Sunday worship is in essence a simple affair; a gathering of
believers who meet in Jesus’ name. Of course, this desire to meet in Jesus’
name requires more than simply turning up, it suggests a meeting that embodies
the character and intentions of Jesus; so when we meet we want to put Scripture
at the heart of worship, to pray and organise our gathering so that Christ is
at the centre. And loads of books, blogs, conferences and seminars have been
created to suggest ways of doing this well (some of them contradictory).
My own experience suggests one thing that gets missed out of
this is the way that Sunday worship gatherings are an event. Thinking about
worship gatherings as an ‘event’ can help us because it focuses attention on
things which otherwise get overlooked.
An event suggests you put some time and effort into planning
and preparation. This is not simply about choosing the songs, but the way the
whole gathering fits together. Worship gatherings which work, take people on a
journey. Not simply drawing people to God and then sending them out into the
world; but a journey emotionally and intellectually. Sometimes we use the
language of fit to describe this, but what’s making things fit is the emotional
journey the congregation are on, not the thematic one.
An event makes you think about how you engage people; posing
questions about who attends, why they come and the things they face in daily
life. One Sunday morning recently I asked, what people looked for in a good
sermon: responses focused more on being memorable, engaging and encouraging
than on the quality of Biblical exposition or coherence of theological thought.
Whilst good doctrine is essential, the most exquisite hermeneutics and glorious
systematic theology are of little use if people don’t engage with them.
An event also suggests you pay attention to excellence. This
has often been a difficult one where music is concerned; does it mean that you
need grade 8 to play in the music group? Personally I think that one aspect of
excellence which churches need to recover is an excellence in inclusivity;
involving the members of the church. In order words excellence isn’t just about
performance, it is about the whole of church life. That said, we need to aim
for what is good and not settle for mediocrity.
An event is often about where Spirit touches people. Preparation,
planning and perfection may make for something good but the real testimony to
come from a Sunday morning is not the fact it went well but that people
encountered God and the Spirit touched their lives. For this you need to look
beyond the immediate responses, often it is in the weeks and months which
follow which enable people to see that a particular event, or series of events,
marked a moment where God did something.
The idea of Sunday as an 'event' has drawbacks and limitations. But my experience is it focuses attention on those things which matter if we are to prevent Sunday worship gatherings being simply 'another Sunday'.
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