Worship: Man's Chief End?
We live in a fast-paced and busy world. It is now no longer true of only the world’s great cities; such is also a characteristic of the unknown towns of suburbia. Technology of course is one reason. Keeping up with the data pouring into their telephone is the last thing many people do at night, as well as the first task they accomplish in the morning. It has also affected, and perhaps overtaken, the family. “Family time,” whether in the living room or at the dinner table, now frequently involves each individual keeping up in various ways with his personal list of technological “contacts.”
Related to technology is the drive for the competitive edge. Such an edge is not simply the quest to have the latest device (usually marketed at least by the speed with which it can achieve the owner’s objectives). It is also marked by the thirst to know what is going on as nearly as possible to when it actually happens. We are accustomed to instant information. Part of the underlying incentive to be “with it” is that no one wants to be average, let alone less than that. As Mike Horton puts it in the title of his latest book, no one wants to be “ordinary.” We want to stand out, to be known for something.
Our marketing-driven world does not just affect our personal schedules and family interactions. It seeps into the church too, and whether we realize it or not, it shapes our ecclesiology. Who wants to go to an average church, one that does some things well, but not others? Or one that offers one ministry but not another? Instead, we want our church to score “A’s” in every category. Or at least we want our church to offer every conceivable ministry opportunity, whatever the day of the week, just like the other churches around the corner.
None of this is meant to suggest that churches should not periodically evaluate what they are doing and try to think of ways to improve. Nor is it to suggest that the church’s doors should only be open and its people active on a Sunday. But it is to suggest that too many programs and events can detract from the worship of God. And while it is always easier to begin a new church ministry or function than it is to end it, perhaps less on the calendar really is more. Rather than making the church yet another busy segment of our lives, what would happen if we scaled down our involvements in order to make Sunday worship the central and most vital and well-attended day of the church’s week? What would happen if our services were not marked by the flash and bounce of the church nearest us, but by “ordinary” things as the clear and careful preaching of the Word, the simple observance of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, the singing of hymns with tunes that are easy to learn and sing, the public reading of Scripture, and thoughtful prayer? As churches in the Reformed tradition, what if we intentionally sought to learn how churches like ours worshipped in the past and sought to follow in their wake as much as possible? Ironically, such an ordinary approach would be far from ordinary; it would actually be unique.
Michael D. Roberts (DTh, University of South Africa) is assistant pastor at Grace Bible Fellowship Church in Quakertown, PA, where he also sits on the committee for the Quakertown Regional Conference on Reformed Theology. He also serves on the Christian Education committee of the Bible Fellowship Church.