Worship as Drama
"Like a man about to face a firing squad, I was sitting there waiting for the choir to finish. In a few short seconds I would once again stand before the congregation to preach. Fear gripped me..."
These words were penned by a pastor who suffers from a common fear among pastors. It is not the fear of public speaking. It's more like a sense of helpless hopelessness. This pastor describes it very well. Listen to what he says to himself before he preaches:
Do you realize that you have absolutely nothing new to say? These people are expecting something. What could you possibly say that these people haven't already heard, and from far better preachers than you! They won't tolerate a boring monologue. You'll stand up there and make a fool of yourself.
What, indeed, could we preachers possibly say that you haven't already heard, and from better preachers? Viewed from this perspective, it is a hopeless task. How can we stand up Sunday after Sunday offering our feeble efforts on themes addressed much more clearly, and much more eloquently, by much better preachers? But this is only one perspective and not a particularly helpful one if your task is to preach the Gospel weekly.
The problem with this perspective is the assumption behind it: We preachers share a tendency to see our part in worship as a performance, to think of ourselves as having to offer something profound, or new, or entertaining. Now, you may think that isn't all bad (who wants to be bored every Sunday morning?), but this perspective also has implications for how we see our congregations: all too often it means that we see you in the pews as passive critics, mostly disinterested and easily bored. The assumption is that unless we say or do something exciting or dramatic—something to get your attention and sustain your interest—you are simply incapable of
worship. From that perspective the sanctuary is not so much a place to worship, as it is like a concert venue or theater. The pastor and choir attempt to perform their "acts" and your task is to enjoy or endure. But there is a better way of viewing what happens on Sunday morning...
In a real way worship should be a spectacle, a high drama. It's just that we have the parts confused. Seen rightly, the preacher and the choir are prompters. They lead the congregation in the worship of God. They do not attract attention to themselves or perform for the congregation. They point beyond themselves to God. It is God's Word we preach, it is God's praises we sing. Our part is to point you to God. So, what’s the congregation’s part? Well, you are the real participants, the primary actors. You are led to hear and respond to God's word: It is your task to sing His praises, to offer Him your prayers--your love, your very lives and yes, your money too—each Sunday morning. On Sunday and throughout the week the high drama of worship is carried out--and you are the actors! Well, then, who’s then is the audience? That is God's part. When we take our eyes off ourselves and our opinions, when we see God seated on his throne and Jesus standing in the middle with him, adored and worshiped by all heaven and earth (Rev 4-6), we learn the harmony of all creation; together with all the angels and all the wisest and best of humanity we lose ourselves in wonder and praise. And in losing ourselves in worship we become our true and best selves. He is the one for whom we are made, he is the one whom we worship and adore.
If that sounds like God needs to be propped by our worship we’re thinking wrongly again. We were made to worship and we will…the question is what we’ll worship, because what/who we worship changes us; it makes us over fundamentally in its image. Think about worshiping success, or comfort, or wealth, or popularity, or self? Think about what happens to people who give themselves to these things? It is demeaning and degrading for us who are made in the very image of God. We were made to glorify him and enjoy him…forever! He is our creator, redeemer, sustainer and the love of our lives. He is the focus of our worship. Otherwise, really, why bother?
Soli Deo Gloria!
Rev. Don Muncie