Clergy View: Worship is something we do for God
Worship is not about us. It’s not about our tastes. It’s not about our personal sense of happiness or fulfillment in the experience of worship. It’s not about generating a feeling. It isn’t about what we like or dislike. It’s not about what we ourselves prefer or reject.
We are now in a time when some congregations are resuming in-building worship. Other congregations are choosing to not open yet. My own congregation is still in a time of discernment. As a pastor, it seems like an ideal time to take a step back and reflect on worship — what it is, what is intended by it and what it is not. What I share here is true of worship in every time and every place, not just during COVID times.
First of all, what worship is not. Worship is not about us. It’s not about our tastes. It’s not about our personal sense of happiness or fulfillment in the experience of worship. It’s not about generating a feeling. It isn’t about what we like or dislike. It’s not about what we ourselves prefer or reject. Worship is something we do for God. It is not for us. I’ve been in many worship planning conversations with people in which it has felt as if the underlying assumption is, “We should go with what is popular.” If it’s popular because it encourages faithful discipleship then great! I have nothing against popularity. But if it’s popular because it caters to the self instead of God, it’s not worship.
So, in planning for worship, the primary concern should be developing faithful disciples of Jesus. Worship is about God and faithfulness to Jesus necessarily involves being concerned about and caring for those around you more than about getting your own needs met. One definition of sinfulness is: “Love turned inward upon oneself.” It’s ourselves wanting the best for ourselves. To combat this form of sinfulness, Jesus calls us to take up our cross. This necessarily involves personal pain. Taking up a cross involves sacrificing the self for the sake of the other. In planning for worship we don’t seek to fulfill personal tastes but instead to ask what will help us grow as a community of faith in active discipleship.
Every community of faith needs to discern for itself the path of faithfulness that their community is called to walk. Some in faithfulness have decided to meet. Others have decided to wait. I do not write in judgment of any particular path. But I do write to encourage us all to sacrifice our own particular wants and desires for the sake of the vulnerable in our community.
The tug-of-war felt today, it seems to me, is over which of the vulnerable we are called to serve. Is it the physically vulnerable? Then the call to discipleship among the healthy ought to be to refrain from meeting because even though it might be a preference and a right to meet, Christian love calls us to be concerned for the vulnerable who may be several infections removed from our interaction in worship. Discipleship and self-sacrifice causes us to remember our choices affect them as well. Or, the vulnerable we are to be concerned for are spiritually and emotionally vulnerable? These are people who will suffer adverse effects from a lack of community and the gospel in their lives. This tug-of-war is why some congregations have chosen to worship in-building and others have chosen not to.
One thing is for sure, we are called to choose a path forward for different reasons than the choices made in malls and restaurants for we believe we are called to the lowest of all standards of servanthood. So, whether in our houses of worship or within our homes, let us all bend our knee both in service and in worship.
Steven J. Rye is senior pastor at Lord of Life Lutheran Church.