Pastor and author Francis Chan told a story about a parishioner who came up to him after worship and said, “I didn’t like today’s worship that much.”
His response? “Well, it’s a good thing we weren’t worshiping you today.”
Is this funny? Yes. Was his response appropriate? That depends on who you ask, but for me... also “yes.” And I think there is truth in his response.
Too many times, we make worship about us — what we like; what we prefer; what we want. And then we complain when it’s not what we prefer.
And as a church, we perpetuate the consumption of church. We sometimes cater to the complaints. We offer things that we think people would like in hopes that they will not only stick around, but keep coming back for more. And when we don’t check our mission, we end up becoming a preference-driven church rather than a purpose-driven church. We end up working on making sure people like our church and the things that we are doing rather than focusing on our call to love our neighbor (and our community).
What does worship accomplish?
For me, worship is, essentially, putting God back into the center of the universe and re-prioritizing my life so that God is first. Which is, admittedly, something that my life needs on a regular basis since I like to be in control. I like to things to happen according to my plan; my timeline; my will. If I go unchecked, I start behaving like I’m the center of the universe; that I am in charge; that I am god — like the world will fall apart without me.
But worship breaks that line of thinking--that self-centering route of life. Worship reminds me that God is God and I am not.
While there may be tension in acknowledging that God is in charge — there’s also tremendous freedom in that. In the big scheme of things, I am nothing but a speck of dust. The world existed long before me and the world will exist long after me. This re-centering that worship provides reminds me of who I am and whose I am.
How that re-centering is done, implemented or practiced, that can be preference-based. But does it matter how we worship as long as God is being worshipped? As long as we de-center ourselves from our universe?
I’d argue that worship doesn’t necessarily (always) have to take place within a church building. I’m often reminded how small I am and how great God is on walks with my family. I often feel a bigger presence that surrounds me when I’m skateboarding through the neighborhood. I’m reminded that I am not the Creator when I’m confronted with the majestic sunset that lights up the Texas skies.
The crazy thing is, we can (and often do) encounter God outside of the church building. The church does not (and never can) monopolize God’s presence.
Is it all about God and me?
However, I don’t believe worship is a solitary practice. Going the route of just God and myself will lead to an incomplete faith journey. Because, as I mentioned above, it’s never about me. Secondly, it’s not just about me and God.
It’s always about God, you, and me.
How I love my neighbor directly relates to how I love God. And vice versa. So it is imperative that we engage in communal, corporate worship with others. When we gather together, it always reminds us that we (all) belong in the kin-dom of God. You are my kin. I am yours. We are bound by God’s love for us and for love of one another.
Sure, we may wildly differ when it comes to our opinions; our world view; our ideology; our theology; how one should “do” church… whatever. But we are united by the love and grace of God that permeates our gathering.
We are here. Together. In God’s name. And we celebrate that.
And we participate in rituals like the Eucharist to continuously and deeply reminded of the love God has for us and the call to love one another.
An Evangelical colleague once asked me how come we never have altar calls like he does in his church on a regular basis. I simply responded with, “Of course we have one. Every Sunday.” Our “altar call” is the invitation to the Eucharist.
Week in and week out, I invite people to forward to Christ’s table and to receive the holy sacrament of communion to be reminded — to remember — that we are here; that God is here; that all are welcomed; that all are celebrated; that all are loved. As Pope Francis once said, “Communion is not the grand prize for the perfect person, but for the hungry one. We’re all hungry.”
And as we celebrate the Eucharist together, we recognize that hunger in all of us; that everyone has a place at Christ’s table because we’re all hungry.
Gathering in God’s name in worship and receiving communion always de-centers me and brings God back into the center of my life, where God rightfully belongs. I am reminded of the love God has for me and the invitation to embody that love to my neighbor.
Joseph Yoo is a West Coaster at heart contently living in Houston, Texas with his wife and son. He serves at Mosaic Church in Houston. Find more of his writing at josephyoo.com.