It’s Sunday Morning Again – Bah! Humbug!

Church BuildingI am a  Bible believing, Gospel Preaching, Born Again follower of Jesus Christ. I have been an ordained minister for more than 35 years. I am a returned missionary. I have preached the Good News in more than 15 countries on 4 continents, and in over half the contiguous United States of America. I’ve taught in Bible College and had my own radio show. Heck, I even tithe. The simple truth, though, is I don’t like going to Church much anymore.

For the better part of at least 6 years, I have been extremely disenchanted with Church services in American Evangelical Churches; at least the one’s I’ve visited (and that’s no small number). I have discussed this issue on multiple occasions with my wife, and have made it a frequent topic of conversation at home Bible Study groups.

During my travels, I’ve heard some life changing sermons, and a few duds, as well.  I have heard some of the greatest worship bands in the country. I’ve also heard some music so bad, the congregation will never require the assistance of a pest extermination company. I have listened to some truly exceptional Gospel Choirs, quartets and ensembles. Yet, despite the many positives, I have come away empty and disillusioned, more often than not. Most weeks, I’d rather sit among my livestock or walk a nature trail, or visit my favorite fishing hole and spend time absorbed in His Creation and be awestruck by His Majesty rather be part of what far too often makes me feel like a contrived, concocted, human focused side show, complete with clowns and dancing bears.

Yet, week after week, I continue to go; to search for that elusive ‘home’, where I won’t feel the urge to ‘forsake the assembling of yourselves together.’

Before I continue, my agitation is not directed at, or induced by a particular congregation or denomination. Truth be told, Church buildings and Church services make me want to stay away. The fellowship before, and after the service, are awesome.  The part sandwiched in between leaves me feeling like I need a sweater.

Recently, I’ve begun to understand my dis-ease.  The clarity began during a 6 week period my wife and I were attending a local Roman Catholic Church on Saturday evenings; and the fog has continued to slowly lift ever since.

Please indulge me while I process my feelings out loud. I do appreciate your patience.

The first thing I’ve realized is that I’m uncomfortable because most of the ‘Worship Centers’ are so dark.  The lights are all focused on the stage while the congregation is engulfed in blackness.  To me, that does not invite the corporate nature of worship. It doesn’t feel like it’s ‘us’ anymore, it feels like it’s about ‘them’. The design, the blacked out ceilings, the lighting all highlight the stage, the show; first, the band, then the preacher, and any special musicians, artists, speakers, etc. who take the stage. That’s fine for a concert, a play, a dance recital, but is worship to be focused on the stage?

The second thing is, I can never hear the congregation singing.  I can only hear the band.  This observation is not a knock on bands, or the song selections, although, many songs these days are not easy to sing. They are much better for listening to, than for congregational singing.

Again, let me be clear. I don’t dislike Contemporary Worship Music. I like it very much. I like Hymns, Southern Gospel, Black Gospel, and Country Music as well. That’s why I go to concerts, or listen to Pandora or iTunes.  At Church I like to sing harmony. I like the congregation blending together to present one voice in praise to the King of Kings. Most of the time, I can’t hear anyone, including myself, over the music coming from the stage. My favorite times are when a music Pastor stops the band and the congregation sings Acappela.  Suddenly, the worship becomes corporate.

When we were visiting the Catholic Church, one of the things I really liked was the stage set up. It reminded me very much of the Church services in Scotland and England during my years there.

Center stage on the platform, is the Lord’s Table.  Everything is focused on The Christ. He is the center of our gathering.  The pulpit (lectern) is to the side of the Table. The musicians are not even on the stage.

Scripture reading is a prominent part of the service. I miss that. A reading from the Old Testament, a reading from the Epistles, and one from the Gospels is a part of every service.  Members of the congregation lead the readings to ensure involvement. There is also some kind of responsive reading, inviting participation by the entire congregation to emphasize the corporate nature of the worship service.

As and aside, but not really and aside, the building where we visited was bright and cheerful, with lots of windows allowing the daylight to flood the auditorium.  It made me happy. I felt like I was with the risen Christ on Easter morning rather that with Him in the darkness of the grave on Friday night.

Even the Lord’s Supper reminded me of my days in Scotland, where the corporate nature of the event trumped the individual experience.  In Scotland and England, we literally used one loaf that we broke off pieces of as the tray went by, expressing the truth of Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, that partaking of one loaf reminds us we are one body, and drinking from one cup reminds us the same thing.  And, yes, U.K. Churches frequently practice common cup communion, which took some getting used to, I assure you. We’ll discuss that further some other day. 🙂

On a related note, is the Lord’s Supper central to our gathering, or is it an addendum to be tacked on, if practiced at all?  What was the New Testament practice?

One of the most frequent reasons I hear about why people leave one Church and go to another, or just stay home is, “It didn’t meet my needs.” I don’t, and have never; gone to Church to have my needs met. Like the One I worship, I have not come to ‘be served, but to serve.”  Oddly, my discomfort with the modern Evangelical Worship Service is, I wonder if it meets HIS needs.

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