Marva Dawn’s book, A Royal “Waste” of Time: The Splendor of Worshipping God and Being Church for the World, offers a helpful critique of what the church should be doing when it gathers as the people of God on Sundays. Her work is among others that I have been reviewing in preparation for the sermon series on worship this month. I will be talking about the subject of worship on the first three Sundays of November, which in turn will get us into the Advent season (it’s here!).
It’s an interesting title. It makes me wonder what outsiders might think when they see us enter this building each Sunday. I also wonder what each one of us are thinking as we enter the sanctuary, fit into our usual spot, and move into the worship service. Are we attentive? are we expecting to hear a word from the Lord? do we participate?
Dawn doesn’t call worship a waste of time in the sense that you might conclude from the title, the key being that the word waste has those quotation marks around it. Her emphasis, I believe, is that worship for any other reason except for the purpose of worshipping God is a waste of time. There is danger of using worship for other reasons other than worship, and I will have mentioned some of those last Sunday. The greatest and best use of our time is when we worship God.
We’ve formed a worship planning team in response to a recommendation from the Vision 2020 plan. We will be meeting periodically to look at our worship in terms of what we do, how we do it, and how we need to be prepared for worship. This team will remain in place for as long as I sense that we are making a difference. I don’t need to tell you that churches through the years have wrestled with the issue of worship as it related to style and preferences. My hope is that through our work as a team, and through this sermon series, that we will reaffirm our need to worship God and do this gladly and in a manner that pleases Him.
One thing that I have learned and been reminded of recently, is that there is no way to please everyone when it comes to how worship is done. People will attend or not attend a church based on what happens in worship; this might not ought to be the case but it is so. We all have our tastes, preferences, and expectations. Herb Miller indicated the prior to 1965, people chose a church based on doctrine, denomination, and family influences. Now, he says, people select a church based on worship style, caring ministries, and authenticity.
Regardless of the style, congregational worship ought to bring about a sense of the need we all have to change in response to God’s holiness, goodness, and love. Christian vocalist and writer Kyle Matthews has dealt with the subject of conflict in churches due to stylistic differences in his helpful work “The Silly War.” Matthews maintains that the church needs to move beyond its struggles over style and move toward a more meaningful desire such as the transformation of the individual. John Koessler, professor at Moody Bible Institute put it this way: “It is not our differences in taste but rather our mutual contempt and lack of respect that have caused the most damage in church.”
It’s a sad thing when there is conflict over worship style, especially since worship is the one activity of the church that has eternal significance. I don’t see the problems ending anytime soon, unfortunately, but hope that there will be a rediscovery of the value of content and substance in worship. I’ve been working through my own thoughts about worship, and in the meantime hope that may we not “forsake the assembling of ourselves together” for worship and fellowship each Lord’s Day.