Speaking of worship…

We had a worship workshop at the church the other evening. Twenty or so people gave up a beautiful summer evening to talk about the purpose of our worship, the symbols, the history, and the function of each person within a church service. I love such topics and looked forward to the evening.

The first question, “What is the purpose of your worship?” was taken from a list of four questions posed by theologian John Dominic Crossan. His list is:
1. What is the character of your God?
2. What is the content of your faith?
3. What is the function of your church? and
4. What is the purpose of your worship?

I opened by stating that the purpose of our worship is to connect with the divine. In worship we encounter God. And in classic Protestant fashion I said that the way we in which encounter God is through the word.

Later in the evening, reflecting upon the experience I realized that my premise depended on the worshiper believing in a God who wants to relate to us, who interacts with creation, and on accepting the importance of scripture as the sure revelation of that God. These were big assumptions to make. The people before me may not have shared my understanding of the character of God let alone the content of my faith.

I said that worship is not meant to be educational though I acknowledged that learning may be a by product of the experience. Similarly I said that worship is not entertainment, though again, secondarily, moments could be entertaining. I want the worshiper to be asking, “what is the spirit saying to me in this hour?” not “what am I learning?” and certainly not, “is this fun?” When singing a hymn I want the worshiper’s soul rising heavenward, to invoke an old image.

I think the biggest surprise of the evening for participants was when I said that worship is not primarily educational. Many thought that was the primary purpose. But I would say that any good book of theology is more educational. There are youtube videos of Walter Brueggeman lecturing which are infinitely more educational than the Sunday service over which I preside and therefore if the purpose of worship is to learn it is a poor way to set about trying to achieve that goal. But we have long believed that in coming together to hear the word something special happens, something that can’t happen while reading a book or watching a video. When we come together in worship the Spirit moves. When we come together we touch the divine.

It was a good evening. I enjoyed having one last chance to talk about what it is we do each Sunday morning. Thanks to all who came out.