“But Amy, that’s not worship!” were the words that came from my congregation member’s mouth. It was one of those moments where I wish I hadn’t been in such shock that I could have engaged my mouth to say something in reply. Instead, I just stood there looking at this person with a dumbfounded expression on my face.
A group of us had been talking about different styles of worship. One person said that a really contemporary style of worship – one with guitars and keyboards and the like – just didn’t satisfy him. Another person said that different styles of music and worship services appeals to a lot of people and he mentioned a southern gospel group that occasionally stops and performs at my church. It was at this point when the words above were spoken, suggesting that a concert performed by this group is not a form of worship.
I wonder if there has been a topic argued about more within church walls than this one: What defines worship. Dictionary.com defines worship as “reverent honor and homage paid to God or a sacred personage, or to any object regarded as sacred.” Webster defines it as “a service or rite showing reverence for a deity.” But these definitions don’t help solve the problem.
I tend to define worship as “having an experience with God.” It’s a time for those of us who call ourselves sons and daughters of God to come before the Creator of the universe to give thanks for everything that we have and all that we are. It’s a time for us to lay our empty vessels before God in order that they can be replenished so that we may go out and share God’s love with the world. It’s a time for us to connect with God.
For some of us, this means having “high church” with clergy, wearing vestments, leading the congregation in liturgies, a choir singing and a pipe organ playing. For others, this means a more casual atmosphere with the clergy wearing street clothes while a band of guitars, keyboards and drums plays in the background. Is one of these styles a more right – a more correct – way to worship? Who am I to say if how a person experiences God is right or wrong?
What I do believe to be wrong is this: People who believe that their way of worship is the only way to worship. Why can we not see that there is a multitude of ways to experience and worship God? The God I worship is not so minuscule that only one way of worship is acceptable. If one’s worship is heartfelt, then God is worshipped – no matter what the style or setting.
We can see the results of the insistence of what worship is or isn’t. “That’s not worship” is seen in the decline of United Methodist – and other mainline denomination – churches for the last 40+ years. “That’s not worship” has resulted in a smaller number of young people in our pews. “That’s not worship” will be our downfall!
So while one particular style of worship may not be right for us, it doesn’t mean that style is nullified in the eyes of another person – or in God’s eyes. We can’t go around defining worship for anybody else except us because in doing so, we could be keeping someone from having an experience with God. I know I don’t want that hanging over my head. Do you?