A couple of weeks ago, I was in a Sunday School class with the task of teaching a lesson. It ended up being a riot, and I loved it. I spent a few minutes sharing a bit about myself, which provoked more questions with answers, and more questions with answers. The class time ended without the chance for me to even teach the lesson I prepared. And I loved it.
One of the class members knew that I was on the team to oversee the contemporary services at Peachtree so she asked me about the order of service for the contemporary venue. She had recently visited The Summit and it was so distinct from the traditional services at Peachtree. She was curious and wanted some answers.
That short conversation caused me to do some reflection about the order of service that we have and, more importantly, to consider what is the whole reason we gather for contemporary worship, in the first place?
The function of a church within the Western world has changed over the centuries. The church helped the individual worshiper in different ways over these different eras and the particular need for the individual worshiper adapted with the changing of times/eras. At times, the church and the state were so intertwined that it seemed like going to church was “the thing to do” as a citizen of the state and a member of the church, a weekly roll call for the faithful, if you will.
At other times, the church was the center of the town or settlement, so church helped give a frame of reference for the community.
At other times, the church was a place to learn about the faith, both for the person who inherited the Christian faith from his family or the seeker who is on her own quest.
But, what about today? One doesn’t have to go to a church to keep up a right-standing reputation for citizenship. A person doesn’t have to have a church tell him/her what to believe or to explain the intricate details of church teachings. There are plenty of resources out there for a person to discover that on their own. And, there are 1000 ways of connecting to others without a church community.
What could possibly be the ache and need of people in our modern world, then? And, let me clarify, I’m referring to a need that a modern person would be able to articulate without our encumbering “Christianese” and presuppositions that we insist the world needs to care about, whether they know it or not.
There are several good answers to this question, I imagine. One that I am developing is the need to blend the sacred and secular. The Western world has found a way to try to keep sacred places, practices, and ideas separate from secular, common life. This was a bit helpful when the average chit-chat about religion during the Reformation period wasn’t civil or easy. The average intellectual wanted to know if they could inquire about truth without upsetting some cleric or being brought in front of some committee to be questioned and to be threatened by church authorities if they did not agree with the church’s teaching. Maybe for a season it was helpful to keep church talk in churches and other disciplines within other settings.
But, we’ve learned overtime of the damage it does to the human person to try to manage multiple selves. The human person isn’t split into sacred and secular so easily. Hopefully we’ve finally outgrown our insistence of sacred/secular divisions in Western culture. People are looking for portals to transcendence from just about anywhere: from sports, to astrology, to significant others, and to 1000 different things.
The average person feels split, however, because we haven’t developed habits through which we can learn to see that all of life is within God. Perhaps one of the greatest gifts that the church can offer the world is a place of grace where those habits can form and become 2nd nature, or virtues. Perhaps a worship service could help us do just that.
Take the practice of Eucharist, for example. The average serving of Communion for the worshiper isn’t worth much, penniless perhaps; it’s just a piece of bread torn off a loaf with a small cup of grape juice (usually). However, we treat that bread and juice as something all-together sacred, priceless during worship. An objective person, with a lab coat or not, would have to reason that we are out of our minds to treat such material as sacred as we do.
Repeating that practice would help us to consider other common, penniless things (like that Tuesday afternoon budget meeting we always complain about) as something sacred, holy.
Imagine what type of life we’d live if playing with Legos on the floor with our kids, the 5-minute chat with the other soccer mom, the weekly visit with our relative who has Alzheimer’s, the brief interaction with a credit card help desk employee, etc… is not seen as common, mundane, a hassle, or an inconvenience. What if our expectation for each of these (and other experiences) is animated with sacred expectancy because our habits have transformed our reality?
To do this, our modern worship services need to have common/worldly elements smuggled into its sacred time/space so that our worshipers would consider smuggling the sacred elements of corporate worship into their common/worldly space. A delicate and thoughtful blend of all of life, brought under the sacred framework of God’s goodness, so that all of life can be considered good, as well.