Worship for Whom?

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There’s an urban clothing company known simply as “FUBU,” which stands for “For Us, By Us.” Sadly, I wonder if “FUBU” might also describe the way many of our churches worship.

Leave aside your dusty theology books and European traditional influence for just a moment and consider the question: How would Jesus construct a church’s worship ministry? I think most of us are scared to answer that question because we realize it could be the end of everything we’ve come to know and love about what we call “church.”

My church, Sunrise Community, in Austin, Texas, had an interesting experience a few weeks back. A homeless gentleman we did not know was attending worship that morning. Having homeless people attend worship is not abnormal for Sunrise, but what came next was. About half way through my message, he proceeded to stand up, walk to the set communion table, unscrew the top off his coffee mug and pour himself a heaping helping of communion wine (juice in our context). Eventually the man sat down and I kept speaking. What shocked me was not his action – but the reaction of the first five rows of attendees, most of whom were Sunrise members. Their horrified faces and yelps for cessation seemed to arise out of a need to protect the sanctity of Sunday morning – the sanctity of what we call worship.

In my short 27 years, I’ve seen many CRCs who have actively started engaging their communities – being about the mission of God and the cause of the Kingdom in some meager and some powerful ways. I rejoice that these perspectives are supplementing arm’s-length or ocean’s-length missional engagement. But it strikes me: why does it seem like the only part of our churches that we don’t allow mission to influence is our worship? Of course, we’d all say that our worship is “For God, By Us” or “FGBU,” but is it really? If our worship were truly “FGBU,” it would really be “FTLBU,” “For the Lost By Us.” I kind of wish Jesus would have tagged this onto Matthew 25’s parable of the sheep and the goats: “Lord, when did we see you not worshipping with us and wonder what was keeping you out?”

So what questions might we ask if we were looking at worship from an outsider’s perspective? How about these for starters: Why do we wear street clothes and stand with the lost on weekdays and then wear 3-piece suits and hide behind pulpits on Sunday? Why is our amp cranking top-40 hits on weekdays and then settling for music or quality levels on Sunday that most of us would never slide into our CD players? Why do we engage in relational evangelism with people six days a week and then decide preaching at people is okay for Sunday worship? Why do we have churches where the pastor’s salary takes up 75% of the church’s budget and the band or organist needs to play for free because they’re “sharing their gifts?”

This is no traditional versus contemporary argument or Kuyper versus Calvin argument – this is a Jesus versus what we now call worship argument. Our worship should be the intersection of all of our lives on mission and when we get off track with that, our churches get off track with priorities. Let’s stop distracting ourselves with worship wars and trying to protect the sanctity of formal worship services (something the Bible never explicitly mentions after the ascension). For many of us, traditional and contemporary alike, it has become the CHIEF idol we make sacrifices to in our churches. Like all idols, it can distract us from God, His glory and His mission in His world. Oh God, let it be no more.

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My first response is AMEN!

My second response is the fact that I've been running into the fact that we have to find that balance to make sure both sides are being fed--the faithful attending and the visitors. I've found this argument not just in the younger generation but in the older generation (70's-80's). Some say we need to change our music to help others feel more welcomed and the other side says we're losing the gospel to emphasize the beat.

How much is this based upon personal preference and truly desiring to worship. You stated this isn't traditional vs contemporary but in the end you state that there is a disconnect between the week and Sunday. Could someone have a true desire to worship with organ and people who play don't want to be payed because this is part of their ministry? Is that wrong?

How can we feed both?

Hey Josh, thanks for being the first courageous one to respond!

So, I think you bring up two basic questions here: "how much of this is based on personal preference" and "why worry about disconnect?". (feel free to correct me if those are innacurate paraphrases).

So first, I think we've all heard the dread "p-word" in worship war discussions (preference). Obviously, there's nothing wrong with preferences. The problem comes when our preferences implicity exclude others (ie, the opposite of mission). My argument would be that, far too often, when mission is at odds with our preferences, we choose preference most of the time because it is the path of least resistance or is most self-beneficial. I'm fairly certain neither of those was Jesus' way.

For the second point, there's obviously nothing wrong with preferring a style of worship that is more "traditional" - in fact, there are some wonderful parts of traditional, liturgical worship.  The only issue I'm pointing out is that, if we engage relationally and at the level of people far from God six days a week on mission and then try to invite them to a worship service that is far different both intellectually and stylistically, its kind of like letting someone test drive a Chevy and then sending them home with a Ford.  We shouldn't be suprised that many of our churches are missionally engaged with their communities but very few people ever make a home in our worship services.  If we're okay with that, then I guess we carry on.  I just don't think Jesus would be.

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Mark...

More of what I'm thinking has to do with being spiritually fed. This is done as much by the worship as it is with the ministry of Word and Sacrament. The question that is being brought up I think more so is "Are people being spiritual fed with healthy food their spiritual stomaches can handle?" In other words, somneone used to steak and potatoes with just salt and pepper to taste may have a hard time with spicy Thai food at first. Now, if you switch it up on them and say "All you can eat is Thai food or nothing at all." Then they are no longer being fed. The same is true with those who are not used to things such as steak and potatoes and eat a less meat filled diet. To expect them to eat only steak and potatoes is alos not good.

Until you can properly move somoene from one menu to the other, there needs to be at first a balance to make sure both are being properly fed.

I deeply enjoy and am fed by Praise and Worship music (sometimes the harder the guitar and louder the drums the better). But where I'm at right now, I know that it wouldn't feed everyone but only a few. Not only that, but there was a bad situatoin some years back because it was forced upon them. So, it takes time to transition to get to the point where both sides are being fed.

