I have been serving as a worship host at my church since December. For those not familiar with the term, I’m the guy who gives announcements, reads Scripture, prays, and gives the call to worship at the start of services. I only serve every month or so, but the time invested thus far has taught me a few things about creating spaces for people to encounter God. I’ll describe a few below.
To begin, more goes into a Sunday service than you probably realize. The first week I served, I was amazed at the amount of planning that went into minor details like what side of the stage I walked up on, when a certain light came on or dimmed, how the song lyrics matched the sermon message, and so on. Everything was done with minute precision. Nothing was left to chance.
At first, I was a little overwhelmed by all the planning. I wondered how someone could function as a staff member of a church and not lose their mind in a flurry of planning. It felt like we were preparing for a business transaction, not a worship service. Surely God, the awesome and majestic Creator of the universe, needs little assistance to reach His people. Quite frankly, it felt like we were being manipulative — like arranging a blind date or forcing an encounter with God.
Much debate has occurred around the subject of worship. I’d love to spend more time on it because I think it’s worthwhile. I don’t intend to do so now, but suffice it to say, we must be mindful of Scripture when “creating” a worship experience. God is worthy of our worship and should have a say in how such an experience unfolds.
When we consider God’s desires for worship, one of the problems within the debate arises. It could be summed up in a question: Are we worshiping God and proclaiming truth by creating a worship experience or merely entertaining people and saying what they want to hear? Is it about God or us?
Although I was skeptical at first, I believe there is value in creating spaces for people to encounter God. Like most things related to our engagement with redemption, I see a handful of pros and cons.
It’s no secret we live in a fast paced world. The only time most people slowdown is to obey a traffic light, and even then, their angst is through the roof as they impatiently wait for the green light. If anything, creating a space for people to breathe and encounter the living God is a gracious gift. Perhaps for the first time in their week, people get to be still and hear truth sung and spoken over them. Do I wish people took more time during the week to encounter God on their own? Yes. Am I happy they get to slow down and be in Christian fellowship once a week? Yes, I am.
Scared space is rare and people who experience it can encounter the living God. That encounter is why our church does what it does, no doubt. He is holy, we are not. We long to bring people into His presence so their lives can be transformed by His holiness and the power of the gospel. If these worship experiences weren’t planned, I’m not sure when or if people would carve out time from their schedules to meet with Him. It’s sad, really. I can’t imagine not seeking such moments, but people in their sin and busyness would manage to skip it. They already make excuses when they miss Sunday worship.
Another pro is that lots of prayer goes into the worship experience. I have seen the worship team praying together days before the service takes place. When God shows up and moves in power, prayers are being answered. When relationships are restored, prayers are being answered. When a sinner repents and finds life and forgiveness, God is answering prayers.
The downside of creating a worship experience is the potential of quenching the Holy Spirit. When we set parameters around every aspect of a Sunday morning, we are sort of saying: “God, you can take a break this week. We got this!”
To be sure, the Spirit of God can move even within parameters. I have seen lives surrendered to Jesus in such settings. I just think we must be cautious of quenching the Holy Spirit. I have experienced some miraculous things in environments where time limits don’t exist, things that don’t occur in more methodical worship settings.
Another thing to be mindful of is losing threshold, a concept R. C. Sproul discussed in his classic work, The Holiness of God. As Sproul describes, “A threshold is a place of transition. It signals a change from one realm to another.” When we meet in spaces void of high ceilings, vaulted space, towers, and steeples, we lose a sense of God’s awesome holiness. An environment such as a gymnasium or movie theatre can make us more comfortable meeting with people because we’re familiar with such places; however, such environments rob people of the uncomfortableness of meeting with a holy God.
Time and again, the Bible shares stories of people who encounter God’s presence and are told not to fear. Why? Because being in His very presence is uncomfortable when sin resides in your flesh. It’s ok to be uncomfortable. We shouldn’t overly concern ourselves with making people feel otherwise.
One other con I think is very serious is winning people with entertainment alone. I don’t know who originally said it, but I’ve heard it said, “What you win them with is what you win them to.” Basically, if people come and stay because your children’s program is amazing and your worship singer is Bono, they are going to expect more of the same every week.
Conversely, if you faithfully preach the gospel, lives will be transformed and people will learn to navigate the terrors of life through the lens of Scripture. Winning people with the perfect Christ far and away exceeds winning them with a sinful singer, regardless of how cool or famous they are.
I’ll close with the opening question: When we create a worship experience, is God being worshipped and truth proclaimed or are people merely being entertained and hearing what they want to hear? Is it ok to have an entertaining aspect in a worship experience? Why or why not?
Feel free to share your thoughts. I’d love to hear from you!