Worshiping While on Vacation

It is always interesting to go attend worship while on vacation. Depending on where I am, it either gives me an opportunity to worship with one of our daughters or visit a completely new church. Both are great.

This summer I was worshiping in a large, dynamic, and growing church. I have known of this church for decades and have always viewed it as a great church with wonderful people. It still is.

Recently the leadership team of the church has changed. They brought in an exciting new head of staff who is a dynamic preacher and also a charismatic, visionary leader. A part of that new vision was the complete remodel of what was once a beautiful, traditional, stained glass filled Sanctuary. The new “Worship Center” – they don’t have a Sanctuary any more – is filled with stackable chairs, wonderfully crisp flat screens, and large screens that make it possible for any number of different images and backdrops to be seen behind the unadorned stage.

Ok. I fully acknowledge that I am powerfully moved by beautiful worship that pays careful attention to creating sacred space. I like stained glass, but I don’t need to have it. I like flat screens that allow us to display text and images that get us out of our books and into worship. I recognize that there is nothing “sacred” about pews, and stackable chairs that allow you to reconfigure the worship space for any number of different events is incredibly convenient. I recognize that to livestream a service requires careful attention to lighting and so maybe a darkened space is preferable. I get all of that.

But when our space planning becomes so utilitarian, when our architecture is deliberately “warehouse light”, when our concern is non-believer accessibility at the expense of sacred space, I have to wonder what we are doing. Isn’t there some middle ground?

We entered to worship and immediately had twenty minutes of singing, a brief prayer, more singing, a sermon (excellent by the way), and we closed with singing. Okay, the praise team was good and the singing was great. But I noticed one exuberant individual who was very demonstrative in his singing. That’s fine. He was clearly caught up in the spirit of worship as he sang. As he did, it was almost as though he was praying. But when the singing was over, so was he. He quietly picked up his bulletin (really just a short newsletter) and he left. Worship was over for him.

This happened to occur at an overwhelmingly contemporary church. But it is not unique to contemporary churches. What leads us to pick and choose our worship experiences? When did worship become so much about personal choice and satisfaction that we feel free to pick up and leave at any point in the service? When did worship become about our preferences versus God’s delight? What is the trade off between newcomer accessibility and sacred space?

I have thought about that worship experience quite a bit. I still am, and I imagine I will for awhile. What do you think?

Transformation

Rather than calling us to the latest change fad, rather than calling us to some kind of religiously blessed conformity or right behavior, let me instead suggest that what God is calling us to is nothing more, and nothing less, than a full embrace of the Gospel. It is moving from death to life, from brokenness to wholeness in Jesus Christ. Godly change is the embrace of the best expression of who we were uniquely created to be.

Change then is not a mindless call to conformity or obedience, the transformation called for is not a complete rejection of who you think you are. Instead, change is the embrace of the unique person that God created you to be. It will be different for each of us. While we share the incredible privilege of being created in the image of God; each of us are unique, one-of-a-kind combinations of gifts, talents, abilities, personality, and possibilities.

To Whom Are We Listening?

So how do we tell if someone is worth listening to? Just a few points.

First, what seems to be the real motivation of the prophet? Is what they are saying for your good – or for theirs? Who really benefits if one follows the prophet’s advice? History is filled with con men and women who have sold entire communities and countries a promise and nothing else. The prophets who have filled their personal bank accounts, who have gained power and influence at the expense of the gullible, who have held on to that power by any means necessary, these are influencers whose only real aim is their own well-being.

So the fruits of the prophet’s life – the gathering of wealth, power, expressions of immorality and personal greed will tell us who they are really trying to help – the listener or themselves.

Second, what are the fruits of their teaching? People worth listening to build up communities, they don’t divide them. How I wish our politicians understood this! People worth listening to speak truth, they call out injustice, they put a verbal spotlight on the dark places of our world, but they do so in such a way that the entire community is lifted up, not torn down. They call us to better expressions of ourselves, of ourselves as a community, of ourselves as a culture.

Third, they point us to a truth that exists beyond ourselves. They point us to a truth to which we are all accountable, including the speaker. As Christians, we believe that Scripture holds these truths. The power of Martin Luther King, Junior was not in his powerful oratory, although he was certainly a strong, charismatic preacher and teacher. No, the power of Martin Luther King was in his ability to articulate a dream of a society where the justice of human culture lined up with the justice of a divine God. King pointed us to truths beyond what we had settled for.