Doors Into Worship

One of the most insidious errors we must avoid in church is the worship of worship.

In the contemporary church, music has come to be seen as synonymous with worship.

The problem with this then is that we find it so easy to worship the music rather than worship through music.

I was reading a blog article by a pastor in another part of the country who was lamenting the fact that his key musician was moving on to another church. He was seeing a loss which opens up an opportunity to bring other less tlaented musicians into the team. I'm seeing someone who has failed to realise that he never had the heart of someone who had a key role in his church.

Music is a like a glass doorway that can lead us out of the concerns of the physical world and into the  awesome presence of God. In the same way that seeing a beautiful view invites us to step out into the landscape, music in church is meant to invite us to step outside of ourselves and into the adoration of God.

The trouble is that, as in all fields of human endeavour, we can so easily miss the point of what we are doing.

If we focus on the music- the style, the "tightness" of the band, whether we sing it in C or D, when to repeat the chorus, the mechanics of producing the sounds- then we remain inside the room admiring the door instead of stepping through the door.

The difficulty with this is that the people who lead the music in church are generally people who are musically capable and who are rightly concerned with these things. But their concern to get the sound "right" is often far beyond what is needed to get the job done for the majority of people in the church who would be hard pressed to tell the difference between a D7 chord and a D maj 7. Of course the musicians who are tuned to such things shudder when the wrong chord is struck, but most of us really don't notice that much.

So the church is led into this cycle of admiring the door, rather than going out through it.

Of course other traditions have other doors through which they enter into the presence of God.

For Catholics and other liturgical churches the sacraments are the principal means of experiencing God. In those traditions getting the words right and the actions correct are of the utmost importance.Only the most qualified person ever gets to say those words- you can't have just anybody take part because well they might not get it quite right and it wouldn't sound right, and people might not be able to worship  (sound familiar anyone?)

In an earlier age, in the Protestant tradition (perhaps not so long ago), it was the preaching of the word that was the doorway. The correct sermon with the right words would change lives. The sermon "Sinners In The Hands of an Angry God" was preached by Jonathan Edwards. He spoke in a thin, reedy voice and hunched over the pulpit, he read a manuscript word for word. He told those who began to sob to shut up as they were distracting the others. This sermon launched one of the greatest revivals in the USA which saw thousands of people coming to the Lord. Strangely enough Edwards would have failed any preaching class.

In churches that maintain the tradition of the sermon being THE doorway, lay preachers are closely supervised and not just anybody is allowed to preach.

Reading the word, llectio divina, in which the Scriptures are slowly digested, meditated on and prayed over, is another doorway.

The arts such as painting, dance, photography, sculpting, poetry, drama, film and story can all lead us into the presence of God. They are all doorways which invite us to step outside.

There are so many ways in which our ever-present God invites us to experience His presence, and I'm sure there are many more that I haven't even mentioned.

If this is the case, why do we obsess over just the one doorway?

How can we go looking for those other doorways?

In the Narnia series, the doorway was in the back of a wardrobe in a disused room.

Perhaps it's time to find the wardrobes that the church has ignored for too long!

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3 thoughts on “Doors Into Worship

  1. Perhaps the issue is that music is NOT a transparent, glass door. If it were, then as soon as any music starts, regardless of what it is or how it's presented, everyone would just see through it anyway; they would see God, his heart, his actions past and present, his will for the present and future.I'd say the same applies to preaching and other doors you mentioned above.Giving too much attention to the door's appearance could well lead to people admiring the door and forgetting to open it and go through.On the other hand, you could have a door that looks like it goes nowhere. Or perhaps it looks like it's seized in place. It might appear to not even be installed in a doorway, but just sitting against the wall because, well, everyone has a door. Who would think to look behind it? Who would even touch it? It might fall on you!It took me years to realise a lot of people have less musical sense than I do (though I'm a long way from the top of the scale). Things that I find unavoidably distracting and irritating, some people recognise but can readily ignore, and other people don't notice in the first place. It's a difference I can observe, so have a hope of understanding.When someone has less-than-average musical sense, they can't see what it is that's different. This was well illustrated in auditions for the first few series of "Idol" and "So you think you can dance"; there were some contestants whose efforts were so unmusical they could be described as "offensive" to listen to or watch. You could see the judges' discomfort on their faces. These were often the same contestants who were offended at failing the audition, and described the judges as "clueless".(The novelty of bad performances seems to have worn off, and "So you think you can dance" doesn't make such a feature of them now.)Back to the door. It stands as an invitation to open, look through, and walk through. We can make the door beautiful, and risk distracting people. We can just whack it up, letting it look like useless junk, or even unsafe, and thereby put a stumbling block in people's path. Somewhere between, maybe it'll look inviting, hinting at what lies beyond. How and why we use music, and other arts, and the effects of artistic expression, comprise a bigger topic, and remains subject to the notion that "beauty is in the eye of the beholder". In the end, no matter what the door looks like there will remain some people who are offended or scared off, some who are impressed and distracted, some who just see the door exists, and some who see a rectangular discontinuity in the wall and ignore it. Hopefully there will be some that are willing to open. If they visibly go somewhere good, others are likely to follow.

  2. There is a sense in which the door functions like a frame around a picture. We've noticed with our new fish tank that the fish look "happier", "more complete" in the new tank- and it's largely to do with the framing effect of the tank stand. It's all illusion and it's all nonsense of course, but you do get the feeling of a window into another world. The previous tank, with no frame, was obviously a construct for containing fish.In the same way the thing that we do on Sundays (usually) is also an illusion and a nonsense which frames a window into another world.All of those things which I mentioned, including music, are part of the frame inviting us to step into that other world.In a sense music, spoken words, visual arts etc. all perform a very different role in worship to what they do in the rest of the world. I turn on a CD to listen to music for its own sake. I download a science podcast or read a book for information.But in church, I do these same actions and engage the same senses to ignore the music and the speaker to go deeper into the heart of God. In that sense it is the attitude, the passion, the worship of the leaders which is far more important than the quality of the music or the sermon. (I'm talking about the genuine heart not a style of feigned passion or oratory).That's even before we take into effect the interplay of God's Spirit with the worshippers. I've been in services where I've heard trumpets and there was no trumpeter, but I've seen a hint of angels. I've been in services where the music was way beyond the ability of any of the musicians. That bit's called grace.Where I'm going with all of this, I think, is that everyone in worship teams- musician, worship leader, backing singer, sound guy, projectionist, preacher- has to be lost in the wonder of God before we even start.I remember Geoff Bullock saying years ago that a musician or singer who is self-conscious shouldn't be on the worship team- because your consciousness has to be on God not on self.I wish I could pull all of these glimpses of an idea into a coherent thread, and then find the words to express it all. At the moment I feel like I'll know it when I see it, but I don't yet have the words to describe what it looks like.Maybe one day….

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