Worship in the contemporary church has become burdened by an increasing number of demands and expectations.
People come to worship expecting teaching, enjoyment, and power to live. But in addition to this list which reflects Augustine’s description of sermons–teaching, desire, and persuasion, people also come seeking connections, both with God and with others. In worship, fellowship is experienced and enhanced. The modern church has responded with celebration, praise, and a wide variety of entertainment media including drama, videos, and presentation music. Yet many know that something is still missing.
Robert Webber, professor emeritus at Wheaton and author of several books concerning worship, wrote about the missing dynamic in his book, The Younger Evangelicals. In the midst of orthodox teaching and standardized and simplified presentations of the shape of faith, many in today’s world, especially those of the younger generation, find that what is missing is the mystery of God. James White’s more recent Embracing the Mysterious God and Karen Mains’ The God Hunt are affirmations of the mystery of God in our world.
We must rethink church as we understand that the presence of God in the lives of the first-century church wasn’t centered in a weekly service
While some might label this as rebellion against the worship traditions of previous generations, Webber, along with Jennifer McKinney, professor of the sociology of religion at Seattle Pacific University, identifies this as a search for meaning, relevance, and reality.
For almost ten years now significant numbers of the “youth generation” have not been drawn to the “seeker” services that continue to draw baby boomers. One should ask “why?” Why the difference? One difference is that the boomers grew up knowing the general shape of religion and chose to follow others paths. Many of the baby boomer generation are simply “coming home” to that which they knew before. Simplified messages and easy applications appeal to those with former ties to Christianity. On the other hand, the youth generation has grown up in a pluralistic world and been exposed to other religions in which mystery is a significant dimension.
The fact of this “emergent church,” as it is now described, is clear. A spring 2003 “emergent convention” in San Diego drew 1200. Dan Kimball, a Santa Cruz, California minister, has identified in our society a dislike for scripted services and musical shows–at least among the youth generation. People still want to know and experience the presence of God. (See my article, “Worship Thoughts”.)
While some might label this as rebellion against the worship traditions of previous generations, this as a search for meaning, relevance, and reality.
In our continuing search for a style of worship that will appeal to the un-churched in our society, perhaps we should add this dynamic to our list: a sense of the supernatural. Where is the mystery? Where is the sense of the transcendent? Where is the sense of something bigger than we are, something we cannot finally see and touch and feel? Where is a genuine call to faith?
Some of the practices in the “emergent church” may seem strange to us as we consider Scripture. That is not reason to “throw out the baby with the bath water.” Perhaps we should ask what we can learn about the mystery of sharing the communion meal, continuing faith in a long Christian heritage, and expressing our humility in body postures almost unknown among us today(kneeling, standing at attention during communion, hands open to God, etc.).
As Mains suggests in The God Hunt, ultimately we must ask how we can see God everywhere about us. We must rethink church as we understand that the presence of God in the lives of the first-century church wasn’t centered in a weekly service. They were a daily community of believers, continually aware of God’s transcendent presence, thereby challenged to live life by the transcendent principles of reality.
I conclude by repeating a haunting observation. It is based on the remark of a young Michigan State student who attended our services with a friend. After worship concluded and I was greeting people at the door as they left, I spoke to this young lady and asked, “How did you like our services?” Her response still echoes. “I was kinda hoping God would be here today. I was looking for a church where God is present.” The question remains each week for us, “Is God present?” When you worship Sunday, will God be there? As we humbly consider our own undoneness, the wonder of the body of Christ united in its frailty, and the presence of God among us despite our sinfulness, let us recommit to declaring the good news of God’s presence in our lives in such a way that those who come among us will say, “God is really among you” (1 Cor. 14:25).