Worship Vacation?

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Ever feel that when everyone is gone on vacation worship goes too?  The music groups/teams take a break from rehearsing during the summer so they don’t participate in leading worship and the pastoral staff takes turns with their vacation; other leadership seems to get paired down too as does the creative energy used to plan services.  On the one hand I wonder if the energy expended in planning and preparing worship services is exponentially related to the number of people expected in attendance which worries me and on the other I wonder if the simpler worship services might be a part of a natural rhythm that follows the Christian year; a helpful respite in contrast to the Advent/Christmas or the Lent/Easter seasons.  What do you think?  Do your worship services feel a little simpler during these lazy days of summer?  How do we keep from becoming lazy in our worship planning but still allow for the simplicity that this time of year seems to call for? 

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At Hope Church for the past two summers, we have rearranged our sanctuary to include tables and invite everyone to grab a cup of coffee and a muffin and sit around tables for the service. At the end of the message, we have one or two questions that everyone is invited to share around their table and learn from one another. As well we have instructions for each person to commit to their own action plan for that week to implement the new learnings from that weeks service.
Rather than scale back in the Summer, we have intentionally ramped up the Summer services to use the more relaxed atmosphere to accomplish things that the more formal fall and winter services can't achieve. While we have no more people in attendance in the Summer we have found that visitors find it more inviting and easier to feel comfortable with the new settings as it is familiar.

But is this really "worship" or some other type of gathering?

Wear two or more are gathered in His name He will be there.

I too had some concerns when our worship team suggested this type of format for the summer, but after trying it for the past two years I see that truly it is worship, afterall, worship is not defined by the seats we sit in,but the spirit we come with. Table seem to make the environment familiar to those unacustomed to a church setting and thus remove one barrier to true worship. All of the element of a traditional worship service are present, hymns, prayers, confessions, benedictions, sermons, and scripture, but what has changed is the seating. The early church was very familiar with interaction as those who gathered were expected to take their turn in reading the Word and offering their comments as with Jesus in the temple. I guess the only element that may be foreign to conventional worship is allowing coffee around the tables during the service, but it is amazing how this has been used as an illustration around communion (which is also served around the tables in NT fashion) and people now reflect on Christ's sacrifice not only while receiving the cup during communion, but while drinking coffee during worship and in their homes. I have had a number of worshippers tell me that they never realized that the common elements were given so they would always be in front of them to reminid them. This has given new meaning to even their home worship times.
So I guess that is my long way of saying that I have been convinced that worshipping around tables, fostering dialogue with the message and the Word and sharing in communion fellowship in this setting is truly worship in the truest sense. What started as a move for some practical reasons, has emerged as a theologically teachable moment and living illustration of NT worship.

We've been struggling a bit too with musicians taking a break for some or all of the summer. We're used to a full band (guitars, piano, keyboard, bass, drums) and have had a couple of Sundays with just a couple of instruments (piano/bass or guitar/bass) and fewer singers than usual. The key has been in planning and preparing for the service to be aware of the instruments we have. Generally it has gone really well, and is a good challenge for leaders as well as instrumentalists (who can't hide behind the rhythm section!) Many in the church have been blessed by this more intimate feeling. We also encourage the congregation to move nearer the front (which helps preachers too with connecting to them) - this helps the sense of intimacy. I don't think anyone wants this as a norm, but it really helps us to have some variety in approaches - our worship focus becomes different in character, but no less real. For some congregation members, the quieter worship is a big relief (!) while others miss the intensity of our bigger band.

Of course really the instrumentation and so on are rather incidental - the prayer preparation of all involved, prayer before and during the service, the attitude of the congregation coming in, and in particularly the Lordship of the Holy Spirit throughout the service will lead us into worship "in Spirit and in Truth" - the rest doesn't matter.

We started using tables 15 years ago. I personally like the tables. For some of the adults, the tables are physically more comfortable, and some like the added feature of taking sermon notes. Later we added couches, etc. and created a "home-like" setting in the sanctuary. People loved it but it had a deleterious effect that we did not anticipate. Some abused it, particularly among the teens and young adults. They came in, felt at ease, and easily proceeded to send text messages, talk, write notes (not about the sermon or service!), draw pictures, plan next week's parties, etc., etc. This younger generation, apparently, did not come with the experience nor context of worship being a sacred matter of service to God, nor did they have the wherewithal to recogonize the sanctuary as a special place to be entered with reverence and awareness. We simply accommodated the un-initiative secular mindset within the framework of a "worship" service. We found that most of these young people, although they liked the music, they liked the setting, they liked the fellowship, etc., they were NOT engaging in actual worship of God. Now you may wonder how I can judge such a thing? Two means: We asked them and two, we studied the Scriptures to see what God called worship. We found a great chasm between contemporary "worship" and Biblical worship.

I am not saying Biblical (true) worship could not happen in more informal settings, I do not believe that. I am saying more informal settings can sometimes mislead people into thinking that worship is a "common" event and that there is nothing special about it as compared with other activities they do. People are not confronted by the setting with a holy call to enter into a holy place and worship a holy God. So, as far as the setting (decor) is concerned, people experience nothing different in the holy sanctuary than they experience at Starbuck coffee house. If this is so, I consider it to be a real problem that can, inadvertently, lead to shallow understanding of the loving and holy act of worship. To be fair, I think our current "formal" routines and decor can also be a distraction from true worship.

The point is, worship is a call to humble reverence before the Most Holy God where the worshiper offers him/herself in humble gratitude and joyous praise to the One who created and redeemed him/her through Jesus Christ. The Old Testament word for worship literally means to "bow down" before a superior one and pay homage.

