In today’s world, there is a lot of discussion about the church, both universal and local congregations. The universal church is comprised of all Christians of all times and places. As Christians or Believers, we gather in local congregations for worship, etc. For purposes of this discussion, the term “church” references the local congregation.
I grew up in church. I was on the cradle roll. I remember my first Sunday School class as a 3 year old with Mrs. Carter. Church on Sunday was normal and expected. I never really questioned why we went to church. It’s what we did. I was an adult before I realized that attending church wasn’t really a requirement and that people around me actually survived without attending church.
I grew up in the Southern Baptist denomination. We had Sunday School and a worship service on Sunday morning. Sunday evenings, we had Training Union and another worship service. Wednesday night was for another service called Prayer Meeting, but it seemed to me that it was just a smaller Bible study service. I was part of the youth choir so that meant attending rehearsals. I grew up as a Sunbeam, a GA and an Acteen, more meetings during the week. There were special book studies for the various mission emphasis times: Lottie Moon at Christmas, Annie Armstrong at Easter, and Mary Hill Davis in September. We have revival meetings twice a year that lasted a week and included a noon meeting and and evening service and maybe a special emphasis night for youth. I attended Vacation Bible School every summer for a week. (I remember having 2 weeks of VBS, too.) And, then there was GA camp, Youth camp and other youth events/trips to conferences and music festivals. I spent a lot of time in church related activities. I was well versed in what was expected of me and the respect that I needed to give through my attitudes and presentation.
As a college student, I learned the difference in attending church and being a part of worship. There is a big difference. I spent most of my life attending church. Realizing what it meant to truly worship revolutionized my life. People worship in lots of ways. Some are very quiet and private with their worship. Some people raise their hands and lose themselves in the worship experience. Some believe that speaking in tongues is a requirement to worship. Some believe you have to worship on your knees. However you worship is between you and God. I cannot stress how important it is to just be in the moment and worship openly from the heart. It is not my right or my responsibility to judge how you worship. Some of the sweetest worship times for me occurred during music rehearsals for the services and not during the actual worship services. I served as a worship leader and as such couldn’t really get completely caught up in my own worship experience during the services. But, rehearsals were different. I could allow my heart to truly worship my audience of One.
As a young, newly married adult, I served with my husband in several churches across the area. One in particular comes to mind. It was a small church in a changing area of the city. No longer a middle class neighborhood, they struggled to survive. It was a traditional Southern Baptist Church. We sang hymns, had a choir and used both a piano and organ for the music. I sat through service after service and starved spiritually. This was a church that refused to adjust to the changes around them. Reaching the local people was not really on the agenda. The church was there to provide a food bank but we didn’t really want “those” people inside the church. We were eventually asked to resign because my husband was getting too involved with the local troubled kids. I have never been as wounded by a group of people in my life. It took a long time for me to trust the local church, again.
As an adult, I am very involved with my church. Things have changed. I have realized that in order to have church you do not have to have a church building. My church meets in a movie theater. There are numerous churches in this area that rent space in the local schools. Portable churches are an accepted and even exciting way to do church in today’s world. People that are hesitant about the formal church are more open about attending in a non-typical arena. We see it every Sunday at the Bridge. It’s a sad truth that many churches thrive and grow until they finance and build a building. Then, the excitement is cooled as the need to support the building and it’s upkeep comes front and center.
I have come to understand and support Life Groups as the core of the church. While Sunday School had it’s place in my life, I have grown more through Life Groups. They provide a casual and far more personal way to engage in spiritual growth. Life Groups provide a more relatable group in which to learn and to grow. It’s much easier to be open in a group of ten to twelve than in a huge group. Life groups create a feeling of family and acceptance. They get down to the day to day needs in our lives and enable us to fully worship when the time is offered.
Music has definitely morphed through the years. We have the old hymns, we have the older contemporary music and we have the new worship music. I learned to play the piano using the Baptist Hymnal. It was blue. When that hymnal was updated, it caused a lot of excitement. There were “contemporary” songs included like “He’s Everything to Me”, “Pass It On”, and “Because He Lived”. People that never really cared about music suddenly preferred the “old hymnal”. (I was pianist at one church in the 80’s that still used the old Broadman Hymnal because “it was just better.”) I still have copies of all three hymnals and enjoy the music contained in them. But, I also love the “new” stuff. Of all the things people use as an excuse to avoid church involvement, music and the use of other creative arts seem to top the list. No matter what is provided, someone is not happy.
Recently, I’ve seen a few posts on social media that were critical of using the church services for “entertainment”. I suspect that the church I attend would fall in that category to the outside observer. This generation is known for being global, social, visual and technological. In the last decade, the cell phone has revolutionized the way we collect and perceive information. Instead of carrying a Bible in book form, the Bible App has become a mainstay for many. Hymnals have been replaced with projection systems. Church Bulletins are more reminders to go to the church website for information than actual information.
While we tend to focus on the musical influences in church services, there are a multitude of creative arts that can and are used to promote worship. No longer is the primary instrument in a church the organ and/or piano. A full band is now expected. In the past, we all took piano lessons and would be expected to play at church. Now, its guitar or drum lessons. Praise Dancers are not a new concept, but they are more widely accepted across denominations now. My late husband was a creative soul and loved to write and perform skits for the worship services. He was also a proponent of building backgrounds to enable all of the senses to be engaged in worship. Lighting, sound and (for lack of a better word) theatrics have taken their place in the worship services. We want our services to be on point, on time and worth remembering.
With all of the opinions on the type of service, where the services are held, the target audience, what to wear and what music to use, we often lose sight of the reason we are there: TO WORSHIP. It hurts this believer’s heart when factions within the local church start bickering and criticizing each other and/or other churches/denominations. How can we expect to present ourselves as the Body of Christ when we continue to pick at each other? How do you know that the brilliantly staged service doesn’t open the hearts of the congregation to worship? Just because it doesn’t fit into “MY” model, does that make it wrong? Maybe we need to take heed of the message in the book of Ephesians:
“But that doesn’t mean you should all look and speak and act the same. Out of the generosity of Christ, each of us is given his own gift. The text for this is,
He climbed the high mountain,
He captured the enemy and seized the booty,
He handed it all out in gifts to the people.
Is it not true that the One who climbed up also climbed down, down to the valley of earth? And the One who climbed down is the One who climbed back up, up to highest heaven. He handed out gifts above and below, filled heaven with his gifts, filled earth with his gifts. He handed out gifts of apostle, prophet, evangelist, and pastor-teacher to train Christ’s followers in skilled servant work, working within Christ’s body, the church, until we’re all moving rhythmically and easily with each other, efficient and graceful in response to God’s Son, fully mature adults, fully developed within and without, fully alive like Christ.” Ephesians 4:7-13 MSG