Walking a Fine Line1
Walking A Fine Line:
One of my all time favorite college classes was "Medieval Thought". Sadly, it was the only philosophy class that I took at North Park. It was the most demanding class I have ever taken and it changed my life. Over the course of that semester we studied two of Christendoms most influential theologians, Saint Augustine and Saint Thomas Aquinas. One word that kept bubbling to the surfacing was MODERATION.
There were a lot of big, flowery, philosophical terms that surrounded the topic. Thankfully I was able to dumb it down to a word that everybody can understand and relate to...including me! BALANCE.
Finding balance is one thing that I am consistently seeking in my own life. The right amount of work and rest, satisfaction and hunger, truth and grace, faith and reason, time alone and time with people, etc.
Admittedly, one of the struggles in worship ministry revolves around finding a balance.
Singing new songs/Singing familiar songs
Acoustic set/Full band
Fast songs/Slow songs
Modern media/Ancient liturgy
Language that is personal "I & Me"/Language that is corporate "Us & We"
As the dominant culture holds fast to the pervading message that "You are what's most important", we as the church echo back proclaiming "God is what's most important". The rampant individualism that accompanies our consumer culture finds it's way within our churches too. If we are going to be a healthy church I believe it is vitally important for us to recognize that we are all prone to focus on our need, our desires, our wants; essentially...ourselves.
The trend in churches today continues toward comfy individual seats vs. pews (to which I say amen!), stages brightly lit in dim rooms, and the volume of the band, often loud enough to sing and not be heard. All of these elements are calculated to remove barriers and allow freedom in corporate worship. While attempting to create an environment which fosters personal connection with our Creator, we forget the importance of congregation and often reinforce this individualist attitude we seek to avoid. let us also be aware of the implicit side effects that come when we allow individuals to fade into the background.
What might we be giving up, in order to gain?
Are there times we choke the community out of our corporate worship gatherings in order to appease the individual in all of us?
I recently read an excerpt of an article by Tony Campolo called
"Why the Church Is Important-The institutional church is for every believer." I believe Campolo seeks to address these issue here:
“Some claim that they can worship alone, and I do not question their claims. Indeed, those who cannot be alone with God are not fit for community. But the positive experience of worshipping alone does not contradict my argument that something different happens when Christians come together in corporate worship. The sociologist Emile Durkheim recognized that at such a gathering a unique feeling of oneness often emerges—he called it “collective effervescence.” He meant that there is some kind of shared emotion and psychic power that can be experienced only in communal worship. It doesn’t always happen, but when it does, those who share in this ecstasy keep coming back for more.
...In spite of all of its flaws and shortcomings, it is the “earthen vessel” that can serve as a home for sacred happenings and the special fellowship that the Greek New Testament calls koinonia.
At Eastern University, where I teach sociology, we have weekly chapel services. Attendance is voluntary, but students have been showing up in such large numbers over the past few years that we have had to move our weekly worship services from the school chapel to the gym. It’s not the speakers that draw the crowds, but the worship. These worship services feature 'praise music.' As an old guy, I have difficulties with this new praise/worship music, but the students love it. I see them with their hands lifted up and tears running down their cheeks as they sing love songs to God, and I realize that they are experiencing God in a way that transports them from the gym bleachers into a mystical community of holiness. I become aware of that collective effervescence wherein God’s presence becomes uniquely real. There and then, I am grateful for the corporate worship that makes such things possible.”
This bend toward individualism is an ongoing battle within every church, including ours. Are we going through the motions of "doing church" or are we committed to actively "be the body of Christ"? Do we forgo opportunities to be involved and serve? Do we have a tendency toward personal comfort and convenience or a commitment to foster authentic Christian community? Do our worship times cater to personal preference or seek to edify the whole body?
I would like to invite you on this journey because I don't believe that this is a problem that necessarily needs to be solved, rather a tension that needs to be managed. Let us be aware of our individual responsibility as a part within the body of Christ. Let us seek to be moderate people and find that balance.
To God be the glory!