Is it possible that one of the unintended consequences of spectacular worship is that it teaches us we cannot truly worship God without the lights, band, and sound system? For all the good it can offer, might our programs accidentally reinforce the belief that people can only fully encounter God in a rocking church? This is worth considering.
Instead of putting all our resources into providing “amazing worship experiences” every Sunday, what if we spent an equal amount of energy teaching people how to have eyes to see God all week long? Yes, God can be experienced powerfully as we sing at the top of our lungs, and I hope we keep doing that. But God can also be experienced in our conversation with the stressed-out cashier at Target, if we have eyes to see. And God can be found while cutting the lawn, riding the subway, giving our kids a bath, weeping with a broken-hearted friend, and taking that first glorious sip of coffee in the morning. The question is not, “Is God in all those moments?” God is fully everywhere, for it is in God we live, move, and have our being. The question is whether we have eyes to see.
Thus a gracious, holistic church will offer its community wise practices, clear teaching, and safe spaces in which to cultivate eyes to see and worship God every moment from the sanctuary to the soccer field to the dinner table. . .
Church communities are not consumers to be entertained or donors to be appeased. They are instead God’s deeply loved daughters and sons who need to be lovingly pastored. How can we make sure we are pastoring them well? Get clear about the question you ask that drives your worship choices. The question we ask will direct the outcome. If the driving (functional) question is, “How do we get the room pumped up in the first thirty minutes of the church service?” the answer will never be, “Corporate confession.” Or prayer for the world. Or silence. Or blessing our enemies. Or an extended reading from scripture. Or lament. Or lectio divina (reading scripture in order to pray). But if the question is, “How do we form each person into Christlikeness for the sake of the world?” then all of the above will be deeply necessary and healing. And such a gift to all who are on the treadmill of figuring out how to top last Sunday. I recommend that each ministry team try to name the question driving what you do. (Not the question you know you should be asking and answering, but the actual question framing your church and ministry.) Very little can change until this question changes.
A gracious, holistic church will offer its community wise practices, clear teaching, and safe spaces to discern the questions driving us and allow God to give birth to new, deeper, and more life-bringing questions.
Aaron Niequist is a worship leader, songwriter, and pastor. Currently, he curates a discipleship-focused, formational, ecumenical, practice-based community called “The Practice” at Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, Illinois.
Aaron Niequist, “Too Much Bono in the Church?” Liturgy 32, no. 1 (2017): 42-45.