I think attending a church service is a lot like taking a flight with an airline. The flight attendants greet us and show us to our seats, where we intend to keep pretty much to ourselves and only engage in surface level conversation with those sitting next to us.
We hope that the pilots will take off and land smoothly and chart the course safely to our destination. We pray that the in-flight entertainment is working today (the last flight was so tedious when it wasn’t!) and that the service from the flight attendants is efficient and courteous. And quit asking us to do anything – we are fare-paying passengers after all (well, some weeks)!
Well all right, I don’t think like this… well, most of the time anyway. And nor do you, I expect. However, one of the many challenges we face as a worshipping community is the pervasive influence of individualism and consumerism of the culture of the society we live in.
So while we might not intentionally attend gathered worship as ‘passengers’, the question that I would have us ask ourselves is this, ‘When we meet together, are we more concerned with our own personal experience with him and with our own discipleship journey and growth, or are we more concerned that the expression of the body of Christ that we are a part of, grows together?’
Surely if the centre of our worship is God – the self-giving, grace-filled, loving God – then we will be drawn out of our individual experiences and into ministering to one another in love, genuine care and hospitality, and faith-filled expectation about the work of God among his people.
This reframing of our view of worship from primarily individual to primarily communal is also vital to our mission in the world. It cultivates the key distinction that Jesus teaches us will set us apart as his disciples – love for one another. As we grow deeply together in Christian community, and worship together as the people of God, we are transformed into people who by God’s grace can actually live as salt and light in this world.
Marva Dawn is an author who has challenged and influenced me in my thinking about worship over the years. She writes:
‘Rather than becoming enculturated and entrapped by the world’s values of materialistic and experiential consumerism, of narcissistic self-importance and personal taste, of solitary superficiality, and of ephemeral satisfaction, members of Christ’s body choose his simple life of sharing, his willingness to suffer for the sake of others, his communal vulnerability, and his eternal purposes. When our worship gives us continual hearing of and deep reflection of God’s Word, songs and prayers that nurture discipleship, and new visions of God’s appointment for us to bear fruit, then we will gain God’s heart for our mission and ministry of communicating the Christian story, of enfolding our neighbours in God’s love, of choosing to deliberately live out the alternative Church being of the people of God’s kingdom.”1
So next time we gather as the people of God, let’s not fall into the trap of individualism and consumerism – of being passengers. But rather embrace our call to love each other, to build one another up, and to be the church of God in this world.