There is a mentality among American Christians (of just about every variety) that I find myself constantly trying to re-educate people about – with varying degrees of success. It all springs from the the combination of the language we use to describe worship being combined with the consumer mentality of the modern West. It’s a bad mix.
Consumers are used to being served. We’re used to having waiters and waitresses, people to ring up our total, and in New Jersey we’re even still used to having people pump our gas for us at the service station. Service, in our estimation, is what’s done for us. In our existence as consumers, this is reality. Yet when that same language is applied to worship, confusion abounds. For while we call worship a “service,” the service from which that description of worship came had a radically different understanding. To the ancients, religious service, was what people offered to their God – not the other way around.
For modern American consumers of religion, the word “service” means that people come to worship and are “filled up” to get through the next week. Worship, in such a mentality, is nothing more than a spiritual gas station. In fact, I’ve heard worship described as just that during my journey as a Christian. It is, however, absolutely wrong. Worship is, in fact, the offering of ourselves to God – that is the service we offer to Jesus as we gather as his people before the throne of Grace. This is actually what Romans 12:1 is speaking about. The offering of ourselves as a “living sacrifice” (an oxymoron, by the way) is an act of religious service – that is the understanding that led to referring to corporate worship as a “worship service.”
I was reminded of this struggle today when I surfed to a church web-site (which will remain unnamed) that described their worship with the following paragraph:
We strive to provide safe, high-quality programs that kids love. While you relax in the worship service, your kids will have a blast.
See the idea here? This Church serves stressed-out parents by baby-sitting their children so THEY can relax. Their role in the worship is to sit back, and be filled. Actually, they say just that on their site:
A casual and comfortable atmosphere – help yourself to complimentary coffee, tea or juice and relax on a park bench or at a bistro table.
This is not worship in the sense of the New Testament’s idea of “offering service” to Christ our King as we come before his throne.
Now, some might read this and say, “But is that so bad? Doesn’t Jesus tell us to come to him so he can give us rest? Isn’t that what this church is offering?”
In a word, “No.” See, Jesus’ statement in Matthew 11:28 calls for a movement towards him. It’s no, “sit back and let Jesus fill you” offer (quick, while supplies last).
The wonder of worship, however, is that when we come and offer ourselves up in service, Jesus does fill us. “Where does Jesus fill us?” We might ask. The answer is, “Jesus fills us with the images of his body and blood.” Yet, again, we’ve messed up the call to “come to me” by letting people be served communion, rather than calling people to offer themselves as they come forward and receive communion. Heck, now we’ve gone beyond the dang shot glasses and have Communion MRE’s – so we’ve not only lost the idea of a common cup, we’ve lost the idea of a common meal offered by our Lord. It’s a mess.
So, look, if you want to worship this week, or any week – don’t go to see what the Church offers you. Rather, offer yourself.