3 Ways We Miss the Mark in Church Worship

Church worship is one of those things that everybody loves to complain about. I take my hat off to worship leaders, who have to navigate the complaints of all the pew experts … The music is always too loud or too soft, too old fashioned or too rockin’. There’s just no pleasing some Christians.

But most of these complaints are about the form of worship, not the function, the style rather than the substance—which ultimately is just personal preference.

So let’s get over it. Suck it up. The important but tough thing about committing to journeying with a community of people is putting up with all the “style” things that don’t really suit us.

But when the substance of our worship drifts off course, it’s worth reflecting on our practice to consider whether God is nudging us in a different direction. With that possibility in mind, I want to offer three common ways we miss the boat when it comes to worship.

1. “Jesus as My Boyfriend” — Individual vs. Corporate

My friend Ash Barker is fond of critiquing the “Jesus is my boyfriend” type of worship song that treats worship solely as an intimate emotional experience between me and God. Close your eyes, pretend there is no one else in the room but you and God.

The thing is, worship can be a beautiful, intimate moment of love between you and God. We all long sometimes for that emotional intensity in music. That’s why love songs are the basis of 90 percent of pop music.

But that’s not all it should be. Otherwise, what’s the point of all those other people all around you taking up space with their eyes closed?

There is something powerful that happens when the people of God come together to worship him as a group. When we sing, “We worship you,” instead of, “I worship you,” something significant takes place as three or more, gathered in his name, choose to worship God together.

As an example, here’s a song written by a good friend (Tom Wuest), which draws on some of the themes of crying out to God together for this world:

For the hungry we cry out for your mercy
For the hurting we cry out for your mercy

Come Jesus come, come Jesus come
Come Jesus come, come Jesus Come

May your kingdom come on earth
As it is in heaven
As it is in heaven
As it is in heaven
Come Lord come
Come Lord come

For the warring, we cry out for your mercy
For the dying, we cry out for your mercy

2. “Church as a Weekly Fix” — Celebration vs. Lament

A lot of churches I know do celebration really well. It’s fun. It’s lively. It’s exhausting. They’re all about the trumpets and the joy and the triumph. They love to party in God’s presence! And yes, celebration is GOOD. Sometimes it is wonderful.

But a church that only knows how to celebrate can become like a spiritual crack house—a place we go to get our regular fix, our weekly high (which has to get more and more intense in order to give the same satisfaction). Then we come back down to the real world on Monday morning and wait desperately until we can get our next Sunday fix.

But that’s not a healthy or balanced way to live our lives with God. God calls us to mourn with those who mourn—and sometimes WE are those who mourn.

Sometimes the world is all messed up. Sometimes it’s a broken, evil place and we’re reminded that his kingdom has not yet come in full.

Those of us who work with the poor know this deeply. There are days, even seasons, when we simply need to weep. And going to a party, when your best friend just died of cancer, just feels awful.

A large portion of the Bible is lament, and yet sadly a lot of churches don’t even know what that word means. When was the last time you heard a sermon about lament? I suspect a lot of us would be pretty uncomfortable if Jesus came to our church and wept.

So let’s learn together to cry out to God in pain and brokenness, as well as to celebrate and party.

Here’s Tom Wuest again with a beautiful worship song of lament:

O, this night is dark indeed
while we’re waiting for the light
for the nations to be judged
and the powers to be put to shame

O Lord, spare your poor, save our soul
from our violence, oppression,
fear and anxiety

Although I am weeping
Lord help me keep sowing
seeds for the day when Your
peace will arise with the dawn.

When the bombs we are dropping
And the guns I keep firing
melt in the face of the just
as your kingdom comes

Now I sow in tears
That one day I might weep with joy
When the mountains drip with wine
And we beat, beat, beat our swords
Into ploughshares

3. “Worship Leader as Rock Star” — Performance vs. Participation

I get it: We serve God with our best. We’re all about excellence. We offer our finest gifts up to Him.

But where does that leave the poor, the broken, the youngest and most vulnerable during our highly choreographed church services? Sadly, we often leave them further marginalized and relegated to being our adoring audience.

We serve a God who took a small child and placed that child in the midst of all. We serve a God who was deeply encouraged by the pathetic offering of an impoverished old widow.

We serve a God who loved the broken prayer of an outcast more than the confident eloquence of a Pharisee.

And that should be reflected in our worship. God doesn’t care if our songs are off-key—he cares if our songs are offered whole-heartedly.

Sometimes our drive for excellence can end up excluding those who God calls us to make central.

So, I close with the words of Psalm 74, set to music by Tom Wuest:

O do not deliver the life
Of your turtledove to the beast
Of your turtledove to the beast
Do not forget the life of your poor
Do not forget the life of your poor

Let the poor and the desperate
praise your name
praise your name
praise your name

O do not let the oppressed return home ashamed
O do not let the oppressed return home ashamed

Craig Greenfield (@craigasauros) is the founder of Alongsiders International and author of Subversive Jesus: An Adventure in Justice, Mercy, and Faithfulness in a Broken World (Zondervan, 2016). A storyteller and activist living in urban slum communities for the past 15 years, Craig’s passion is to communicate God’s heart for the marginalized around the world. Get a free copy of Craig’s first book Urban Halo at his website. This article was originally published on Craig’s blog.

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