2019.05.21 – Worshiping “42”

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. Colossians 3:16

Recently I was standing in line waiting to enter the fellowship hall for dinner at a presbytery meeting. A man I did not know saw my name tag and said: “I see you are from Sparta. Do you still have that contemporary worship?” Instinct told me that obviously he was not a fan.

My response was immediate: “No; we simply call it worship.”

I could see the gentlemen was a bit stunned, so I felt I owed him an explanation. I told him that we only have one worship, and that on any given Sunday you never know what you are going to find at the Sparta church: hymns, praise songs, choir, bell choir, praise team, children, organ, banjo, or guitar and drums. I went on to share that the previous Sunday featured our chancel choir robustly singing the spiritual, Dem Bones, Dem Bones, Dem Dry Bones,” while playing various percussion instruments and a Spike Jones-ian slide whistle.

Conversation over; You could cut the gentleman’s silence with a knife.

I can’t tell you how many times in my career I have heard statements similar to what I heard from this gentlemen. I have had a some younger people (basically under 45) refer to hymns as outdated and dead, and claim the organ prevents them from worshiping God. I have heard some older people (generally over 60) complain that guitars and drums have no place in worship, lyrics of contemporary music is shallow and repetitious, and that “noise” prevents them from worshiping God. (Truth be told, I have absolutely no preference, which may be the result of me being under 60 and older than 45…or simply that I am just plan cool!)

In my experience, this type of talk starts with grumbling and eventually evolves to negative references about “those people” who worship in the style that is disliked. Even worse is when it sometimes morphs into name calling. NOTE: I will not repeat the names because it doesn’t help.

For years church leadership in many places, buckling under the pressure of these demands and grumblings, become desperate to keep the peace and opt for what I call the easy way out. They create multiple worship services with different styles allowing the church members to select from a fast food like menu that panders to our preferences for style, time of worship, length, etc. Unfortunately my experience is that this only divides the church and increases competitive rhetoric.

Thanks John W. for sending this to me!

Now the church sign pictured is a bit tongue and cheek but speaks to an issue that has naturally developed in our capitalistic society: the Consumerist Church. If you don’t think this is real, let me give you an example I witnessed first hand. A couple of years ago on vacation, we went to worship at a church that offered four worship services: two traditional, a contemporary, and a jazz. What struck me was that when we attended the largest of their worships (style not important). the grand sanctuary was about 80% empty.

Would you like fries with that?

In his book, A Purpose Driven Life, Rick Warren’s first words are, “It’s not about you.” I say amen to Pastor Warren! Worship is and always should be about the Triune God of Grace at its center, with a cloud of diverse witnesses joining together to glorify him. I contend that we have become confused in this option-driven society and think we are the most important being (s) in the universe and the center of our worship. At least, that is how many of us act.

Seven years ago, I came to a church that had been deeply divided over many things, but the biggest symbol of that division was worship. They had two worship services with different styles (traditional and contemporary). In the summers, due to decreased numbers, they combined into one service that did not favor either time slot or style. What began to happen was people from various services(demographics all over the place) began expressing that they liked it when we all worshiped together. Some of the older folks began telling us that they missed seeing the kids in worship after we would return to the two worship format after Labor Day. For them it was a sign of hope for the future of the church and that can never be bad.

In 2017, our elders embarked on a process of discernment about this division of the Body of Christ, and eventually came to the conclusion that unity was more important than preference. We merged two worships into one single worship. We simply call it WORSHIP. This worship is authentic, real, organic, wholesome, deep, creative, and unified. More importantly, what you see when you come into the sanctuary is us in all our age, theological, ethnic, and stylistic diversity giving glory and praise to our Author of Life, the Universe, and Everything: our 42.

Since “the merger” we are thriving. In the past, neither worship exceeded 30% of the sanctuary capacity on a routine basis, but now a single worship consistently fills it to nearly 70%. This Spring, we added seventeen new members, and we have several already inquiring about the next round of membership meetings. We have several baptisms scheduled through October, and the church family is getting younger every season.

But our success is not calculated by consumerist measurements like membership and worship numbers, but rather we are growing stronger together every week in the Spirit of 42!

Praise the Lord! Praise God in his sanctuary; praise him in his mighty heavens! Praise him for his mighty deeds; praise him according to his excellent greatness! Praise him with trumpet sound; praise him with lute and harp! Praise him with tambourine and dance; praise him with strings and pipe! Praise him with sounding cymbals; praise him with loud clashing cymbals! Let everything that has breath praise the Lord! Praise the Lord! Psalm 150

5 thoughts on “2019.05.21 – Worshiping “42”

  1. Amen! If some day I find myself referring to those in the congregation as “other”, I fully expect God to rock the ground beneath me. The world outside those sanctuary doors is chaotic and ever changing. Our own Mrs. Williams spoke from the pulpit this past Sunday that God is the great “I Am”. He is present in all aspects of our lives. If the church becomes a haven against the “other”, that will surely be the first sign of a congregation in decline. What was contemporary is now traditional and so will this happen again and again. Let’s not be afraid of change. Let’s not fear making mistakes. “I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead.”

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    1. Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’
      The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”
      Mark 12:29-31

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  2. So wonderful and interesting to hear how a division was made in our church and how unity grew organically from that division. I love that! I also love the slight changes week-to-week. Thanks for sharing!

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  3. Amen, Pat! It is impossible to love God and others effectively and in a way that pleases God if one has a self-important spirit. Self-importance is deadly. This mantra that some seem to live by is not much of an exaggeration: “So many ways to be offended, so little time!” Division is the inevitable result. But a humble spirit, with a fervent desire to glorify God in all things, does not only enable the capacity for empathy with others, but can also lead to true unity with fellow Christians who are also seeking to put God first in their lives.

    Clearly, unity is hard to find in our culture today, and seems to be on the endangered species list. If we don’t model healthy unity in the church today, where on earth will people find it? With loving unity comes community, and with community comes hope – true hope, refreshing hope, and I believe this is a major reason our church is growing. By the grace of God, our church is healthier today than Karen and I have ever seen it in our 19 years here. I give God all the glory.

    You are right, Pat. We don’t need any adjectives in front of Worship!

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