Prompted by a friend's musings over some of the issues surrounding church, I began re-reading sections of Philip Yancy's book, Church: Why Bother? My Personal Pilgrimage. I came across this reminder and wanted to share it with you.
"I used to approach church with the spirit of a discriminating consumer. I viewed the worship service as a performance. Give me something I like. Entertain me.
Speaking of folks like me, Søren Kierkegaard said that we tend to think of church as a kind of theater: we sit in the audience, attentively watching the actor onstage, who draws every eye to himself. If sufficiently entertained, we show our gratitude with applause and cheers. Church, though, should be the opposite of the theater. In church God is the audience for our worship. Far from playing the role of leading actor, the minister should function as something like a prompter, the inconspicuous helper who sits beside the stage and prompts by whispering.
What matters most takes place from within the hearts of the congregation, not among the actors onstage. We should leave a worship service asking ourselves not "What did I get out of it?" but rather "Was God pleased with what happened?" Now I try to look up in a worship service, to direct my gaze beyond the platform, toward God.
Such a change in viewpoint has helped me to cope with the talent deficit I encounter in various churches. To direct the spotlight away from the minister, some churches seek to involve many lay people in worship. They compose songs or poetry, act out mini-dramas, sing in trios, make banners, express themselves through sacred dance. I confess that, judged by objective standards of aesthetics and even by subjective standards of "worship promptings" many of these attempts do little to enhance my own worship. Gradually, though, the truth has sunk in that God, not the congregation, is the audience that matters most.
I am trying to learn a lesson from C.S. Lewis, who wrote this about his church:
I disliked very much their hymns, which I considered to be fifth-rate poems set to sixth-rate music. But as I went on I saw the great merit of it...I realized that the hymns (which were just sixth-rate music) were, nevertheless, being sung with such devotion and benefit by an old saint in elastic-side boots in the opposite pew, and then you realize that you aren't fit to clean those boots. It gets you out of your solitary conceit.
Church exists primarily not to provide entertainment or to encourage vulnerability or to build self-esteem or to facilitate friendships but to worship God; if it fails in that, it fails. I have learned that the ministers, the music, the sacraments, and the other "trappings" of worship are mere promptings to support the ultimate goal of getting worshipers in touch with God. If ever I doubt this fact, I go back and read the Old Testament, which devoted nearly as much space to specifications for worship in the tabernacle and the temple as the New Testament devotes to the life of Christ. Taken as a whole, the Bible clearly puts the emphasis on what pleases God- the point of worship, after all. To worship, says Walter Wink, is to remember Who owns the house."