The purpose of worship...
In Matthew’s account of the Christmas story, a group of wise men from the east come to visit Jesus following his birth, bringing him gifts of precious gold as well as fragrant frankincense and myrrh as a way of worshiping him.
As evidenced by the Christmas carol “We Three Kings,” tradition has tied these three gifts to Jesus’ identity as “king and God and sacrifice” because of their uses in (respectively) royal regalia, temple worship, and preparing bodies for burial. From this perspective, the wise men’s worshipful offerings simply are a matter of giving the child what he is due.
That’s the primary purpose of our worship as well - to give Jesus Christ what he is due. When we worship Jesus, either privately or in the company of a gathered congregation, we are proclaiming his great worth through the outpouring of our words, prayers, and songs. We recognize not only his identity but also his actions and pour out all that we are in grateful adoration.
However, the reality is that - each time a church community gathers for a worship service - worship is only one of the many functions of that gathering. As the most visible gathering of a congregation, the worship service also functions as an opportunity for evangelical outreach to those who may not yet be part of a church community or in a relationship with Jesus. Similarly, the worship service provides a time for the worshiping community to gather together and enjoy one another’s company. As a result of these many different functions, the worship service can become a flashpoint for controversy in the life of the congregation.
As a pastor, it always is my hope to keep my focus on the primary purpose of worship - giving Jesus what he is due. Beyond that, I’ve been inspired and challenged by the words of a pastor named Dan Kimball, who composed a list of questions drawn from Scripture that help assess worship from a Biblical perspective. I ran across these questions early in my pastoral career and have had a copy of them on my bulletin board for the last decade or so.
My takeaway from these questions is that, first and foremost, the focus of worship must be on Jesus - on what God has done for us through him in the past and what God continues to do for us today through the Holy Spirit. Worship is our chance to give him his due for all these things. But worship also is a time in which those who gather in Jesus’ name are reminded of our need to live out our faith by being part of the mission to which we’ve been called by the risen Christ and for which we’ve been empowered by the Holy Spirit.
What I don’t see is any provision for my personal preferences in worship. So many aspects of our life today are based on our preferences. We want (and expect) things our way. But worship challenges our expectations because isn’t about us. It’s about 1) what brings Jesus the glory he is due and 2) our mission to “make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19). Everything else is clearly secondary.
However, it is also true that - as individuals with personal preferences - there can be choices made in any worship service that can take us out of the worship experience and make it difficult to connect with Christ on a meaningful level. This is true for both the lifelong follower of Jesus and the person who is seeking Jesus for the first time.
While no congregation can meet the needs and desires of every individual, we at Goddard United Methodist Church greatly desire to provide an environment in which individuals of all ages and stages of faith can connect with Christ. That’s the primary reason why we have two worship services each Sunday morning - one that is geared toward those who love the hymns and traditions that have nourished the church for generations and one that seeks to be more accessible to those without a connection to those traditions. It is our hope and prayer that these options will help provide an environment in which anyone who desires to do so can find a way to connect with Christ.
Ultimately, though, worship isn’t about the songs we sing or the order in which we do the things we do. It’s about the attitude that we bring - a desire to, like the wise men of old, give Jesus Christ the praise that he is due.