What is worship? I think everybody has an idea – singing, preaching, reading the Bible, reciting creeds, lighting candles, smelling incense, sharing in communion, praying, confessing, greeting one another, all of these things are elements in worship in different churches. Not all churches use all elements, and the elements they do use might be totally different approaches to them.
In a debate awhile ago, I was told that the most important part of worship is the Lord’s Supper / Communion / Eucharist and that everything else about worship ought to be leading up to it and celebrating it afterwards. Then another group said that music was the most important part of worship because more readily remember theology when it’s sung. Still others said that the preaching of the Word was the most important part of worship because faith comes by hearing, and we can’t have faith if we don’t hear the word being preached and explained. Is worship worship if it’s done alone – or is gathering together part of what makes worship what it is? What about participation? Should people look onward as the priest fulfills their priestly duties, or are we priests and priestesses who have duties of our own to fulfill?
Worship is complex. I could tell you everything that I think has gone wrong with the different styles of the churches that I know, but I don’t know what worship is like in other churches and there will always be somebody out there with the opposite opinion, whatever they hate, I like and whatever I like, they hate. To be honest, I don’t know what really comes of all the debates – but I certainly learn a lot.
It comes down to it that some people think if ‘high worship’ for lack of a better word. God is so high, so holy, so transcendent, that to try to reach him on a human level is to cheapen everything that he represents. It can be still, quiet, solemn, and calm. And the opposite of that is ‘low worship’ one that tries to understand on a chiefly human level, through a sensory and emotional context. It can be noisy and exuberant but also soft and sorrowful as well as everything in-between.
My former denomination left the ‘high worship’ style because they realized it was a goal they couldn’t attain. They felt that ‘God among us’ really meant that he had come down to our level, not made it possible for us to ascend to his. They did away with a lot of elements before they realized that what they were really aiming for was a ‘middle worship’ that bridged elements from both styles together in harmony by being different. So they had to sacrifice some of their ideas about emotion in worship. They arrived at a liturgy of their own – an order of worship where a list of items was done in the same order for the same amount of time, starting with the first and ending at the last. It wasn’t long before the established tradition was the explanation for why they did everything even though there wasn’t exactly Biblical support for them to be done like that. And since tradition is doing things as they had always been done, they weren’t open to change.
The more I wondered about which version of worship was the right more, the more I began to wonder if they weren’t all right; at least, some more right for some than others. I don’t think that God would reject any form of worship for having a different emphasis or form than another. But I do think that each of us will respond to different things better than others. That’s why we have so many different kinds, but we don’t always have all of those different kinds at hand. Some denominations don’t exist out here. Some denominations are super-abundant, but they don’t vary their styles.
I’m afraid that if there was a perfect kind of worship for me, that made me excited to come to church, thrilled about singing (tall order, I know), or filled with other elements that are perfectly suited to my tastes, I’d be the only one who was there, which would defeat the point as churches tend to be communities. But it’s hard to feel like a member of a community when you don’t feel very well matched to what’s going on or you don’t feel like your concerns are being heard or your ideas are being considered.
I’m so used to showing up, going through the list, and leaving. A lot of it is forgettable, sometimes it’s tedious – but not a lot is memorable or all that great. I get it that it’s hard to replicate a great experience one day a week indefinitely. But somehow it’s just wrong to me to feel numb about worship and treat it as a going through the motions type thing. I just don’t know how to change it up when that seems to be the typical approach. I get that order in worship is in the Bible, but I was thinking that something shy of chaos was the goal, not necessarily follow a list of items in order in an orderly way because that’s the way it’s always been done. Changing up the routine would be nice, saving music for later, having a bit of preaching first, perhaps communion first thing as opposed to somewhere in the middle. I don’t know – what do you do to get rid of the ‘going through the motions’ feeling about worship?