I’m not a huge fan of Brian McLaren, but I really like what he has to say in the following video. The programmed worship experience does seem pretty hollow after awhile. And the attitude that we are consumers of the worship experience rather than participants in an offering of worship seems rather prevalent in many churches. The tight control and planning that goes into many programmed worship services is suffocating sometimes. I think much of it is motivated by the fear of what visitors might think if something a little off the plan happened. But who can really know what’s in the mind of the brave soul who walks through your church doorway for he first time? They might be turned off by artificial feel your well executed program!
How do we get out of this rut? McLaren doesn’t offer any answers, but since the integrity of our worship is something for which we ought to be concerned, I think we’re responsible for finding our own answers. I think that some structure is important for a larger gathering of people but it ought to allow flexibility for participation by the congregation that isn’t part of the plan. I’m sure this scares a lot of church leaders who are afraid things will get out of hand. But it’s hard to leave room for the Holy Spirit’s hand in our gatherings if we insist that everything that is done be in our hands.
I’ve been in some worship services where some pretty off-the-wall things were said or done. It takes confident and experienced leaders to handle such situations gracefully. It also takes an experienced and confident congregation. One that prepares their hearts for worship before coming to the meeting. But that’s the kind of leaders and people our worship should have. Maybe, instead of being offended many people will find the experience memorable and will look forward to coming back next time even if it’s just to see what unexpected thing that God might let happen next. I know one thing: Visitors will, and should, judge the character of a church by the quality of people they meet there, not by the slickness of their program. If they are attracted to a program they will have a shallow relationship to the people who come and will leave when the program no longer stimulates them. If they are attracted to the people … well that’s a different story. So, what’s the church about? Great programs, or great people? Think hard before you say “both.” Each tends to minimize the need for the other and in only one case is that a good thing.