Monday, May 24, 2010

Worship junkies

Why do we worship and how? That topic has often been addressed by posts here. Worship style is an issue that has divided Christian friends and entire congregations. But "style" shouldn't be the issue. As Skye Jethani, in "And why that question completely misses the point," points out "The very idea that a style can be wrong is funny to begin with. That’s like saying the Spanish language is better at communicating a mother’s love than Italian." His essay is directed at correcting the impression some received from his recent book, The Divine Commodity, that he opposes certain styles of worship.

The real questions isn't about style but about whether what is happening is worship. One of my [only partially realized] goals for General Conference worship the year I was responsible for planning the program was to demonstrate that worship can be served by a variety of styles. It is the object of the exercise that matters. God is the object: the worship service isn't worship if it doesn't direct adoration toward Him. If the service is about me — and how I feel and whether I am entertained — then it fails. So, those planning worship must always have in mind whether what they are planning — regardless of style — will help direct the attention of worshipers toward God.

Another result of focusing on the experience of worship is the fact that emotional experience fades. Chaplain Mike at the Internet Monk invites his readers to respond to this portion of Jethani's essay:
.... Through the influence of our consumer culture we’ve come to believe that transformation is attained through external experiences. And, as we’ve already seen, many churches have engineered their ministries to manufacture these experiences for crowds of religious consumers. We’ve come to regard our church buildings, with their multi-media theatrical equipment, as mountaintops where God’s glory may be encountered. One pastor, explaining why his church opened another location across town, said “We decided, if you can’t get the people to the mountain, bring the mountain to the people.”

Ascending the mountain every Sunday morning, millions of Christians want to have an experience with God and this is precisely what churches promise. And not disappointed, many leave these experiences with a sense of transformation or inspiration. They feel “pumped up,” “fed,” or “on fire for the Lord.” No doubt many people, like Moses, have authentic experiences of God through these events. Others may simply be carried along by the music, crowd, and energy of the room. Whether a result of God or group, what is beyond question is that many people depart feeling spiritually rejuvenated and capable of taking on life for another six days.

The problem with these external experiences, as Moses discovered, is that the transformation doesn’t last. In a few days time, or maybe as early as lunch on Sunday, the glory begins to fade. The mountaintop experience with God, the event you were certain would change your life forever, turns out to be another fleeting spiritual high. And to hide the lack of genuine transformation we mask the inglorious truth of our lives behind a veil, a façade of Christian piety, until we can ascend the mountain again and be recharged.

This philosophy of spiritual formation through the consumption of external experiences creates worship junkies—Christians who leap from one mountaintop to another, one spiritual high to another, in search of a glory that does not fade. In response, churches and Christian conferences are driven to create ever-grander experiences and more elaborate productions to satisfy expectations….
And why that question completely misses the point