The faithful gathered around candle-lit tables in the darkened room. They heard a reading of Psalm 34:8. “Taste and see that the Lord is good.”
They then tasted–literally. They selected small cups of various flavors and condiments. Some people discovered a familiar taste and reached for a second helping. Others gasped and chuckled as they felt the pungent impact of a spicy sauce.
Then, as the musicians played softly in the background, the worshipers were urged to make a metaphorical leap. How does this taste remind you of the Lord’s goodness?
Many made the leap. One participant related the taste of peanut butter to the Lord’s “sticky love–persistent in forgiving me.”
Most went along with this playful experience to “taste and see that the Lord is good.” But some were discomforted. This did not fit their ingrained paradigm of a proper worship gathering.
The experience was part of a “future of worship” component at last week’s Future of the Church summit at Group’s Colorado headquarters and conference center. The participants had earlier heard how today’s culture is yearning for more personally engaging experiences. The population is being conditioned to expect and appreciate more interactive and sensory interfaces–everything from the internet to Starbucks environments to interactive education. Meanwhile, the prevailing passive spectator model of the American church service is losing its shine.
“The cliche has lost power for me,” the young musician and former worship leader said. The cliche is the Sunday morning worship formula employed at almost every Western church. Half singalong and half lecture. “It turns me off from wanting to follow Jesus,” he said.
Summit panelist (and editor of the new Jesus-Centered Bible) Rick Lawrence said, “Jesus wants intimacy with us. But most are afraid of intimacy.” He said he knew some would be uncomfortable with the intimate experiences incorporated into the summit’s worship time. “But discomfort is necessary sometimes.”
At that moment I remembered the example of Jesus with his congregation of 12 in the Upper Room. As he dared to amp up his intimacy with these followers, Jesus knelt before each and washed their feet. The discomfort in the room was palpable. At the risk of being accused of imposing a “contrived” activity on these men, Jesus persisted with his indelible, metaphorical experience.
Lawrence said, “We need to set an environment for people to experience Jesus.”
Summit panelist (and author of Worship Evangelism) Sally Morgenthaler urged the participants to rethink the physical environment for worship. Most existing church buildings are modeled after lecture halls or theaters, which are not conducive to a participative experience. She now consults with forward-thinking congregations to remake spaces that allow for the kind of movement around the room that encourages a more communal, relational experience. “When you move, you see each other,” she said.
Lawrence summed it up with, “People grow through relationship and experience.” With God. And with each other.
The future of worship looks less like a Sunday morning lecture room–and more like an Upper Room.
Maybe what Jesus was doing with washing the disciples feet was not showing his wanting to be intimate with us but showing how we should be treating each other. He know he would not be here physically for anyone but we would be here with each other.
God is deficient in that a person cannot just go live out in the mountains or woods alone with Him as He cannot give the visual, physical, analytical interaction we as human beings need. A lot of the commands have to do with our living and interacting with each other as our interaction with God is one-way.
This push for smaller church and more personal time with God is grasping at that more human like interaction we wish we could have with God as we have with each other. Even in smaller house churches or even in spending time alone in prayer and reading God’s word, there is that underlying desire and even disappointment that God doesn’t or refuses to interact on a human level.
I can appreciate their search and the continued trend toward personalized worship with a consumerist flair is unavoidable by both the Old Guard and these blessed idealists. That being said, the Eucharist is a moment of powerful intimacy with both our Lord and our brothers and sisters. The liturgy draws us into the presence of the saints long past and the One, True God who is not bound by time. Perhaps a cup of Sirachi received while blindfolded will be the standard in a thousand years and the young idealists will then be advocating a new way of bread and wine. (Eccl. 1:9)
I always appreciate your blog posts Bro. Shultz. You are the best.
What can be done with twelve people in a home environment doesn’t work with a church body of 2,000 +. Corporate worship still must consist largely of prayer, singing, and listening to exhortations from God’s word, which is what the early church did. Don’t mess with that.
Maxine, a few thoughts on your comment:
Though smaller gatherings often allow more flexibility, great things can be done to involve God’s people through experience, relationship and intimacy with thousands of people in one place. I’ve experienced it. I’ve led it with thousands. It works.
When Jesus gathered on a hillside with thousands, he made it possible for the crowd to taste his goodness with an interactive experience of sharing and multiplying five loaves and two fish.
You mentioned the early church. The scriptural evidence does not indicate this was a passive, spectator event. For example, see 1 Corinthians 14:26: “When you meet together, one will sing, another will teach, another will tell some special revelation God has given, one will speak in tongues, and another will interpret what is said.”
Is that the picture of the early church you had in mind when you wrote, “Don’t mess with that”?
Good article Thom. Thanks! My daughter and son in law have walked away form the church and one reason they gave is that the services are so predictable. Is God predictable? In many ways yes but in more ways no. We need to find different ways to worship other than singing or it can become a going through the motions. Why is singing the only way we seem to be able to acknowledge God? Singing is a great way to worship. But we need to be more creative folks!
