Every congregation needs to be engaged in a healthy conversation about worship. Hopefully, it is at the heart of your identity, calendar and thought-life. As you face the future, one powerful question you must wrestle with is: “Of what value is worship in our life together?” Immediately, I would also ask: “Do your practices reflect your values?”
Please, this conversation is about much more than style. If you have not moved beyond style questions regarding worship, you are still taking the baby bottle and need to move on to the meaty main course.
Healthy congregations understand that worship is at the heart of our reason for being, and that it is not about entertaining, meeting human wants, or dabbling in the faddish or trivial. Healthy worship is the most spiritually mature, theologically deep, provocative, audacious, and powerful event you plan for each week. It deserves your best and most focused attention.
Far too often, we treat worship as an afterthought. It becomes routine and mundane, boring and irrelevant. Our worship events are, instead, that mysterious moment when we dare to invite our community to bring their selves to God and peer into the depths of God’s love, God’s dream for us, and God’s divine grandeur. Annie Dillard was right. If we took seriously what we say we are trying to do in worship, we would hand out crash helmets at the door and install seat belts in the pews.
I was convicted about my casualness toward worship at gate A3 in the Charlotte airport recently.
As I approached the gate, I saw that my flight was delayed. Slightly annoyed, I sighed over the coming inconvenience. I noticed a cadre of TSA agents in uniform standing in the gate area, and assumed they were in training, as the senior member of the group was clearly giving instructions about some pressing issue.
Eventually, I wandered over to the windows to look out at the arriving plane we were to board, and was stunned to see that, as it arrived, it was being surrounded by five fire trucks. A crowd was gathering with me, and someone wondered aloud what was going on. A quiet voice said: “there’s a fallen warrior on board this plane”. In the cargo hold was a casket of a member of the military who had died in Afghanistan.
Suddenly, the mood in gate A3 shifted dramatically from annoyance to stunned silence. About then we noticed a small crowd gathering below us on the tarmac. A hearse arrived. The TSA agents formed a cordon through which walked two dozen members of the soldier’s family and friends. Dressed in black, they formed up into a small congregation alongside the plane. It was easy to tell the parents, and if there were any doubt, when the cargo door opened and the casket appeared, the mother’s knees buckled and she crumpled to the tarmac. Everyone in the gate area gasped as she went down. Immediately, her husband and daughter and their pastor all surrounded her and helped her to her feet and embraced her.
Tears were flowing in a silent gate A3, as this family struggled to get through the hardest day of their life. It was a holy moment as men and women, weeping openly, some reaching out to embrace or take the hands of strangers, murmured words of blessing and encouragement through the glass windows to those gathered below.
At that moment, a military honor guard walked up to the plane, surrounded the casket and lifted it from the plane. With majestic precision, they marched to the hearse and placed the fallen warrior there. His parents and family trailed them, touching and kissing the flag-draped coffin.
Slowly, the hearse pulled away and the family turned to leave. Their path from the tarmac led them up into our gate area and through those of us who had gathered to watch the events unfold below us. As they walked through the crowd of tear-streaked strangers, many of us reached out to touch and encourage them on their journey into the rest of their life.
It was a holy moment. I worshipped that day at gate A3. I watched as men and women who were strangers found our selves peering into eternity. We were brought face-to-face with our mortality and we were deeply moved and profoundly touched.
Those ten minutes at gate A3 have continued to serve to remind me of the primacy of worship for our church. How dare we be cavalier with such an opportunity! How can we not move beyond demanding what we want to humbly seeking what we need in our worship?
Healthy churches know that worship meets a deep hunger in us all to experience the eternal in a profound, life-changing way. I hope that describes what happens to you this Sunday in worship.