Substitute: Thoughts on Worship, Community, and Identity

We have taught ourselves to be emotionally connected to the aesthetics of a glamorous worship service. I think Jesus would be more emotionally connected to the worshipers.

Perhaps there was a time when the church needed to be flashy. Perhaps we, at one point, were right to create an emotionally stimulating environment out of our worship services. Indeed, it has been in such a context that I have encountered God time and again. But how often does our ecclesiological identity and energy in this area undercut that for which our culture is obviously hungry and that which should most obviously distinguish us?

Jesus said that the church would be known for its love. Not for its love for hip and contemporary music. Not its love for lights and eloquent sermons. Not its love for services... Jesus said, "By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." In other words, our identity as the Church is found in our unique community. Is not our culture hungry for community? We seek it everywhere! We seek it in romance, we seek it in anonymity (ironically) through social networking, we seek it in clubs, we even seek it in churches... sadly, we aren't finding it.

There is all this talk about why 20-somethings aren't going go church. I'm amazed at how often this conversation revolves around problems in "youth culture." We act as though it's their fault. But perhaps the fault belongs to the Church itself. The truth is, for all their faults, young adults are very sensitive to authenticity. They know when something feels fake. They don't always know what "real" looks like, but they're very impatient with the substitute. The reason they don't go to church is because they know when they're being duped. They go to church and instead of finding authentic community they find services.

The church has poured its energy and, even more tragically, its identity into church services and the stuff that happens in the sanctuary on Sunday mornings. We've put great bands and speakers on stage, but community doesn't happen from a stage. Talk all you want about the incarnation, but as long as your behavior communicates disconnectedness, it is just white noise. Those of us who've stayed in the church, for whatever reason, have connected so much with the worship that we have lost our passion for the worshippers.

I dream of the day when the word "church" prompts not thoughts of buildings or services but of authentic community--a people united in Christ, whose love for one another is simply and undeniably compelling. What if our worship came out of such a context? What if out of love for Christ, our worship was a reflection of our love for Christ's people? The Church, after all, is the very body of Christ.
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Anonymous said…
I really appreciate this thought process, and the direction you came at it from. I think that when this topic is usually talked about, especially in light of the service, the worship and so on, I feel like all to often these aspects of the Church are blamed for the lack of community, when the fault lies with us. And I don't think it's even that we need to change these things, as much as we need to focus more strongly on building the community. Grated, if we do this, most of those things will naturally look different, but the opposite doesn't really work. We can't expect community to bud simply by changing things like worship, or the service, the whole attitude of the group as a whole needs to change.
wellis68 said…
Great thoughts! You're right. I'm reminded of a book called "start with why." The main argument of the book is that oeganizations who have a handle on why they're doing what they're doing are naturally more successful in the how and what. Services and programs are just the "what" of the Church, Christ and community is the "why." We can't expect to get at the latter by making superficial changes to the former.