As I’m writing this, I’m still recovering from a stomach virus that swept through my family, and several other church folks this week, including our lead pastor.
It’s been about four years since illness last put me out of commission on a Saturday night, and I had (thankfully, I guess) forgotten what it’s like to do the Saturday scramble to get the fill-in worship leader and band all set up. But as I reflected at home while the church service went on without me, I was thankful for the reminder that God doesn’t really need me to make worship happen—God builds and provides for His church with exactly the right people to serve when and where they’re needed. Our human efforts can’t compete with God’s own care for His church, and yesterday my faithful friends and brothers and sisters in Christ covered preaching and music just fine.
Sometimes we need to fight the mindset in our churches that all is lost or wasted when our plans are derailed by illness, accident, or other unexpected events. All is not wasted, and often God means to work greater good by derailing our plans. Over the years, I’ve seen three different mindsets revealed when our plans go kaput, and these appear often in my own heart. See how often any of the following three have been true of your attitude toward the worship gathering.
1. The Critic
Often we show up to church with very staunch, grand ideas of how we expect to be led or “inspired” to worship God. Or we have grand ideas of how God will be most glorified in this time of corporate worship and are peeved on behalf of God when things go awry. The tendency is to cast a judgmental eye on the worship time, on the preacher, on the worship leader, on the reader of Scripture, or whoever, and see them as not doing their best. Or worse yet, we see the worship time as a waste and not pleasing to God because something went a little rough. The critical mindset often judges something that happened (or didn’t happen smoothly) based on what they think someone else might be thinking (a visitor perhaps). Critiques are often founded on good, true things, but the critical mindset fails because it doesn’t connect everything to the bigger picture of what God really does value, and what He means to accomplish with a gathered church.
2. The Consumer
When I’ve seen a consumeristic mindset crop up, it’s usually not quite as upset by anything that happens. But the evaluation of success from a worship consumer is usually based on the wrong things: preferences and feelings. In our humanness, we feel the best about things that appeal to our emotions in the right ways and when they make us feel comfortable. When we don’t feel these ways, we often check out or don’t feel invested. But preferences differ so much from one person to the next that they will never be fully satisfied for any group of people in any one church. Often the bigger problem with the consumer mindset is that a consumer doesn’t see him/herself as a participant, but only as an observer, much like someone who has bought a ticket to a concert or a game, expecting see something enjoyable. When we’re not pleased, we start thinking of all the other places we’d rather be, where “the real fun” is happening.
3. The Participant
The “Participant” mindset is, I think, what we need to fight for. God never speaks of His gathered church in the New Testament as a group of critics or consumers, but as participants in the family of God. Every single person who shows up, if they are regenerate believers in Christ, have been given gifts by the Holy Spirit and are expected to use them, always, for edification. When we sing, we are commanded to sing together and “to one another” (Eph. 5:19). We care for one another, suffer, and rejoice with one another (1 Cor. 12:24-26). We are all, always, called to be participants. When every worshiper sees themselves as necessary to the gathering, that we’re all in it together, and that the gathering is much, much bigger than whoever is leading from the stage, everything changes. We find joy in the right things and can push through the rough and unexpected, because God is using us all to edify one another and help one another hold fast to Christ another week.
And this is why I was so encouraged yesterday and so thankful to be a part of a church where God takes us unexpected places sometimes—filling the gaps in good, gracious ways when our own plans, that seemed so wise, are derailed. Let’s fight to be participants every week and to be thankful for how God provides leadership and gifting in the right people, at the right times, in the clutch ways that He sees fit.
Josh Starkey is director of corporate worship at Grace Brethren Church in Simi Valley, CA. He and his wife, Jenny, have three small kids, and have been part of their church family for over 10 years. Josh blogs at My Borrowed Words. You can follow him on twitter @joshuastarkey.