire to entice these people to participate. Blogs will be written arguing the need for more familiarity while others for more innovation to ensure the future. All the while we play to fleshly desires and feed the baby more sweetened milk…hoping to make him fat and happy.
Should we not look deeper and harder through the lens of indisputable truth? And the hard truth is this: our hearts are cold. The Sunday morning worship experience in our gatherings we call “church” has little do with content, style or personalities. Sadly, the dilemma lies much further and deeper into the spiritual fiber of the western church congregation.
You cannot revive the dead when they don’t know their dead. And you certainly can’t do it in 1 hour plus on Sunday mornings.
I’ve traveled to parts of the world where redemption can’t be bought and life in Christ is fresh and new. I’ve stood with believers who have very little other than Jesus. The glint in the eyes and the passion in the soul will not be quenched. Before breaking out in song there is no debate on style – only a song. New, familiar, old or contemporary is not the issue. Jesus is the issue – salvation the remarkable – grace the unthinkable and worship the inevitable.
Without exception – the heart passionate to know, love and pursue Jesus WILL WORSHIP!
The weekend gathering has less to do with us and so much more to do with a remarkable community of worship based on grace.
A congregation who enters with a song invested in hours of private worship will not be silenced…not by content, style, personalities or preferences.
But let’s take it one step further:
True worship has an obvious prelude and a remarkable lingering.
The prelude is a song within that is burrowing it’s way out. It’s a song of joy, praise, love, and gratitude; or authentic brokenness, surrender and repentance. The lingering is after effect – the continuation empowered by the Spirit; deeper than musical appreciation or emotional high. It’s found in self sacrificial service surrounded by gentleness, self control, peace, patience, love, kindness and goodness. Without these Biblical preludes & lingerings…you have a forged and artificial worship.
So – what to do? That is the question posed so often and I believe finds it’s answer not in complexity but simplicity. Let me suggest the following – based on God’s Word:
- Authority – God’s Word is the first and final authority. Don’t allow any other cultural persuasion to influence you or those you lead! Teach it unashamedly and allow it’s power to do the work of obedience.
- Lead – Speak truth on the authority of God’s Word with courage. You will face adversity from the cultural pharisees within your church. Stand strong and go in the power of His Spirit…with wisdom and correction.
- Pray – The power of prayer is undeniable yet untapped! His house is to be a house of prayer first and foremost.
- Model – Be a picture of Biblical expressive worship and lead others to embrace it!
- Repent – cultivate an atmosphere of redemption and forgiveness. Allow grace to remind the Church she is a broken but beloved bride.
- Prelude – teach and encourage private worship as a prelude to church gatherings. Bring your worship with you!
- Lingerings – confirm the authenticity of worship by testing your fruits and the fruits of those who follow you.
The symptoms are evident and the prognosis is certain death. The superficial conversations of preference and style based on personalities are killing our churches and silencing our voice of influence. We no longer look nor behave as God’s beloved bride.
Until we see it as God sees it and call it what it is…our churches will continue to be nothing more than grand palaces of self worship and self gratification. And the transformational power of the gospel will lie dormant in a world that is desperate for the real deal.