Cultural relevancy needs to be acted out with pastoral hand.

Hey Josh........

Love the comments, but I think maybe I disagree with the premise. Something inside me twinges every time I hear the word "fed" in relation to the quality of a corporate worship experience. My guess is (to take it back to the original piece) if being fed is the goal of corporate worship then Jesus would say we're sorely off track. If mission is the ultimate end of what the church should be doing (as my premise above reads), then corporate worship should be a support mechanism and operational appendage of mission. Being fed can be a byproduct of that, but only in the context of how it prepares us for mission and it musn't be our sole measurement for defining if worship has been done well. It is common to hear the phrase "all of life is worship", and that phrase might be true - but in comparison to the Gospels and Acts (our main source for how the early church dealt with worship), we've put far too much of an emphasis on the corporate act of worship - especially when it has no connection to how we are the Church sent.

To me, this has little to do with the cultural relevancy of our churches and much to do with our missional consistency as people. I think most of us are culturally relevant, or else we'd just all have no friends.  The problem is that we treat corporate worship as something that's wholly other than our normal selves. As we missionally approach each moment of our lives, we become more culturally relevant. As our corporate worship becomes more like who we are the other 6 days of the week, those friends we have those other 6 days will find a place of belonging in the Kingdom.

Maybe this is all too philosophical, so I'll take a practical example: My church knows that, to me, going to church is the 2nd-most important thing I want them to do in our faith community. 1st is small group, which, at our church, includes Bible study, living as community, pastoral care to each other, serving their neighborhood and serving our city. I regularly tell them (as do all our staff) that if they have to skip one of small group or church, they should skip church.  That's a bold thing for us to say and our attendence is more spotty, but wouldn't you know it, our church is entrenched in neighborhoods, including non-Christians in spiritually formative environments, taking care of one other physically and spiritually and thriving. Its not rocket science, we just feel its more like Acts 2.

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Mark, I just found this today (there has to be a better way to find out what's going on in these forums, besides what I already know about).

First, I think it's wonderful that a homeless guy shared in communion that way. This wonderful ignorance of decorum is something that looks like such an open door to ministry. "Whatever you do/don't do for the least of these..." comes to mind. The event itself is a ministry moment that you may have missed initially, but bears review (at least a debriefing). Very cool.

As for missional worship, you probably know you're not the first to bring this up. Hybels championed this, as have others, sometimes to the demise of authentic worship (though this was not Hybels fault, IMHO).

In my limited experience, being missional has two dimensions: us meeting others, and others meeting God. I have no problem with worship being primarily devoted to authentic worship, where the focus is on praising, worshiping, honoring and listening to God. I've seen people come into our small, rural church with very little Christian background and be attracted to God, because of how attracted we are to Him, and because they sensed His genuine presence among us. So our worship focus is, and is always supposed to be God Himself (not even our spiritual needs). That's not only 'okay,' it's wonderful. It's not all we do, but it is something we must do, and do authenticly.

If God's people are truly worshiping God on Sunday, those who come in will know they've been in God's presence -- that alone can be life-changing. I find that non-Christians could care less if Christianity is true, they want to know if it's real -- if God is real.

Let me put it another way. When I was a child and someone wanted to complement the pastor's sermon they would say "Thanks, Rev. [last name]. I learned something today." A few years ago that changed to "Thanks pastor [first name]. You helped me today." What I now most want to hear is "Wow! Did you sense God's presence here today too?"

The debate/war about contemporary vs. traditional is a smoke screen and a distraction, if not a demonic strategy to keep us away from genuine, authentic worship. I could say more, but your original post wasn't about that.

BTW, we pay pastors so that we can devote our time to ministry (not just Sunday for a couple of hours, right?). We don't pay them for their work, but so that they can work -- at least that's what I've always been told. I'd love to be able to pay others too. Frankly, most don't want it. They'd rather give their time as their gift to the Lord and His Church. Maybe things are different in different places (and I'm just a little jealous about you being in Austin, very nice place).

So I agree that worship FUBU, is a sham. It's not worship, it's just a meeting of spiritual consumers. Let's change it to FHFU (For HIm, From Us), unless we need to add WTHOHS (With The Help Of His Spirit).

Thanks for your comments, Rich.  Appreciate your thoughts and experience in this area of missional worship.

Joy

[quote=Richard DeRuiter]

The debate/war about contemporary vs. traditional is a smoke screen and a distraction, if not a demonic strategy to keep us away from genuine, authentic worship. I could say more, but your original post wasn't about that.

[/quote]

Richard, when I read this I wanted to say amen - we are far too often blinded by simple categories when the real problems are systemic.  God bless you and all of us as we walk this journey together.

I'm not sure really distinguishing between "for us", "for God", and "for the lost" is possible. Worship is for God in that it is its own end, but we should certainly expect both the lost and the found to benefit from the proclamation of God's glory and the story of the gospel.

I agree that an outsider's perspective can raise good questions that we should tackle. But the outsider's perspective might easily offer answers that are obvious, but still wrong. There's a reason the Bible uses words like "blind".

If I recall correctly from church history classes, the Romans thought early Christians were cannibals because they ate the body and blood of Jesus. Presumably they didn't really want to be thought of as cannibals--an obvious answer would be to remove that language that confused people. But would it be the right answer?

Or take your question about music--I would say the obvious answer is to make the quality of our music in church match the quality on the radio. But you could just as easily flip the question, and ask why top 40 radio is a good standard to use, as opposed to, say, a 5 year old singing for her parents. Pop music exists to bring in money for the singer, and entertain the listener. Do the forms that serve those purposes carry baggage into worship that we don't want?

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