Sunday, 19 August 2012

Love God, Love Neighbor

The worship at our church is indescribable—i.e., there is no one description that characterizes our "style" from week to week.

Ours is a congregation with diverse backgrounds, talents and church experiences. Our corporate worship will forever be unique due to the makeup of our congregation. As members come and go, so will our worship services continue to evolve.

To say the least, the members of our church have never been shy about expressing diverse opinions about what should or should not be included in our worship services!

Labels like "contemporary" or "traditional" sometimes get tossed about (as if these were the only choices), but everyone defines these terms differently.

Through the years, when we've occasionally tried multiple Sunday morning services, we intentionally tried to make the services different from each other.  Generally, the earlier service had a more informal structure; the latter a more formal structure. We advertised them as "differently blended."

A few years ago I attended a music and worship conference. One speaker commented (sic):

"Blended worship makes everybody mad, because nobody gets enough of what they like in worship, and everybody hates getting so much of what they don't like."

Whatever a church's unique worship style, choices must be made each week regarding what to include in worship services. That responsibility usually falls on worship leaders such as myself.

While listening to the heartbeat of our diverse congregation, I am also mindful of William Willimon's admonition (in Worship as Pastoral Care):

"If we think about our worship at all, usually we think in terms of ''What do I want from our worship?' or 'What do my people want from our worship?' without daring to be so bold as to ask, 'What does God want from our worship?'"

Worship is more likely to happen when both leaders and individual worshippers work at keeping our focus on God, rather than on our personal likes and dislikes.

It is a misconception to think that our church's worship is always "the way our worship leaders like it to be." I, along with others, sacrifice many of my personal preferences for worship services all the time.

In fact, it is difficult to recall any worship service when every element was tailor-made to my desires. My delight is in trying to create services that enable other people to worship. The idea is to have mutual sacrifice.

As a young adult I was inspired by a Joni Eareckson Tada story about what she did whenever she found herself distracted or bored during part of a worship service, unable to focus on God.

Her practice was to observe people, especially strangers, one-at-a-time in the congregation, praying specifically that God would bless them as they worshiped.

I've often done this in churches where I was the worship leader, as well as in other churches where I was a visitor. My reward is always an uplifting feeling of heart connection with each person and with God—which in turn enables my worship during each service.

Jesus, when responding to a question about what is the greatest commandment, also touched on the two factors which are required for meaningful corporate worship:

"Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind." ...And the second is like unto it, 'Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself'" (Matt. 22: 37 & 39).

See you in worship this Sunday - Naomi