I’ve decided that the Christian Church is responsible for most of what is going wrong in our world. I’ve been thinking about it for a long time and it’s the only conclusion the evidence (admittedly all anecdotal) will let me arrive at.
In particular it’s the public corporate worship events that the Church offers week after week that are to blame. Church services. These are the events that we depend on for the spiritual formation of the Christians in every church community.
There is no other event that shapes followers of Jesus more than the weekly worship event. Been doing so for centuries. Following Jesus has always been worked out in community (give or take a few pole-sitters and desert-cave dwellers).
Worship events form people
Worship events (I will use the term to describe any public, corporate worship gathering regardless of style or theology) ALWAYS form people. From what I am observing happening in New Zealand and around the world lately, that formation is producing large numbers of so-called followers of Jesus who give no indication they have the faintest idea about what that means.
To act like Jesus
World Vision New Zealand recently sent out a call for a cease-fire in Gaza. It included words from the Kiwi Christian who heads up World Vision’s work in Jerusalem, and West Bank. (Note JERUSALEM and West Bank). The torrent of “hate mail” has been deeply disturbing to me. Christians withdrawing their support of children living in extreme poverty in other parts of the world because the supporter perceives WVNZ to be preferring suffering Palestinians rather than favouring “God’s chosen people”.
Veteran radio DJ and announcer Simon Barnett says the harshest criticism he has received in his career has been from Christians.
Rates of partner abuse are reported to be running at the same levels inside and outside the Church.
Responses like these convince me that the Church has been very successful in forming people through its worship, but sadly not forming people to think or act much like Jesus.
Desiring the Kingdom of God
In his solid but enlightening book Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation Jamie Smith aligns many worship events with consumerist trips to the shopping mall – providers of experiences that reinforce rather than challenge the dominant cultural values.
Worship events that claim to be Christian must be forming the hearts and desires of their community after the Kingdom of God. (Read that sentence again to save me repeating it.)
What is the Kingdom of God?
Our preparations for worship and preaching and prayer should be taken very seriously, much more seriously than currently in most churches. We need to be confident that everything we do and say in a worship event is working together to form people’s hearts and desires to align with the values of the coming Kingdom of God that Jesus modeled for us a few years back.
As I understand it, Christians and the Church (made up of churches) are called to model here and now what the Kingdom will be like when all of life is finally caught up and transformed as part of a new heaven and a new earth.
This Kingdom where there will be no bullying, no violence, no hatred, no abuse, no sickness, no poverty, no prejudice, no rape of people or the environment, no greed, no injustice, no unforgiveness.
This Kingdom that has been modeled and signposted by followers of Jesus living the best they can in the old unredeemed world.
What is worship?
Because we don’t take the design (curating) of our worship events seriously enough we get what we plan for. GIGO used to be a familiar term in computing – garbage in, garbage out.
To help me in my curating worship that is more deliberate about how it is forming worshippers I’ve developed a couple of basic definitions that I work from and measure my planning and curating against:
“The church exists to sustain people in their following of Christ in the world.”
Anything else is non-core business. Not wrong, but not essential.
“Worship is the practices of a people in response to the Trinitarian community of God, engaging heart, soul, mind and strength.”
If our worship events don’t equip people with practices to sustain their spirituality outside of Sunday mornings, we have failed them.Mark unpacks these definitions in Chapter 2 of his book The Art of Curating Worship: Reshaping the Role of Worship Leader, which is available online through the Amazon Kindle Store for $9.99. The James Smith book Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation is $12.24. Click on the covers below to purchase.
Image: Kid on Gaza beach by Kashfi Halford on flickr.com, Creative Commons. Insert: Mark Pierson.