I recently had a couple of opportunities to participate in worship where I had no leadership role. The experiences were informative, inspirational, helpful and rare (I don’t often get to worship sitting with my family).
As I reflect on the experiences, I keep coming back to a question:
When I enter into worship am I prepared to experience God or am I looking to evaluate the performance?
The question may seem to frame these ideas as mutually exclusive which I recognize they are not. We are constantly evaluating our experiences. Further, we can prepare for an experience by preparing to evaluate the experience.
If you will allow, I am not interested in debating whether one can experience and evaluate, I am interested in what is happening in my soul as I gather to worship and how this may or may not affect my experience.
For the first service we attended, I had a rough idea of when and where the gathering would take place. I had a vague idea of what to expect or what might happen as we entered into the life of this church.
As we navigated to the venue, I noticed the parking lot, the door greeters, the chairs. I saw what others were wearing and drinking and doing as they moved through the building. I focused on the lobby seating and the coffee bar. I paid attention to the art on the walls. They had those cool flag banners you can set outside to draw people’s attention. I wondered whose job it was to put them out and bring them back in.
As worship began, I took out a pen and jotted down some notes. I considered the intentionality of the opening song and the welcome. I observed the LED lights change color. I noticed the rolled jeans of the worship leader. I was not much prepared to connect with God and as I left I tweeted a thanks to the pastor, not a hallelujah to Jesus.
For the other gathering, I reached out to the pastor who would be preaching. The pastor shared the text the message would be based on and I spent some time reflecting on the passage. I read it for myself and began to wonder what the message might be. I let the scripture do some work in me before we joined others in the singing and proclaiming and responding to the Word.
Certainly as I entered the building for worship I was aware of lighting and projection and the welcome I received. I noticed the colors and smells and activity of the church coming alive on a Sunday morning. I reviewed the bulletin and noticed which translation of the Bible this church placed in the pews. In other words, I did evaluate what I was experiencing. My evaluation though was shaped by my preparation. My heart was already in a place to receive grace and to extend it to others. I was already sensitive to the Spirit moving in my life and in the life of this church. I came ready to sense God and I did. I left thinking about my faith and how I might grow closer to Jesus.
One service was clearly more polished and professional and planned. One space was by far newer and cleaner and more conducive to the style of worship they offered. The music was superior, the message delivery clearer, the next steps more obvious in the first service than in the second.
Why then did I feel closer to God after attending the second service? Why did I care less about the pauses and the strange practices and the “mess ups”, than I did at the first service?
Could it be I came to evaluate, to spectate, to review the first service and I came to worship at the second? Could it be I set aside evaluation and instead chose participation?
Could it be this is the choice I have every week whether I lead or join in worship?
Could it be this is the choice all who join in corporate worship have?
Will we come and evaluate the experience? Did they play my song? Was the preacher good? Was the prayer too long, too short, relevant? Did communion feature the right bread?
Will we come ready to participate in the experience? I will pray for those present. I will reach out to someone I do not know. I will sing and think and listen and share as God moves in and through us all.
I wonder if this applies to more than worship?
Could it be I need to act less as critic and consumer and more as contributor? More as a prepared participant? More as one looking for God in every person and place and circumstance? Could it be this is one of the primary ways I am invited to move from self-centeredness to Christ-centeredness?
I think the answers are all, “yes!”
Maybe we could choose this way together? Maybe it only works if we do it together?
Life is better together,