Sunday, July 1, 2007

Sunday School Stress???

You may be saying, “Huh? What on earth could be stressful about Sunday School???” I’m kind of wondering the same thing. Not that my Sunday School class has been bad or anything—we’ve just been having what I would consider some difficult discussion, both last week and this week. And I suppose what concerns me is the fact that we’re having this conversation in the first place.

If this post ends up not making sense, I apologize. But if you can’t tell yet, I like to use my blog as an online journal, and I see it as a place where I can sort of think out loud, without too much fear of what you guys think of me. So that’s where I’m going with this, you may choose to bear with me if you so desire.

Last Sunday morning, with the announcement by our elders that we are hiring one, Jerome Williams, to be the new worship minister at our church, our Singles minister decided he wanted to take some time to discuss worship. So both last Sunday morning and this morning, we’ve spent talking about many different aspects of worship. We’ve talked about different kinds of worship…vain worship, ignorant worship, self-imposed worship, and true worship. We tried to figure out what Jesus meant by worshipping “in spirit and in truth.”

We discussed the idea that worshipping in spirit has more to do with spiritual things, as opposed to worship in the Old Testament, which very much appealed to the physical senses. We discussed the idea of worshipping in truth. Hans made an interesting point, one that I had never heard brought out before, at least not this specifically. He said he believes that the contrast is not true worship vs. false worship, but that the contrast there is real vs. shadow. The “physical” worship of the Old Testament was a shadow of the real “spiritual” worship that we get to participate in today. (Take a look at Hebrews 9—better yet, read all of Hebrews; it’s my favorite—the “book of better things!”)

Then he asked us a question, which kind of changed the route of the discussion, “What is your opinion on bringing some things that may seem ‘physical’ into our worship service?” He referred to the idea of videos (which have been used at PV) and praise teams (which we don’t use, but I guess he implied that the idea has been looked at and discussed).

This question raised several others.

“Is worship for us or for God? Does God want us to worship because He wants to hear us worship Him or because He knows it’s good for us? Or a combination of both???”

“Why are we changing? Is something broken that needs to be fixed? Is there something that we’re doing wrong? It seems that there are so many different things that are being done right, and the Lord is greatly blessing our work here at PV. So what, exactly, are we trying to accomplish?”

“Who draws the line, as far as what is ‘acceptable’ worship for the congregation as a whole? How has that line moved, even over the last ten years? And what are the influences that are causing this line to move?”

I guess that last group of questions is the one that really gets to me. The answer, obviously, is that the elders, as our leaders draw the line, at least congregationally speaking. However, as one always-insightful guy pointed out, people as individuals will still draw their own lines. There will unfortunately be decisions that the elders make that will offend some people, and they will, no doubt, decide not to worship with us anymore. That thought is the one that is stressful for me. Because I am, for lack of a better term, very liberal. Few things in a “worship service” offend me, because I simply don’t believe that they are issues. When we look at what in the Bible is considered “unacceptable worship,” we must look at why that is. What is it that makes worship “unacceptable” to the Lord??? In just about all of the examples that are in my mind, it had very little do with the actions with which the worshipers approached the throne of God and much to do with the heart with which they approached the throne of God.

So it bothers me that we have to have this discussion; and it bothers me that no matter what direction our elders feel led by God to go in, there will always be people who will be so offended as to worship elsewhere. It just makes me sad for the few in our congregation who may feel that way.

And I know that this is not a topic that just our Singles group is looking at, because this past Wednesday evening, in the absence of our minster and singles minister, one of our elders, brother Jimmy Cone, taught our Singles class, and he spoke to us in a similar manner, though not specifically about worship. With him, we spoke about convictions and preferences; what the difference is between them; how we form them; what conclusions they lead us to; whether or not the conclusions we end up with are based on what God has told us; how we approach the Bible; and how the way we approach the Bible affects the formation of our convictions.

Obviously this topic is currently on the minds of many in our church right now, as these questions are being asked and as decisions are being made. In this week's bulletin was a portion of a post from brother Keith's site. I'd like to close with his thoughts...because I suspect he may be onto something...

"I'm no expert about worship. Frankly, I'm not sure I 'get' it at all.Sometimes my heart is engaged. Sometimes I'm just going through the motions. Sometimes I'm focused. Other times I'm distracted. Sometimes I'm with others. Sometimes I'm by myself.But these are a few of the things I suspect about it:
---God wants us to worship Him because it's good for us to realize how much we should depend on Him ... not because He needs to hear it.
---Worship was never meant to make us comfortable. Frankly, the whole idea of sacrifice at the heart of it makes me really uncomfortable, because it pounds into my brain that sinleadstodeath sinleadstodeath sinleadstodeath; that graceleadstolife graceleadstolife graceleadstolife; and that despite all of my best efforts I am going to be and imperfect, bumbling, pitiful failure at the morality game. And bringing up sacrifice only weekly, or just at Easter - instead of daily - makes it a bit more comfortable for me.
---Worship has to come from the heart, not from an indexed book of rules with check-mark boxes beside each one, legislating every conceivable "thou shalt" and "shalt not" with regard to the way I express my bewildered awe of the Creator.
---Worship in spirit and in truth - despite all the ways I've heard it explained - is a concept that still somehow eludes me, and I wonder if that's intentional. When Jesus brought up the subject of worship in spirit and in truth, it wasn't a command. It was a prophecy. For some it has already come true. For me - and I'd bet a lot of others - it's mostly yet to happen.
---Worship can't be forced. If it could, there'd be a lot more rules about it. Sure, quote your Old Testament chapters at me all you want. Underlying them all is still the plain fact that people need and should want to worship God; to understand that He is a jealous God; to feel that He is a loving God; to accept that He is a just God; to be drawn closer to Him as a Father God. And that it calls for extraordinary effort.
---Some ways that you worship God are probably really different than some ways I do. A few of mine wouldn't make sense to you or "speak" to you at all; and vice-versa. My guess is that I don't have a right to require you to adopt mine any more than you should expect me to adopt yours. The final arbiter on any given point would be God, wouldn't it? Wouldn't pleasing Him be the goal? Wouldn't it please Him for me to feed you by participating in the ways that nourish your spirit, and for you to reciprocate for my hunger? Could that be why He calls us to dine together in the first place?
---Seeing, hearing, experiencing God's activity in the world persuades me to want to worship Him. Walling myself off from God's activity with anything - especially my own activity - has the opposite effect.
---Worship is virtually impossible when the name of Jesus isn't even mentioned, except maybe to close a prayer or a casual reference in communion. He's the Go-Between. The Intercessor. The Mediator. The One whose Spirit interprets the groanings of us pitiful would-be's to the incomprehensible language of the Great I AM.

--Keith Brenton

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