One of my first memories is being a kindergartener at St. Agnes Catholic School in my hometown of Flint, Michigan. We would line up and leave the school building to enter the church building. The sanctuary was wonderland for five-year-old me. Banners were placed at the front of room indicating what time of the liturgical year it was or to help us give praise to God. It was 1975, so this was when the Catholic folk mass was in high gear. The whole experience was exciting and I wanted to come back.
I couldn’t say that about my regular church.
My parents and I went to New Jerusalem Baptist Church in Flint which is an African American congregation. Now, there was some excitement at times when people were “filled with the Holy Spirit” and started screaming and dancing. But the services were anywhere from 2-3 hours long. Then there were the Sundays where there was the regular 11:00AM service, followed by the 4:00PM service and then the 7:00PM service. This meant trying to sit through some very long sermons that I never really understood. Aside from the screaming and yelling, the sermons were long and seemed boring to me.
Worship is a vital part of our Christian faith, no matter if it excites us or bores us to tears. It’s also vital to churches like ourselves that are redeveloping themselves for the new times we live in.
There is a temptation in the effort to be relevant to not focus on worship, but mission. The seeming prevailing wisdom is that we should be involved with mission with worship having a supporting role- if it has a role at all.
Pastor Kazimierz Bem thinks we have this all backward. If we are looking to revive our faith it has to start with worship. This is how he describes worship and how it influences mission:
Worship is a central act of proclamation of God’s grace to us — in preaching and in faithful administration of sacraments. It needs to be robust, faithful, engaging — but its focus must be the God revealed to us in Jesus Christ, God’s free, abundant, deep grace and love shown for us on the cross.
Yes, service is vital. I agree with Nicholas Wolterstorff that service is the part of worship after the assembly disperses into their daily lives. But unless our service is grounded in worship and an understanding that what we do is in gratitude for what God has done for us first, then we will end up as the all-too-familiar “Church of revolving doors.”
Do read the rest of the article when you have the chance.
As we continue to retool our churches for the 21st century, we need to be mindful that the central part of our faith community has to be worship, that time when we encounter God and give God praise.
First Christian-St. Paul is not giving up our commitment to service. We are making a difference in Washington County. But it has to be grounded in our worship, in the time when we meet God through the bread and the wine, through the preaching of the Word and through the melodies of music.
Let’s go to worship God!