Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Worship: Entertainment or Encounter

I’m a minister. I preach just about every Sunday. I’m involved in the planning of our Sunday service. I’ve been doing this now for over 25 years. And I love it.  Sure, there are Sundays my tank isn’t as full as others. There are some services that seem to fall flat. But I must admit, I enjoy worship. I enjoy the songs. I enjoy the sacred moments. I enjoy seeing everyone. I enjoy the buzz of people making their way into the worship center. And I enjoy preaching. 

I suppose within every preacher and worship leader there is a bit of a showman. Most of us want our services to entertain. We want people to experience some emotional highs and lows. We want to elicit laughter and tears. We want worship to be an experience. And it seems that’s what people want as well.

Go to just about any larger than average church this Sunday and you’ll probably find a nicely decorated lobby, a colorful childrens’ area, a worship center equipped with lights and video equipment.  You’ll probably be welcomed by some charismatic greeter and, when worship starts, there’ll be music.  Good music lead by a dynamic worship leader perhaps even accompanied by a group of background singers. And in many churches, you’ll have a well-rehearsed band charged with bringing the worshipper into the presence of God.

In 2019, worship has never been so good.

I’m a minister and I want worship to be good. I suppose most of my colleagues want the same. We work on our sermons. We look for just the right illustrations to insert at just the right time. We’ve trained in the disciplines of homiletics and hermeneutics. We, along with other church leaders, carefully plan the worship services. We want to entertain. We want you to have an experience.

Some would say that church has become too much of a show, but I don’t think we need to apologize.  The God we want you to experience has put on some awesome performances. Thunder and lightning at Mount Sinai. Rushing winds and tongues of fire on Pentecost. And what about the show he put on for the prophet Isaiah?

In Isaiah 6 we are brought to this breathtaking scene: The Lord seated on a throne. His royal robes extending to the edges of the temple. Six winged angels calling out “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord Almighty.” And then one of those angels delivers a flaming coal to the lips of the prophet.

Certainly, Isaiah was impressed with that display. Imagine recreating that next Sunday? That would be a worship service people would be talking about for years to come! 

Isaiah’s reaction, however, is what is most significant. And this is what every preacher and worship leader have in mind when we bring people into the presence of God.

Isaiah doesn’t give God a standing ovation. He doesn’t pull out his cellphone and give God a 5-star rating on Yelp. No tweets, no posts, no reviews. Isaiah’s response is simple and profound: “Here am I, send me.”

This worship experience leads Isaiah to action, and that’s the goal of every encounter with God. That’s the goal of every worship experience. So, don’t go to church to be amused, go to be altered.

Through the Old Testament prophet Ezekiel, God makes it clear that he is not amused by those who are only amused by worship. In Ezekiel 33:32 God says this about his people’s estimation of the prophet: “Indeed, to them you are nothing more than one who sings love songs with a beautiful voice and plays an instrument well, for they hear your words but do not put them into practice.”

I hope this Sunday’s worship is well-planned; the sermon well-delivered; the music awe inspiring. No doubt, there’s been a lot of thought and planning put into the service. And I hope it’s entertaining. But more than that, I hope that you go not for the entertainment but for the encounter. And may you leave with Isaiah’s words on your lips: “Here am I. Send me.”