This article must start with a disclaimer: I love my own
church. I love to worship at my own church. We do worship well: good hymns, a
great organist, a wonderful choir, kids participating, fervent prayer, gorgeous
banners, liturgy with a good mix of pattern and flexibility. But, here’s the
thing: if I didn’t do what I do and I were church shopping, I’m not sure I’d
worship at my church.
Church shopping is a completely foreign concept to me: I’m a
pastor’s kid and a pastor. Except for a few brief years in college (when, truth
be told, I mostly skipped church), I never picked my own church. In seminary,
my husband and I attended the first church we visited—we were hooked after one
Sunday. Or, maybe we weren’t hooked, but we just didn’t have the energy to look
Since then, I’ve been attached to whichever congregation I
serve. I’ve had varying degrees of influence over worship in these places: from
the place where I wrote the entire liturgy every week to the massive downtown
congregation where I might, once in a blue moon, get to compose a prayer.
In seminary, I was a worship nerd. I loved all the intricate
details involved in knitting together scripture and song, spoken word and
visual image, sermon, litany, prayer and creed. I liked to experiment, try new
things, or sing a new song. And I was sure that these were the things I would
do at any church I served. My church would have worship that was innovative and
deeply rooted in tradition; worship that was relevant to daily life, but not
trite or precious; worship that was thought provoking, life changing, and soul
healing. And I would be able to spend at least a few hours every week submerged
in the bliss of worship planning.
The reality is that each congregation comes with its own
traditions, patterns, and ruts, with its own gifts and deficiencies, and that
worship, as the work of the people, is not something that pastors have complete
control over. Add to that something that worship classes in seminary rarely
prepare us for: the reality of staff ministry. I’ve had let my worship nerd,
who often joins forces with my inner control freak, take a few steps back from
the worship planning process.
On Sunday morning, I often find myself shushing the
worship nerd, reminding her that it might not be her favorite hymn, but it’s
still worth singing. Reminding her that there might be better ways to do this,
but what God really wants is authentic worship, not an “A” on a liturgics
If I were to go out church shopping, I think I’d go for some
place a little artier, a little more Gen Y, with a few candles and some
occasional incense, a good blend of world music, contemporary stuff (the songs I like, to be specific),
great old hymns and some medieval chant, communion every week, solid sermons,
and all of that superimposed on good Reformed theology. And you’d be right to
point out that I’d be looking a long time for such a place! In fact, what I’d
be looking for is a worship service created in my own image.
There’s an obscure passage by C. S. Lewis about worship,
where he points out that worship really happens best when it’s not about our
own personal taste and preference. (You can link to it here. Please be gentle with his condescending manner and listen to the spirit of what
he’s saying.) I use this quote all the time on other people, but rarely on myself.
Ministry is a lifestyle, and a counter-cultural one at that.
Sometimes it’s even counter to church culture. Maybe one of the gifts of this
calling is that we don’t get to go church shopping. Instead, we are forced to
worship with God’s people in the place where we are planted.