As one who has been involved in church leadership both by calling and profession for many years when I attend church these days I find myself asking a lot of questions. Though I go genuinely seeking true worship and identity with the people of God as well as the experience of hearing God’s voice to my own soul I often find it difficult to connect in these ways. And even though I try to take into consideration the philosophical changes that have taken place in society and church ministry I often come away with a sense of disappointment in my church attendance experience.
For starters, there seems to be no clear connection between why a particular church exists and what it is seeking to accomplish through its Worship Service. If it publicizes its ministry and truly desires people to attend who have no orientation to its particular ministry one would think there would be some kind of explanation at the outset that helps the uninitiated understand what the church’s existence is all about or what a particular Worship Service is all about. As it is, from what I can see, most churches launch into a series of “worship songs” that often have no particular theme pattern with regard to content or for which there is no explanation or bridging. Sometimes songs seem to be chosen on the basis of the degree to which they excite shere passion. Passion in worship, I’m sure, is to be commended if it is also related to the content of the song and not merely to its volume or repetition. Sometimes the people who lead seem to think it is more about them than it is about actually bringing people into the presence of God.
If it is granted that a particular church exists partially at least to enhance its own community life one would expect a degree of personalized talk from the pastor (or significant leader) to the community so that its people are brought up-to-date about critical matters in the lives of individuals or the entire community. Instead, what we often see is a list of promotional items called announcements that lead toward the collection of “an offering” for which there is little explanation either. Rather than being a sacred worship event the offering is nothing more than a pragmatic diversion to ensure that the expenses of the church are being met. And seeing as Jesus expects the church to be “a house of prayer” it would seem reasonable to integrate a variety of prayer opportunities into the Worship Service as well.
And when it comes to the Message or sermon part of the Worship Service with rare exception it is hard to avoid the feeling at times that the pastor (or designated preacher) is trying hard to entertain or get a favourable response from the audience rather than that he (or she) is actually seeking to have a clear prophetic ministry from the Word of God. I hesitate to give specific examples for obvious reasons but I think people come to church because they really want to understand what God’s Word says and how it applies to their individual lives as well as the life of the church community or the larger world in which they live.
If you think I’m being a little over-critical of today’s church leadership you need to know that I really do love the church dearly and that I will continue to do whatever I can to participate in its life and ministry no matter how imperfect it may be. But I also want to do what I can to help the church be more effective in its God-given ministry to the members of its own community as well as those who are still trying to figure it out. As an ordinary Christian (but also as a student of church pastoral ministry) I am looking for an authentic (New Testament) church experience in which I find a sense of true community built around worship that is centered in the Gospel (including its meaningful celebration in Communion) and a very thoughtful approach to the relevant communication of the Word of the Lord. Granted that leading the church today is a very complex matter, it would really be sad if, in a day when people are hungrier than ever for spiritual meaning (not to mention their real spiritual need before God), the church continues to entertain itself with diversions that truly miss the point!