Tuesday, February 13, 2007

On Worship

With increasing involvement in local worship services, I’ve been giving some thought to what I see as prime values for a worship program. One factor going into my thinking is the ‘perfect’ worship service I visited last fall. I’m sure it wasn’t truly perfect, but from my point of view as a visitor, it appeared that everything was done with excellence. The musicians were top-notch; the service had good flow; everything was planned and the execution of that plan was impressively smooth.

Excellence. That has been a buzzword pulled from the business world into the church. I find it to be a word of pure discouragement. If ‘excellence’ is the standard for all church work, then I need to step aside in my bumbling and let someone with greater skill take over. I work very hard at what I do but I realize that I have many areas of weakness (as those who know me best will readily confirm) and would not easily find a place of service in an ‘excellent’ church which was closing in on ‘perfect’. As I left that ‘perfect’ worship service, I realized that if I lived near that church, I would not be a member there. Not only because I myself am not perfect, but because I care deeply about other people who aren’t perfect. I would want to be part of a church where imperfect people would feel comfortable and have opportunities for involvement in the worship program.

All that to say that ‘perfect’ or even ‘excellent’ is not my primary concern when thinking about corporate worship.

So, if not excellence, what are my top values for worship? That has been the question on my mind. I’ve come up with four aspects to my answer.

1. Worship needs to be about worship. It seems like this would be intuitively obvious, but I am from a generation where worship became so overshadowed by personal testimony in what was called "worship services" that it took me years to define worship in my own mind. Worship needs to conduct those present into the presence of God Almighty and remind us of who He is – our God – and of who we are - His worshippers. If we have not humbled our hearts in the presence of God during the time we are together, we have not worshipped.

2. Worship needs to be orchestrated. We come together to worship. The task of the worship leaders is to conduct worship in a way that brings those present into the presence of God. This takes planning and practice.

3. Worship needs to be participatory. Leaving everything in the hands of professionals is too exclusionary for my tastes. Sure, there are those who prefer to sit in their pews and worship with high-quality music. However, there are others who prefer to participate in the worship service, even though they may not have the skills to be part of a program of ‘excellence’. Those who crave high-quality programming can join the audience at the ‘major league’ program down the street. I want to be invest my time on the farm teams where professionals get their start. I see a continuing need for training camps for those who haven't made the big-time yet. It seems that God often looks past the acknowledged frontrunners when choosing servants to do His work. I want to be where God is working.

4. Worship needs to be responsive. I’ve written previously about my aversion to the phrase, “It’s not about you.” The truth is, worship requires worshippers. We need to listen to those who are interested in being part of our worship services in order to discover the path to the throne of God for them. Is it music? Is it silence? Is it scripture reading? Is it corporate prayer? If music, what style of music? We need to hear what they say regardless of age, gender, culture, and personal baggage and incorporate what we hear into our programming, not to allow any one voice to control the whole program but to let every voice count.

Responsive, participatory, orchestrated worship. If we approach excellence now and then, that would be wonderful. But let’s not make excellence our primary aim. There are many more 2nd-string than top-notch worship participants. Perhaps a better aim would be to develop the full potential of those who choose to be involved in the worship program, both those who take up instruments or voice to lead music and those who respond with humbled hearts to the felt presence of God.

That’s what I’ve been thinking. Any thoughts on the subject?

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Those pesky lines at the post office

I live in a small town - but it's big enough to have a post office. Having local offices is a wonderful thing. I hope the postal system doesn’t decide to streamline like the state of Indiana did in closing our license branch.

So ... today I need to mail an oversize envelope and don’t know how much it will cost. I head to the post office. And what do I find there but a line! Right there in the post office in the middle of the day. Can you believe such a thing?

There is one postal worker taking care of two customers. There is a woman standing to the side whose conversation with the postal worker has apparently been interrupted by the intrusion of customers. There are two more customers waiting their turn. I join them. That makes seven of us all together. I can name three of my six companions, including the employee. The loiterer has a familiar face but I can’t come up with a name.

As we wait, the postal worker pauses to look us over and says, “I sit here for an hour with no one and then you all come at once. I swear that people get on their phones and plan these things.” We all pleasantly agree that such a thing is not beyond us. I mention that I sometimes tell the checkout people at the grocery store that we customers conspire back in the frozen food aisle so that we can all head to the registers at the same time.

By this time, the two front customers are leaving and the next person steps forward. The lady now at the counter comments that the parking lot at the grocery store is typically full when she arrives and empty when she comes back out. The postal worker reports that she went to the store for a dozen eggs yesterday and they cost $24.95. Yep, I can identify with that. That’s about what it costs me to go in for a gallon of milk.

It was the chocolate milk that was on sale that was part of the problem, she says. Hmm... milk is on sale this week? I make a mental note.

The door opens and closes, admitting a local businessman and a woman I presume to be his wife - an Old Order Amish couple. (How is it that in 28 years of dealing with this family business, I don’t remember ever seeing his wife before?) He looks at the crowd and expresses the opinion that such a line can only be caused by a lack of efficiency. I look at the busy postal worker and say, “It’s a good thing she didn’t hear that.” His response is quick. “I’d say it to her face.” As a twinkle comes into his eyes, the image of another younger face comes into my mind. His grandson! I had never noticed a resemblance between them. But there it is, that same little smirk. I consider commenting on what I have just noticed but my slow wit combines with remembering the report that the grandson and his young family have been “shunned” for nonconformance to the Amish lifestyle to shut my mouth. His wife fills the silence, reminding him that he has a business and that she has sometimes seen lines there.

The door opens and closes. One customer leaves, another comes in. The loiterer gives up on whatever conversation she had been having before the pace quickened and tells the postal worker she'll catch her later. I am now on deck for service but still part of the stand-by group.

I say to the newcomer: “If I’d known I’d see you here, I would have brought your pictures from the library.”

She responds: “I almost stopped by after you closed to see if anyone was still there.”

We then discuss the charming old photos of her parents as children which she left at the library this morning to have copied.

Meanwhile, another postal worker comes in, perhaps returning from a late lunch. The customer ahead of me has been served but is still gathering her paperwork. Both workers now offer me service. I hesitate and choose the new line. As I hand over my envelope, I hear an argument behind me about who should be next. The businessman insists that he has more business to transact and should give up his place. The newcomer insists that she is in no hurry and will wait her turn. She wins and the businessman takes his place beside me and lays down his parcel.

“I need you to clear up a little point of contention," he says. “Aren’t I always nice in here?”

“Oh, yes. Always,” the workers respond with maybe a hint of sarcasm. As he turns in triumph to his wife, one of the workers tells her, “You must be a saint!” The other points out that he is completely outnumbered by the five women present and should be careful what he says about women. (Is there maybe some history between these people?)

My envelope is weighed and the postage computed. As I walk out the door, there is no longer a line at the post office. Man, it can really ruin a day to have to stand in a long line like that. I can see why people complain so much about it.

Or not. A nice warm break on a cold day with friendly, smiling people and light banter in a nice little post office in a nice little town. What’s not to like? These are "the good old days".