Message to Thom: Your discussion on worship is so left brained it is depressing. I taught high school for thirty years and had a packed out family room every Friday night. At times upwards of 100 people every week when we spilled out into the hallway, balcony, kitchen, dining room and living room. We approached God as if we had a clue Who He was. If we honor Him, have a decent prayer life, and come into His Presence with anticipation and expectation, and REVERENCE, He shows up every time. If God is not present, worship is impossible, If God IS present, worship happens. Look around, do you see any real life changing worship anywhere? Seems God is not around anymore doesn’t it! Fidgety suspicious teenagers would immediately sense that something was DIFFERENT when they walked into our family room, and while observing their classmates lost in God’s Glorious presence, they would became hungry for the intimacy they were observing from their friends and at times even raise their hand in the middle of it all and ask, “How can I know this Jesus?” Their lives totally changed and parents would come to parent teacher conferences asking what had happened to their son or daughter and I had another opportunity to share Jesus; IN A PUBLIC SCHOOL SYSTEM. We are searching for gimmicks, He is approachable simply by opening up, laying down the church nonsense, and getting real with Him. About a dozen kids asked me one time, when I still taught [I am now retired] if I would go with them to their catholic church where they were discussing “The Holy Spirit.” I went; the leader kept asking the kids what they wanted of the Holy Spirit. Looking around the room I could see they had no idea what was going on. When we left, the dozen or so spiritually hungry kids all gathered on the front steps and looked at me. I asked them if they wanted to meet Jesus. They all said “Yes” as if relieved that something good might happen after an empty night of TALKING! This may not happen often, but those kids were almost blown off the stair case it hit them so hard. We need to stop talking, get real, lay down the pride and begin to pray that we can know Him! He always responds if this isn’t all accompanied by some kids pounding electric guitars and a chrome drum set and noise [and them wearing earplugs] sounds right out of Egypt as they pretend they are celebrating having been set free from EGYPT! If we haven’t both SEEN AND HEARD God in a profound visitation, we have nothing to offer but discussions and gimmicks and arguments which never work. What blew me away, and I cannot get this out of my mind, is that 53,000 devout Christians walk out of their churches WEEKLY never to return because the church stands BETWEEN them and God. They leave to get closer to God; I am one of them. Look up that number on the internet. God Bless BTW I am writing a book about this stuff
Hey, Ron. It seems like you’re being critical of Thom’s suggestions, but then pointing out how you did pretty much exactly what he’s talking about with your former students. I also can’t say that I appreciate you using the word “gimmick” to refer to suggestions for deeper worship from people who have been studying diligently to help churches connect people with God.
“What blew me away, and I cannot get this out of my mind, is that 53,000 devout Christians walk out of their churches WEEKLY never to return because the church stands BETWEEN them and God.
The way the church gets in the way of God is the way the pastor or church leaders constantly have you focused each week on another way your not measuring up to that 10 foot tall Jesus Christ so your always in self pity, kicking yourself for not being good enough. You go to prayer in shame all the time apologizing to God thinking of how always disappointed He must be. You can never enjoy your time with God in prayer when when personal sin, sin and more sin is the first thing on your mind the moment you start to pray.
It may be unintentional but when every sermon points out all the ways your not living up to God’s perfect and high standard, it doesn’t help the congregation to grow a closer relationship with God. How can anyone when they are constantly feeling guilt and shame? Do these pastors think anyone is going to bother praying to a God who they think won’t even hear them because all their little sins and shortcomings? After a while, it’s like, “Forget this. I give up. I will never be able to please this God. So I’m not going to bother trying anymore.” So you quit praying and so goes your relationship with God.
Some pastors have you thinking that your whole purpose for being saved is to join their church, give your tithe and time in service. So people get a skewed picture of who God is and what God expects from His people. I don’t know if it is that church is blocking people from God but horribly misrepresenting Him because they need money and bodies to work in the church. Getting people stuck in ministry ensures those people show up every week. So church can be a big trap.
Eventually, I got burnt out, tired of it all, sick of the guilt and shame, sick of listening to God being misrepresented, knowing the truth. So I threw my hands up, said, “I have had enough of this!” to God and have not gone back to church since. I tried a Saturday morning men’s group at a church last year but no spark, no flame, not clicking with anyone, so here I am, just me and God alone going down the road of both my grandfathers who once had gone to church but for what ever reason just stopped somewhere in mid life as I’ve done now.
27 years ago, remnants from other area churches began to meet in what was originally planned to be a barn. The design of what was to be a worship space was square and could seat 100 comfortably if the ‘stall walls’ were not in place. What remained were the load-bearing beams. To this day, the configuration remains, but little creativity is in place. Auditorium-style seating is the vogue and has been so for 27 years. We do not have the space to expand, the finances or the membership to do much. I would appreciate suggestions as to what we can do to liven the worship area. We are a denominational church that values the communion Table as the center of our worship experience.
Cliff, your barn space actually sounds cool. And placing the communion table in the center sounds good too. Our summit panelists advocated setting up worship spaces in the round–allowing congregation members to see one another.
You might get some good ideas from the book Soul Space by Kevin Callahan.
It’s time for unprogrammed worship meetings based on open sharing and testimony as prompted by the Holy Spirit. It’s biblical! See 1 Corinthians 14:26!