I’m no expert on the Evangelical scene, but from my anecdotal experience and from conversations I’ve had with family members and friends, I’m going to offer some observations on typical evangelical church services.
In this post, I’m going to focus on what happens in general, or, more specifically, what’s missing.
First, if you took notes of the elements of the kind of service I'm thinking about, you'd find very little in terms of historic Christian content. Call to worship, Scripture reading, pastoral prayer, a benediction (let alone a time for confession or silent prayer) are scarce if not missing entirely.
What goes out the window with this pared-down order is any sense that God has anything to say to the congregation. Even in good churches (if I am honest, sometimes even our church), a real sense of transcendence is sorely lacking. Do people leave with a sense that they have met with the One True Holy God?
I did not grow up in a liturgical tradition, but every church has an order of service – a liturgy, if you will. We continue to call the Sunday morning service a worship service, but if you ask the typical worshipper about their experience, he or she would identify the singing time as worship. I don’ t blame them. If there are not significant prayers, Scripture passages read or Christ-centered biblical preaching, then why would the people think that worship is what the whole service is designed for? More than that, why would people think that all of life is to be worship if they are not even taught how to worship at church?
Worship is a response to the worth and work of God. If the revelation of God is not the priority of the service, then real worship will not take place. Worship begins with what God does, and it continues in the truth, grace and power that God provides in the gospel.
In one church service that I attended with my family, there was an earnest attempt at cheerleading from the music leader and the pastor, but the people seemed bored and disengaged. God was not on display. His Word was treated lightly (at least there was some Scripture in this service), the songs were man-centered and the prayers were sparse. Why the boredom? There is only so much enthusiasm people can work up for hearing about, singing about and thinking about themselves.
The philosophy of many of these churches is driven by a seeker-sensitive mandate: don’t make the visitor uncomfortable. Several years ago, I read an article by Dr. Michael Horton in Modern Reformation magazine entitled, Seekers or Tourists?: Or the Difference Between Pilgrimage and Vacation. The church growth gurus don’t have a category for tourists, but they should. Christian worship services should be designed for the pilgrims and the true seekers – the ones that are being convicted and called by God in and through the gospel. It is as the cross of Christ and the glory of our Redeemer is lifted up that God will draw people to Himself.
What is lacking so often in our services is a sense of weight, gravity, seriousness – in short, a consciousness of and exaltation in the glory of God. We must get back to the basics, but first, we have to repent of our shallow individualism and rediscover what God values in Christian worship services.
What are these elements? I’ve mentioned some of them in this post, but I’ll fill in some more details in the next posts in this series.