A Reflective Christian

All for God’s Kingdom

Why I do not like to go to church (Part 2)

Before I dwelve into my second critique, I first want to make sure I do not give the wrong impression about my criticism of church preaching. I am not advocating a particular method of preaching, per se.  For instance, I do not maintain that preaching must take upon a narrative form, though one might get the impression of that when I talked about God’s story as the central basis for preaching. I am not speaking as much to form, except against the forms that require particular types of content, such as an exegetical sermon.

Overly structured worship service

This might seem rather counter-intuitive critique. Either that, or one might suspect me to be very low church and probably charismatic. But my criticism isn’t against particular parts of the worship service that are structured, taking upon the form or a ritual. Rituals are very important in my mind and are incredibly lacking in many worship serivces. Rather my criticism is about the entirety of the worship service. More specifically, the order of worship and the time allotted to it.

Ask anyone who frequents a worship service what they think the ideal time for a worship service should be, and a good percentage of them will say something around an hour.  In that context, when I hear people asking for the Holy Spirit to come down to their worship service, I translate it as “Come within the hour, Spirit.” To be very blunt though, this goes back to the idea of humanity trying to control the nature of spirituality and its time by particular methods.

When we want to have a good visit with a friend, an hour is generally on the low end of the scale for the amount of time people will spend with someone. Why then, when we want to have an encounter with God, do we place the upper limit to within an hour to hour and a half at a worship service?

There are many answers to that question. First, the nature of how worship is set up so that the congregation is relatively passive the whole time does not accord well for an encounter with God, much less to keep at it for over an hour. The attention span fades relatively quickly. But that goes to another critique I have that I will save for later.

Then, with the more popular churches that have their services broadcast on television, they feel the necessity of completing the service in the allotted time because the programming requires it.

Another answer is that we have places we want to be. For instance, there are many jokes after a 11 AM service about certain churches getting out before the others so that they can get to the restaurants. And these are light hearted to a degree, but it does show that getting to lunch is in the back of the minds. Other places we might want to be is on a couch watching the football game during NFL season.

But this is not simply the fault of the congregation though. They have been trained to think that a worship service will fit within the rest of their schedule. It goes back to the methodical way we as worship leaders have  tried to control the worship setting, and accommodated to the schedule and attention spans of others.

In addition to the fact that we have constrained the time in which the encounter at worship can occur, there are other consequences. How can we expect the prayer time of individuals on their own to move beyond a few moments? The rhythm and form of our worship settings is transferred to the individual Christian life outside of worship settings. Instead of practice a form of a “holy inefficiency,” we have been trained to expect results immediately, and that an encounter with God comes primarily based upon certain activities on our part.

Which leads me to the second part of this critique. Almost all worship services have a very recognizable pattern from week to week. For instance, the church I attended this past Sunday has the same pattern it had the couple others times I had visited before. About 3 worship songs, a time for prayer requests and prayer, another worship song, the sermon, then a final worship song.

Don’t mishear me on this criticism. I have nothing wrong with sort of a rhythm to a worship service. Rhythms can and are very important in worship settings and in life as a whole. However, rhythms benefit us humans. But if an encounter with God is an event that involves both ourselves and God, an overly detailed and formulaic rhythm does not allow for us to listen to God, who may come in any way, at any time, for any reason. While God may come in the context of our detailed formulas for worship, God is not bound to that. But if God is trying to speak without coercion, but only with a willing congregation, one that has already set the order of worship down in detail will not be very open to that, but will be looking forward to the next part of the worship service.

Perhaps some believe, or at least feel, that in moving the persons in a certain way, that God is automatic to bring himself to those persons. But this takes away the initiative of God, makes Him simply an automaton, and places his presence under the control of the form of worship. Christian spirituality relies upon two initiatives, and not one.

Now I do not have many concrete ideas as how to restructure the worship setting to keep the benefits of rhythms for us, while allowing for God to speak when He will. Both are essential too, because a rhythm-less worship will be much more prone to the stray wanderings of the mind, that would all to frequently and presumptively be claimed as the leading of the Holy Spirit. Plus church rhythms will help create rhythm for the Christian life outside of the worship service setting.

I also have no concrete solutions to the time crunch we give in worship. But what solutions there would be, it would not come down to bowing to the concern of television programming. Nor would it bow down to the NFL or other events as a determining factor. Lunch can also be provided in the church (God forbid we eat in the sanctuary!). These forms of accommodation might be more effective in numbers, but that form of pragmatism may very well stifle the chance for an encounter with God if God wants to wait to speak.


January 18, 2010 - Posted by | Uncategorized

1 Comment »

  1. As someone who grew up in a country with deep Orthodox roots (Ukraine), and also as someone who was recently (finally!) received into the Orthodox Church, I believe that Church should remain as She has been from the beginning, – i.e. highly MYSTERIOUS (“mysterion” is the exact Greek equivalent of the Latin word “sacrament”). In all Protestant Churches I’ve visited (Baptist, United Methodist, Free Methodist, Presbyterian), the sense of mystery is, IMHO, completely lost. What goes on in the church addresses merely human logic (“left brain” – through sermons), and sentimental human emotions (also through sermons, and through singing hymns). There is no deep existential mystery DELIVERED through the liturgical service, as it most definitely is in any Orthodox or Roman Catholic congregation that gathers for the Holy Eucharist. That’s why *I* would not like to go to a Protestant Church – there just isn’t any reason to…

    Comment by George Pinchuk | January 26, 2010

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