Following on from my last post reflecting on Marva Dawn’s Reaching Out without Dumbing Down : A Theology of Worship for this Urgent Time, I’d like to think some more about what she says in regards to the effects of our culture on the ways we as a church worship together.
We noted :
1) the impact of media bombardment on our ability/motivation to respond with actions to the infromation we are presented with;
2) an increasing desire for intimacy and community with a growing cluelessness as to how to create it authentically; and
3) the dangers of playing up to society’s desire for entertainment.
This time, we’ll look a little more at another aspect of contemporary culture :
4) individualistic self-seeking.
This video did the rounds a few years ago, so its hardly new, but it still made me smile…
Corporate worship is about God and yet many arguments about it are concerned with personal tastes and the needs of the congregation. We often place a high importance on the quality of the music in order to attract or keep young people/new people/musical people/*insert appropriate people type*. Here’s a Marva quote :
Music often becomes the scapegoat after pastors have failed for years to train congregation members to evangelise in their daily lives… if such reaching out has not occurred over the years, sometimes churches suddenly switch music and worship styles in order to “attract” people. The music of the faithful Church is suddenly jettisoned to compensate for long-term failure to be the Church… (p166)
We back up our own desires for better music by saying we need it to make church more appealing to outsiders – an admirable motivation, perhaps, but even here we’re saying that worship is for ‘us’ as the created rather than for the Creator, n’est-ce pas? For me, to shape the ways in which we ‘do’ worship in our services first and foremost around those outside (or even inside?) our local church is like putting toast in the toaster to make bread. In other words, its backwards!
So, if you put toast in the toaster and claim that what comes out is “bread”, you start to change what people understand as bread – see what I mean? If you retoast toast, okay, there’s something bread-ish about it, but its hidden under all those layers of toasting, you know? Similarly if we redesign our worship services by putting them through our culture and its needs and demands first, what comes out will be worship-ish, but will we not have lost the hot-from-the-oven, crispy on the outside, soft and fresh on the inside satisfying goodness of true worship “bread”?
For those who LOVE toast, this is probably not a helpful metaphor, but go with it, k?
The problem with redefining the definition of “bread” as pertaining to what you get after you put toast in the toaster, is that our perception of the goodness of “bread” (whilst we may still appreciate it) is distorted and our gourmet world is made that little bit smaller. Now, if humankind loses all sense of how good true, fresh bread can be (and it arguably has forgotten the value of many real homegrown/handbaked foodstuffs in the face of microchips and GM veggies…) it would be sad and serious. But imagine the consequences of a church and society for whom ‘worship’ is retoasted toast – what does that do to our idea of God???
I’m not a fan of the kind of self-abasing theology that talks of human beings as ‘nothing’ or as ‘unworthy’ even, so although it may seem that I’m saying worship has nothing to do with us and everything to do with God… well… I am.
It is important that we hear that correctly. Let me use the parable of the lost son(s) as an example (Lk 15:11-32). When the son who ran away and squandered his inheritance comes back, he says “I am not worthy to be your son…”, the father does NOT say, “No, you’re not, but sure let’s forget about that and have a party”. He (having already demonstrated his eagerness to welcome back has son by running out to meet him on the road) says “Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him… Let’s celebrate his return!”. To even for one second consider the possibility that a son is not worthy of his father’s love is to call into question the character of the father. In a parent-child relationship, the love is nothing to do with worthiness, but (in a perfect world of course) rather it is a given in the very nature of that relationship.
Therefore because God is our father and we are His children, the fact that worship is all about him is inextricably linked with our well-being. So you see, as I touched on briefly at the end of the last post, our means of worship have the power not only to communicate the true character of God, but also to form that character in us as we feed on Him. As we worship, we are drawn closer to him. As we see Him more clearly, we love Him more dearly. As we trust Him more fully, we reflect Him more truly.
You are what you eat.
I’d love to hear some of your questions and thoughts about what this might look like in the nitty gritty of planning and ‘executing’ a church service? In the meantime, I’ll leave you with some more Marva:
Genuine praise of God involves all our emotions and needs, not by focussing on ourselves, but by proclaiming God’s truth and God’s attributes and actions on our behalf… (p90)
Praise encompassing all of God’s character provides a safe haven within which we can face ourselves and acknowledge the truth of our brokenness, rebellions and idolatries… (p91)
I need public worship to bring me a holy and merciful God who shows me my sinfulness and yet offers the possibility of repentance and forgiveness… I need an assembly of people who ask God to be God in their lives and thereby proclaim God’s power, faithfulness and gracious healing. (p93)