The roof of the modern 1960s A-frame church where I was baptized looked like Dopey’s ears coming down to the ground. One Sunday I remember being startled by what sounded like a heavy rain, which was strange, since the weather outside was perfect. After more pounding and shuffling, the gathered congregation soon realized that something was amiss, and my mother and father gave each other that look, followed by my father’s quick exit from the sanctuary. The noise was my brothers and their friend playing tag, or something like that, on the roof! Granted, I was too small at the time to join in, but that was a good thing, since I was spared the punishment that was to come.
Worship in our family was something we did. It came first, and if we were to miss a week, we needed a good excuse. As a child, this was a good thing, because it instilled the importance of the church community and created a focus for my life. That being said, worship is one of those things that I find incredibly important, yet incredibly frustrating at times.
It is a constant struggle in almost every church to make worship inviting to children, and sometimes adults. As a child, I rarely related to the sermon, and the bulletin served two functions: a check list marking down how long it was until the service was over, and a doodle pad. Through college, I still went to church, even during the two years before I started to work for one. Somewhere inside of me, I knew that worship was and is a central part of life, but it was hard at times to make it click. Then I was given the opportunity to preach, and my worshipping world changed forever.
I often joke that I had to become a pastor because I could never sit through a worship service. Having preached through the lectionary so many times and having planned thousands of worship services, I have come to realize that my experience of God has a lot to do with my active participation in worship, especially in preaching.
However, as a pastor I am constantly concerned with how worshipful worship actually is to those who are gathered. Is the time a sacred time? Is it a time where people are meeting or seeing God? Is it time were people are having a spiritual experience?
Yes, it is good to experience God in worship through sitting in the service, listening to my sermons, but I often wonder if that really holds up to the test of worship. Are we building up the body if our focus is merely on the word received? In Ephesians 4:11-12, Paul writes:
“The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.”
For me, worship is the place where I commune with God as I am actively participating in worship through the sermon. But worship is also happening as I experience other faithful people. So I wonder what difference it would make to have more people involved in worship. How might we better equip our small body to be stronger in faith by members standing up and sharing their faith? How different would it be if members wrote their stories for the newsletter? Most importantly, how might we engage others to grow in their faith, making worship more meaningful? Let’s spend time this summer exploring ways to make faith a priority, and ask how church can be a central tool for that to happen.
Rev. Dr. Bryan James Franzen