What are your plans for Sunday morning? A question which would once have been answered predominately with the single word “church” now solicits a multitude of answers. Sunday has become just another day of the week. Another day to sleep in, work on the yard, exercise, shop, play sports and participate in local events. The Sunday morning car ride alone will reveal this drastic change. For some Christians, these observations invoke visceral reactions, which spawn comments about the increasingly secularization of the culture and the desire to reinstate the period of time when it was socially unacceptable to do anything except attend church on Sunday morning.
Yet, why is this our initial reaction when we observe disregard for religion? Is it really our desire to fill churches with people, who given a choice, would much rather do anything except attend Sunday morning worship at church? While the secularization of our culture has resulted in devastating circumstances, we can admit that there have been some benefits, such as the removal of any social stigma associated with not attending church. In a society where all people are in essence “required” to attend church in order to maintain a good social status in the community, the challenge is greater in distinguishing between the true worshipers and those who are seeking personal gain. Yet, is it not the true worshipers that we should desire to fill the pews each week in our worship services?
The woman at the well in John 4 highlighted a long disputed issue between the Israelites and the Samaritans, concerning the physical location where worship was to take place. Jesus responded by saying “But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers” (John 4:23). God’s desire is for the gathering of “true worshipers” who share a genuine heart longing to give glory and praise to Him. Why should we approach worship any differently than God? Why are churches determined to seek the desires of man in the worship service? The worship service is not for unbelievers, it is not for entertainment, it is not for our enjoyment, it is not for us, but rather at the core of the worship service is giving to God what He is owed. Yes unbelievers will attend, yes Christians will be blessed and yes Christians should find joy in worshiping their Creator, but nonetheless the sole purpose is not to receive, but to give.
Nevertheless, there is an ever increasingly man-centered emphasis on the worship service which has appeared in subtle, yet compromising ways. Acceptable worship is no longer being defined by God through His Word, but rather it has been replaced by individual interpretation based on whether the music, the preaching and the atmosphere feels like worship or resulted in an enjoyable experience. However, if God is not viewed as the sole authority on worship, then we have elevated man as the object of worship. One of the first churches we attended after moving into the Washington D.C. area had a long-time member who told me the reason he enjoyed the church was because he liked the accent of the pastor. Perhaps if more serious thought was given to my question his answer would have been different, but the truth is people use these factors to define their satisfaction with the church and particularly Sunday morning worship.
Your emotional state after worship is not the test of genuine worship. When it comes to worship; forget yourself. When you sing songs of praise are you glorifying God? When you hear the preaching of God’s word are you being “transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Rom 12:3) so that you might worship Him through being sanctified and becoming more like Christ in the way you think? The desire of every Christian should be to locate a church where the worship service fosters an environment which allows us to engage in proper, undistracted worship as God rightly requires.
When the purpose of the Sunday morning service extends beyond this, the church becomes no more relevant then a local country club. Churches which lack a high view of God in worship will eventually be reduced to a place where anything and everything will be used as a means for enticing people to fill the pews, all under the auspices of bringing the gospel to as many people as possible. The worship service will be reduced to a casual, light-hearted gathering with top rated music albums and a short devotional; all carefully choreographed as a professional production, with the idea of making God look attractive to the world. Despite these so called good intentions,
if the church fails to demonstrate a high view of God, it will not matter how many unbelievers in the pews hear the words of the gospel because the glory of God will appear inconsequential and so will the need for a Savior to save us from the penalty of sin.
Unbelievers are incapable of worshiping God as true worshipers, so why are we surprised when they are turned off by the music, by the preaching and by the seemingly boring nature of a worship service? Why would we ever choose to diminish the worship service from God’s level to man’s level in order to please those who are at enmity with God? The cultural shift towards the religion of “no thank you, I’ll pass,” should not lead us down the path of compromising the standard God has established for His own worship. The worship service is not for unbelievers, it is for believers. Unbelievers should be welcomed when they chose to attend, the preacher must compel them to come to Christ and we should certainly pray for them to come to a saving knowledge of Him, but we do not gather for their sake. The purpose of the worship service is to worship God and in the words of Paul, “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ” (Eph 4:12).
Evangelism is not the central role of Sunday morning worship, but rather it is the God ordained role of every Christian who should each week be continually equipped to conduct ministry. When the worship service is centered on Christ, it will point people to Christ, but when it is centered on man, it will point man to himself. Martyn Llyod-Jones once said, “The glory of the gospel is that when the Church is absolutely different from the world, she invariably attracts it.”
When it is social pressure which influences church attendance, it invokes artificial worship, but when church is optional, it reveals the true heart of the individual. When people are attracted to a church because it looks like the world with only a speck of God added, they will lack the gospel, but if they are attracted because of a longing to worship God, they truly understand the gospel. So let us not be surprised when the world rejects what the true worshipers do every Sunday morning and be careful to ensure our worship is headed in the right direction; giving to not receiving from.