What's excellence got to do with Passionate Worship?

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 Last week’s CT Blog entry talked about passionate worship: it isn’t about worship size or style, but it is about encountering God afresh and being challenged to mature as Jesus’ apprentices.  I was discussing this entry with someone yesterday who said, “Don’t you think that excellence plays a big role in passionate worship?”  I’ve been thinking about this and would like to share a couple of ideas that probably need to be more fully developed, but I’ll leave that up to you.

I remember a friend of mine saying once, “God is not glorified by mediocrity!”  He went on to quote Colossians 3:23-24, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as if working for the Lord, not for men . . . It is the Lord Christ you are serving.”  A few verses earlier, the writer says, “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus.”  (vs. 17)   Obviously, excellence honors our Lord more than “good enough.” 

“Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”  The same is true for excellence: it is hard to define, though we know it when we see it – only we don’t always agree. 

If members of our congregation are going to risk their reputation by inviting someone to come to worship with them, they have to feel good about the whole worship experience to which they are inviting persons.  When a regular attender brings someone to worship with them, they do not want to walk up the sidewalk to the sanctuary and realize -- through the eyes of their guest -- that the landscaping looks pretty shabby or that the lobby appears as if the congregation is ready for a garage sale.  If the sound system operator misses the first sentence or two every time a microphone is turned on, the regular worshipper may be cringing beside their guest.   If their guests are made to feel like strangers who have mistakenly shown up at someone else’s family reunion, the church member that invited them may promise themselves, “Never again!”   If the choir sounds like an out-of-tune bagpipe or if the preacher’s sermon seems to wander around aimlessly and never make relevant contact with life in the 21’st century, the regular worshiper next to their guest may find themselves blushing with embarrassment.

Sometimes when the family has been at home together, dirty dishes are sitting in the sink, beds are not fully made, toys and papers are strewed around.  It’s fine for the family just hanging out, but we wouldn’t think of inviting guests over until things were picked up and cleaned up.  Sometimes our church facility or what happens typically at our worship service is fine when the church family is just hanging out, but the level of excellence isn’t high enough and the “cringe factor” isn’t low enough that our church family members feel comfortable inviting someone to come with them.  While that isn’t exactly what Passionate Worship is all about, the lack of excellence certainly impacts people’s overall experience of worship. 

And what if the home folk all feel that their worship is excellent in their eyes, but the people in the community, whom the congregation hopes to reach, do not experience what happens as excellence from their perspective? 

I remember driving home from a Saturday night contemporary service some years ago with my son Kalon who was the pianist on our praise team.  The service was 3 or 4 years old.  We had matured significantly in the quality of our music.  We had become sophisticated in using PowerPoint and video clips.  We had learned to carefully craft the transitions between worship elements.  Because all that I did at the worship service was preach and because the “cringe factor” had gotten so low, I found I was personally able to worship more freely in that service than during the Sunday morning traditional services.  On the way home, I was literally thinking how much I appreciated our jazzy Saturday night service when Kalon spoke up: “Dad, the music on Saturday night is lame.”  Suddenly, I was struck with the fact that the 26 years that separated this dad from his son meant that their perceptions of excellence were different.  One wasn’t right and the other wrong, but they were different.  What drew me in because it seemed excellent to me, certainly wasn’t perceived as excellence by my son’s generation.  It forced me to begin to wonder: “What sort of service would be perceived as excellent by persons in their late teen (and now late twenty’s)?  What sort of worship service because of its perceived excellence would enable his generation of young men and women (and now their families) to learn to worship passionately? 

What about your worship service?  Is its excellence sufficient that your church family members are willing to invite their friends over?  And when their younger friends come, do they perceive the service as excellent and want to come back?  And if not, what does that say about your Radical Hospitality – extending God’s grace to the community and the next generation?

Dr. Jeff Stiggins
Office of Congregational Transportation



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