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Posts Tagged ‘the relevance of Christian worship’

Something didn’t happen at the last two Sunday services I attended … at two different churches … and it’s been bothering me … a lot.

Neither church made any mention of the flooding caused by Hurricane Harvey in the wider Houston area, even though it’s been the top story in our nation for many days.

The crisis wasn’t mentioned in any prayer … during the announcements … or in either sermon.

And I wondered, “Why not?”

I’ve been noticing a trend in churches that greatly disturbs me … the ability we Christians have to block out what’s going on in the world around us … both during our services and our sermons.

I’m increasingly seeing churches … and pastors … who act like the entire world is encapsulated inside their congregation.

And personally, I think this makes us look foolish.

The trend is for pastors to designate the first half of their services to their worship/music director … who usually insists that the only way to worship God is to have the congregation stand and sing for at least thirty minutes.

Whatever happened to a meaningful public prayer … a heartfelt performance song … or interviews/testimonies involving people from the congregation?

They’ve disappeared … and I wonder why.

In my last two pastorates, I met every Monday night with the teams that planned our Sunday services.  It gave me the opportunity to present where I was going with the following Sunday’s sermon … solicit ideas from others … and make sure the services were characterized by CARE: creativity, authenticity, relevance, and excellence.

But in their place, we now have a half hour of non-creative, often inauthentic, and largely irrelevant songs done in an excellent manner.

I guess if a church is trying to shut out and separate itself from the world … and give people a weekly foretaste of heaven … that’s okay.

But I don’t think most churches that do that are going to reach very many people.

Many years ago, my wife and I were in Edinburgh on a Sunday morning, and we attended a Church of Scotland service.

We met in a darkened room with a minimal amount of light.

We sang psalms without any musical instruments.

The pastor preached on Mark 9:14-32, the story about Jesus casting out a demon from a little boy.  His exposition was top-notch … but he didn’t offer even one story or apply the message to our lives in any way.

Maybe that’s why I counted only 32 people in that service.

But that kind of irrelevance isn’t just found in somebody else’s culture … it’s in ours as well.

Several years ago, I was invited to attend a planning meeting with a pastor and a few of his key leaders.

I made an offhand comment about dealing with the issues of the day from a biblical viewpoint, and received pushback from everyone present, which startled me.

The upshot was, “We don’t talk about cultural issues in this church.  We don’t mention anything that might be controversial.  We leave those issues at home.  We’re only going to talk about our relationship with God and our relationship with each other.”

I countered by saying, “I believe that Jesus is Lord of our entire lives, and that means we need to relate His Lordship to what’s going on around us: in our homes, our neighborhoods, our workplaces, our schools, and our country.”

But my plea fell on deaf ears.

John Stott is the closest we evangelicals have had to a pope over the past fifty years.  In his book on preaching titled Between Two Worlds, Stott recounts a conversation he once had with two university students in Great Britain.  Both students had been raised in a traditional Christian home, but had renounced their parents’ faith and their own upbringing.

One was an atheist, the other a self-proclaimed agnostic.

Stott asked them, “What had happened?  Was it that they no longer believed Christianity to be true?”

They replied, “No, that’s not our problem.  We’re not really interested to know whether Christianity is true…. What we want to know is not whether Christianity is true, but whether it’s relevant.  And frankly, we don’t see how it can be.”

Charles Spurgeon once said: “I know a minister who is great upon the ten toes of the beast, the four faces of the cherubim, the mystical meaning of badgers’ skins, and the typical bearings of the staves of the ark, and the windows of Solomon’s temple: but the sins of business men, the temptations of the times, and the needs of the age, he scarcely ever touches upon.”

In other words, he was totally irrelevant.

One might think that only small churches lack relevance, but that isn’t always the case.

I visited the largest church in my city several times a few years ago.  The pastor was preaching through Ephesians, and when he got to 5:22-33 … Paul’s passage on marriage … the pastor gave a solid exposition but failed to say anything about gay marriage even though it was the hottest topic in the land at the time.

Why couldn’t he at least say, “Moses … Jesus … and Paul all agree that God ordained marriage to be between a man and a woman?”

Instead, why did he punt on that issue?

Some might counter with, “He’s not going to change anyone’s mind on an issue like that.”

But why preach at all then?  Isn’t that what a preacher is supposed to do … change minds and hearts using God’s Word?  How limited do we think the Holy Spirit is?

John Stott … who wrote two entire books devoted to contemporary issues in the 1980s (including gay partnerships) … writes to preachers:

“On the whole, if I may generalize, we do not make sufficient demands on the congregation.  When they come to church, they have heard it all before.  They have known it since they were in junior Sunday School.  It is stale, boring and irrelevant.  It fails to ‘grab’ or excite them.  They can scarcely stifle their yawns.  They come with their problems, and they leave with their problems.  The sermon has not spoken to their need.”

I am not advocating that pastors comment on The Issue of the Week like many liberals do … but I am saying that we need to do a much better job of dealing with the issues that are on our people’s frontal lobes.

Pastor Bill Hybels once said something like this: “What’s on everyone’s minds?  Sex!  But what do we talk about?  Some obscure passage from Isaiah.”

(Which reminds me … over the past few years, as I’ve visited scores of churches, I can hardly remember any sermon that even mentioned sex.)

One of my favorite preachers, Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, wrote that “the business of preaching is to relate the teaching of the Scriptures to what is happening in our own day.”

He was a biblical expositor par excellence … and usually preached to packed congregations.

Listen again to John Stott:

“My plea is that we treat them as real people with real questions; that we grapple in our sermons with real issues; and that we build bridges into the real world in which they live and love, work and play, laugh and weep, struggle and suffer, grow old and die.  We have to provoke them to think about their life in all its moods, to challenge them and to make Jesus Christ the Lord of every area of it, and to demonstrate his contemporary relevance.”

When was the last time your church mentioned issues that people are talking about like North Korea … sexual boundaries … marijuana use … divorce (even among Christians) … or how Christians should respond to our unorthodox president?

Just wondering.

For eighteen months, my wife and I attended a church in Peoria, Arizona called Christ’s Church of the Valley.

Pastor Don Wilson … the church’s founder … told the following story several times in his sermons.

He said that during World War 2, there was a church located next to a railroad track.  Sometimes, a train loaded with Jewish people on their way to a concentration camp went right by the church during Sunday morning worship.

As the train passed by, the cries of those who were incarcerated could be heard by those who attended that church.

Because those cries were so distressing, the congregation came up with a way to ignore them.

They decided to sing louder.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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