We are at the point where our hypothetical first church on Mars, and our metaphorical naked before God intersect. This meeting place is found when we must ask ourselves what role personal preferences should play in community, specifically in the context of the Sunday worship assembly. I’d like to illustrate this intersection with a little story from my past.
Once upon a time, I was brought in to help a floundering congregation back to health. This group had once numbered in the 75-80 range, depending upon who was speaking, but when I came on the scene there were 9 active members. Sadly, those 9 thought they had 25-30 members, the others were just so busy, or struggling with this or that issue…
I observed their Sunday services for a time, got their membership list, interviewed everyone present, and most of the missing on their list. Through other sources, I also was able to speak with several people not on the list. It’s always quite incredible to compare the observations of the ones who remain and the ones who do not.
It was very easy to figure out who was in charge of this congregation, which hadn’t had a “permanent” pastor for a number of years, and I spoke to those individuals about their thoughts on worship, community and what a church should “do” and not do. What I discovered was that a church should be reverent above all. It should reach out to the community in reverence, its services should be reverent, worshipful and silent.
The ones who were not in charge said they were on the verge of leaving unless I could turn the place around, but they didn’t see how that was possible if I went against the ones who were in charge, because anybody who does that is shown the door. In speaking with the ones who were no longer there, they reported that they hadn’t simply left because they were too busy, or had problems, although they might have said that was the reason to avoid an argument. Rather they left because the church was run by a small group of people who insisted that everyone go along with whatever they wanted: Reverence, silence, formality. I came to understand that this had taken all of the joy out of following Jesus Christ and replaced it with a rigid system of duty and obligation that simply did not ring true to the rest of the people. No, they were not going back, for each and every one of them were happy members of other congregations.
In short, the church I was studying had a terrible reputation in the community, and the leading people had no idea that was the case.
Former “interim” pastors gave the same report.
Needless to say, my report was not well received by the leaders.
I’ve told you this story because it happens all too often in our day and age, because we all have opinions and ideas about what worship should and shouldn’t be, and because we all have our personal likes and dislikes. If we seek to impose our preferences on a congregation, the result is nearly always disaster, and we will not be standing naked before God in community, for we will be garbed in the costume of a Pharisee.
You might think that last statement was a tad harsh, and maybe you’re right, but I see it more as passionate. Yes, I am passionate on this subject because when this sort of thing happens, we damage our brother and sister in Christ, we put a stumbling block in their path and we cause them to question their faith and often, to turn their backs entirely on the Body of Christ, and I do not know how to explain that to the Lord when I meet Him face-to-face, do you?
Whew; I finally told you what I think about all of this, what do you think?
Here, let me pose a better question:
If we have gotten to the place where we can really be naked and unashamed before God, will we actually continue to think that our personal preferences about corporate worship have any particular significance, as long as the worship remains faithful to Scripture?
It’s your turn, what say you?