One of the things that tends to happen in conversations about worship, especially liturgy, is that eventually someone usually appeals to the feelings of the worship in vague terms of “meaningfulness.”
“I don’t like contemporary worship myself, but if it’s meaningful to others, that’s just fine.”
I hear it in affirmation of elements of liturgical worship, too.
“That anthem today was so meaningful.”
Or it might go something like this:
“That hymn wasn’t particularly meaningful to me, but maybe someone else liked it.”
Those sorts of comments can only mean one thing, really. So many of us are tempted to judge the effectiveness, the content, and the validity of worship, whether liturgical or pop, by how they or others are being made to feel.
But over a long life of faith, that search for arbitrary meaningfulness can make for a pretty tough row to hoe.
What about when there are no good feelings? We all know that feelings come and go. Or when life suddenly crumbles around you?
What are you left with then?
Well, if you’ve been searching to authenticate your faith and worship through emotional experiences, you may have to ask yourself some pretty tough questions. And the reassurance you long for, the answers you need to hear and feel over and over again, might never come.
But, thank God, we don’t have to validate our own faith through feelings, and we don’t have to search so-called “worship experiences” that create them for us. We can instead find a place where worship is constant, biblical, and historical, and which is free from blatant, overwhelming emotional manipulation.
When I talk about the problems with contemporary pop worship, I’m not trying to determine the authenticity of any individual’s faith, because liturgy is not about personal worship. It is about the church together, and it is a discipline that we are to cultivate in ourselves and our communities. The “meaningfulness” as it is perceived by our own feelings is in no way an indication of true worship. But if you point to the historic liturgy, how it is saturated with Scripture, rooted in the ancient church, you can say, “Yes! This is truly meaningful!”
Even when the feelings wax and wane, as they always do.
Even when the crap hits the fan.
Even when the experience doesn’t seem exciting.
That’s why the church owes it to itself and to the prevailing culture around us to NOT be seeker sensitive. Liturgy is not easy, but it contains the substance of our faith. Sorry, Guacamole Dave says, but worship is never just the packaging; it is what shapes our belief and mission.
Therefore, when people show up and don’t understand why the church follows an ancient liturgical pattern, we can teach them how the form fits the true purpose and function of Christian worship. The absolute stupidest thing we can do is to throw multiple “worship” formats at them and tell them to pick the one that feels just right.
So when we see people excited by the average pop worship experience, we cannot say, “Meh, it’s not for me, but I’m glad they find meaning here.” We need to fall on our knees and pray for the souls that are hooked in by such superficiality, as well as those who peddle it to them in Jesus’ name. By teaching people to turn to their feelings in worship, we’re building a church that, in the end, cannot stand.
No, worship isn’t found when our favorite artist plays our favorite “worshipful” song, nor when we shout with our “worshipful” voices and lift our “worshipful” hands and assume our “worship” postures and descend into our “worshipful” dissociation.
Worship is about letting go of our emotional crutches and pressing on.
By ourselves. Into the world. Without the song to comfort us. Without the band to cheer us on. Without the comfy chairs and the stage and the lights and the amps.
Worship is found in a journey that often seems lonely, when we’ve dared to leave the feeling behind, uniting ourselves with our Christ and his kingdom.