Friday, February 23, 2007

Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee

Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say rejoice!

What a wonderful word of knowledge that is. And as we (collectively) take a look at our worship services the question has to be asked: Do we rejoice when in worship? I know, there's the school of thought that says that we should enter in a state of quiet contemplation, in awe-struck reverence. But take a look at our congregations... I mean take a good, hard look. Do they enter into the worship space with this attitude of awe and wonder, or is it a chance to socialize and catch up with those persons in the congregation they haven't seen since last week? Ever notice the level of conversational "buzz" before the start of the worship service?

Most traditional Methodist orders of worship have a period of prayer, confession, and assurance of pardon. And then the service usually moves into a different mode which includes music (choir anthem), offering, scripture, and the message (sermon). This is all well and good, but where does the rejoicing part come into play? I don't see anyplace that the traditional order has for a time of praise and true thanksgiving. How is it that the church has moved away from that part of the worship experience? And why are the more contemporary, for lack of a better term, services often criticized by traditional church members/clergy for their upbeat, praise-full gatherings? I've even heard the term "happy-clappy" when describing these types of worship offerings. It's funny, but I've never heard the contemporary crowd refer to traditional worshipers in a negative way. What is it that the traditional church is so afraid of?

The church where I serve has had a problem with the contemporary services I'm responsible for. They often wonder when we'll either go away, or die for lack of interest (mostly theirs). But the thing they don't realize is that what we offer to the congregations I serve is every bit as valid as what they're used to. The established church is having a real hard time with the current paradigm shift that's occuring, especially since the denominational structure is in trouble everywhere. Be you a Methodist, Presbyterian, Episcopalian, Baptist, or whatever, your attendance and member numbers are dwindling.

The root cause? The reasons are many, and none easy to accept. But among them are the fact that the current post-modern generation is tired of the obvious hypocracy they see within the walls of the established church today. We speak of "just believe," they hear "don't think." We speak of peace and they point to the many wars that have been supported by the church (especially now by the fundamentalist, right wing crowd for Iraq). We talk of love and unity, they ask us "Well then, why is everybody divided into different groups?" And the idea of attending a church on Sunday morning isn't even on their radar scope.

Does it sound like the church won't be here 50 years from now? No, for those of us with the vision to know that it's time to do "church" a little differently are already reaching out with new ideas, new modes of worship, new ways to reach the current "lost" generation and bring them to the Truth of Jesus. Even if it's not in a church service on a Sunday morning. Or in a church at all. The Sunday morning model is no longer a valid outreach for today's generation.

And another one of those ways is to be authentic with our worship style, especially with being able to lift our voices in praise. The Psalms speak about praising God with musical instruments, with song and voice, to "make a JOYFUL noise unto the Lord." So with this in mind let me encourage you the next time you are in worship to lift up your eyes, to raise your voice in joyful praise without caring about what others may think about you. For God loves it when we rejoice and give Him praise. After all, we used to be called the "shouting, singing Methodists."


Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Lent fast approaches

Once more we start to turn our thoughts toward the Lenten Season of the church. Ash Wednesday is but a mere 2 weeks away, and the church begins it's introspective look at itself in this season of reflection. Seems like we just had Christmastide and Epiphany, but it will have been 6 and a half weeks since then. Next year it'll come even sooner- one month after 12th Night (Jan. 6) we'll celebrate Ash Wednesday (Feb. 6). With the result that Easter will be even earlier in 2008.

What does all of this mean? The church seems to stumble along from liturgical season to liturgical season, never really paying attention to what each one truly means. And as a result we allow ourselves to get caught up in the secular rather than the sacred. Think for a moment, when was the last time you really gave thought to the miracle of Jesus' birth? Of the wonder of the shepherds as they were sitting in a dark field that suddenly was filled with angels singing. How you felt as the candles were lit to celebrate on Christmas eve during a worship service. Or on Maundy Thursday at the Table? And Good Friday.. whatever happened to the afternoon worship services that were held to remember His sacrifice? Easter seems to be about new dresses, hats, flowers blooming, and the promise of warmer temperatures as spring appears. Not about the empty tomb and His resurrection.

As far as that goes, when was the last time you truly worshiped? The way in which you celebrated and gave praise for all that God has done for you communicates more about your attitude than anything else you may do. Or has the weekly church service become just one more chore, one more thing to take care of as you live from day to day? As we enter into the next church season may we all reflect on these questions and do a deep, in depth examination of our spiritual lives. Our eternal lives might depend on what we find out about ourselves.