Continuing in my series of reflections from reading Anthony B. Robinson’s Transforming Congregational Culture, today we turn to chapter four which he titles, “From Assuming the Goods to Delivering the Goods, Part One: Worship.” This chapter offers some thoughts, perspectives, challenges, and questions around what is worship.
Robinson makes a number of assertions in this chapter and asks some very important questions. I was particularly struck by the missional challenge he posed in writing the following:
“To be in the presence of God is to be in a zone of risk, of change, of reorientation, of new birth. This is what is centrally at stake in the worship of the church today. Will our worship be a lecture about God? Or will worship help us enter into that risky and life-giving dimension of God’s presence where anything can happen, where we are not in control?” (42-43)
Worship is about coming together as the body of believers in the presence of God, to praise God and offer thanks. A pastor friend of mine describes this kind of worship “where anything can happen” as “authentic worship,” because it is risky, and despite the planning that might go into worship, anything can happen when we admit that we are not in control.
This can be freeing when we admit that we aren’t in control of ministry, but rather we are trying to discern where we are being led together by the Holy Spirit. Even though it is freeing, for the type-A people in the world, it can be rather challenging if not seemingly impossible to give up the sense of control necessary to release in order to really enter into the riskiness of God’s presence. But only by doing so are we able to really discern together what God might be up to, what God might be calling us to do, and how God might be creating, recreating, and reconciling both within the congregation and within the larger world.
Worship includes confession and forgiveness, as we acknowledge our shortcomings before God, but also are redeemed by God and remember our baptisms, our “new birth” as Robinson suggests. We are reoriented each week in worship by dwelling and centrally focusing on God with praise and thanks.
So often we focus on the little pieces of worship, or the questions of “did we feel moved?” or “did we like the music?” that we miss the point of why we worship altogether. It’s not about us! It’s about God. The challenge then is to figure out how do we worship in such a commercial and consumer culture that we live in? Or, is our worship meant to be counter-cultural, and when it is, is this perhaps when we are most centering ourselves fully on God outside of focusing on ourselves?
Robinson drills this point home,
“Rather than asking, ‘Was God glorified and truly and rightly praised? or ‘Was the church reminded of its source and identity and destiny?’ or ‘Did we encounter God?’ the questions become, ‘Was I pleased? Edified? Entertained? Were my needs met?’ At some level, however, the gospel does not wish to meet our needs so much as to redefine them. The gospel does not intend to ‘connect’ to our world, but to change our world.” (45)
When we overcome ourselves and are willing to look beyond ourselves we can begin to see how worship is the beginning of mission. As we remember our baptisms and remember that we are given a new identity as God’s children, we remember that we are created as a new people to be a part of God’s work in the world (49). This has huge implications. It connects worship not only with God and ourselves, but with all of creation across all time and space. When thinking like this, and remembering that liturgy means “the work of the people of God,” worship is not just then a one hour block of time once a week (46). It’s more than a time of re-centering and going out. It’s about both the head and the heart, the emotions and the senses. It’s all of this, but so much more. It’s more than just about us, its about God.
The question then is, how do we overcome the temptation to just make worship about us and entertaining for us, and rather pleasing to God? Something to consider, and I doubt that there is just any one easy answer.
Anthony B. Robinson, Transforming Congregational Culture, (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2003).