When we either get too casual or too formal, we can easily forget about this One in our midst to whom we are privileged to bow and worship. We can be thinking more about tomorrow night's math exam, or responding to our friend's text message across the "room" or across town. When the decor is so "familiar" we can be completely unimpressed by it, other than that it is "comfortable" for us. When the decor is too "formal" we can be so intrigued by it, that our attention is on the decor instead of on God and the family gathered with us for worship.

Let us remember that worship is for God, not for us. Yes, God does meet us in worship in deeply comforting and satisfying ways, but primarily our focus and evaluation must be toward God. "Did God like the worship?" not, "did you like the worship?"

Kelib,

The question is not about whether Jesus is present.  It's about whether those who are also present are worshipping him.

It is surely true as you say, "Wear (sic, Where) two or more are gathered in His name He will be there."  According to the Gospels, Jesus was in a lot of places among people.  But that fact alone does insure those people were worshipping him.  A worship gathering is different than a dinner gathering, or a prayer gathering, or a recreational/fellowship gathering, etc.  Worship might be a part of these types of gather, but not necessarily so.  However, at a "worship" gathering, worship is NOT optional.

In Christ

Thanks Simon,   I hear you but everyday can be puctuated with moments of joint worship also. I treasure church worship also but i'm mostly a shutin. I had to find worship primairly  with who every will engage me. Forgive me for errors I have problems with ms. When your sick like I am, things get pretty difficult and sometimes really wierd stuff happens. Anyway I have lesions and atrophy in my brain. It's like you walk around in house and Jesus is with you in conversation. It's filled with what I call God Momments wear you physicaly feel him and everthing is clear with this huge rush of spiritual wisdom that makes you want nothing but love for this world and yourself. I'ts a wild ride! You guys are very intelliegent and I know you have good hearts but I think you have be aware how you use your knowledge. God's Wisdom is difficult to find unless your completely broken and need him and his love at every momment. Sorry for the rant. God bless you

 

P.S. How does spellcheck work on this site. Thanks

I hesitate to jump back into the conversation, but must say that if you ever come to Hope Church you may be surprised by the tables as you enter, but you will certainly leave having worshiped. Tables or not, it is not the setting that brings people into worship but the spirit of God at work in the setting. If we really wanted to worship in the way those in the NT times did with Jesus before them then we would all be sitting on the hillside, or seashore or segregated in the temple on the floor. Let us not confuse cultural norms for Christian standards. Worship happens when the people of God gather to come into the presence of God, no matter where that is or what it looks like. The methods may change but the Gospel remains constant.

Hey, I'm glad you did "jump back into the conversation."  I much appreciate your comments; very clear and, I believe, faithful to the Biblical idea and history of worship.

I think I might have been mis-understood.  For I would fully agree with your comments regarding what worship is and what the settings for it were in NT times.  But here is the concern.  You say, "Worship happens when the people of God gather to come into the presence of God, no matter where that is or what it looks like."  I became "somewhat" convinced that we did not introduce the tables well, so they made the sanctuary look like a common Starbuck's cafe.  Consequently, the teens and 20 year olds, began to act like they were in a Starbucks--coming for personal socialization, meeting friends, drinking coffee, making plans for the week with their friends, etc.  All that is fine, but not during "worship time."  These church members began to loose their own sense or awareness that they were, as you say, gathering "to come into the presence of God."  I know this because we talked about it and with their input we all made some changes.

I am a very flexible kind of guy when it comes to things like packaging and style.  My initial post had more to do with offering a caution from someone who, sorry about the cliché, has "been there done it." I would do it again if I had the chance.  But I would do it with more wisdom about how our "post-modern" culture interprets the layout and tables.  I was not prepared for how the tables and couches had inadvertently served to lesson a sense of sacredness in the worship service for some, particularly the teens and 20 year olds.  They liked it, but my concern as a pastor was that they disengaged somewhat from worship and engaged more in socializing during the service.  I found myself growing less enthusiastic about the tables as I saw more and more socializing going on all through the sevice, almost to the point of rudeness for those around them.  I'm not saying it was the tables per se.  I am only saying, when you change the layout to "contemporize" the decor, it has consequences on how people feel and behave; pyschological consequences that are often not even congnitive.

Next time I do the tables etc., I will spend time before hand teaching about worship and how the sanctuary decor must support and enhance worship, not distract from it.  Perhaps in your own experience you did a better job than we did at clarifying what worship is all about and introducing the new decor as a support to the worship.  If so, I have absolutely NO hesitation or critique of your efforts, only praise.

May we all continue to grow in worship that is spiritual and truthful (Jn 4:24), using any and all means and tools God makes available to us.

Blessings.

Thank you for your thoughtful response and clarification. I agree and we did spend quite a bit of time interpreting what the introduction of tables meant and also used Biblical tie ins with table fellowship, communion, and even Temple reclining. We introduced them precisely to be able to share in closer worship communion around the tables, discuss what we had just heard in the message and on Communion Sundays, enjoy the close fellowship around an actual table an not just a figurative one. So thank you so much for your clarifications and words of encouragement.

You're very welcome.

I'm glad you shared.  I've learned something from you that will help me be a better minister.  Please feel no obligation, but should you have the time and interest, I would greatly value reading some more of how you introduced and used the tables, including the theology behind what you did.  Your comments about serving communion at the tables particulary excites me.  I am not familiar with "Temple reclining,"  care to share about that?

I will be on vacation for a couple weeks, so I won't be checking this every day.  If you do post some more and don't hear from me for a couple weeks, please be assured it is not because I am not interested.

God bless you.