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When will you worship?

May 1, 2014

A couple of years ago, when I was searching for a church, I had an interview with a presbytery executive who asked me a question that left me momentarily without speech: If I were called to be the pastor of a church in her presbytery, she wanted to know, when would I worship?

When would I worship? Well …. um, I will worship on Sunday with the congregation, I guess.

No, no, no, she responded. You must have a plan to take care of yourself! You need time off! What will you do? … and so on, at some length. In other words, she really had been trying to ask where I would find Sabbath for myself amid the demands of serving a congregation. It’s a good question. If I would have understood she was asking me about self-care in the first place, I would have given her a far better response.

She of course did what those of us in ministry frequently do – provide a lengthy and authoritative answer to the question you did not ask about an issue you do not necessarily need addressed.

By the way, I was not called to serve that church — it was just not the right place for me. However, I have from time to time thought about the question: When will you worship? I am even willing to admit in hindsight that perhaps it was not as badly worded as I initially believed.

In my initial experiences leading worship in a church, my mind was always so occupied with the next thing I would do – call for the saying of the creed, preaching the sermon, introducing the hymn, praying over the offering – that I could not focus on worshipping. In fact, I came to realize that I could open my mind and heart for worship far more often in the Wednesday morning service I led at a local Alzheimer’s unit – where the congregational expectations are nil.

Gradually, though, I have more often felt that I can worship on Sunday mornings – and for me, maybe that just had to come with experience. Last Sunday, though, was Youth Sunday. So I got to step out of the pulpit entirely and sit out in a pew, which, if you are a preacher, is something like allowing someone else to drive your car. (Yes, I realize it is not really my car). I got to worship from a different perspective and to observe worship in a way I am not able to normally.

It is clear that Youth Sunday is all about joy. I noticed this last year, as well. For example, a number of our kids live at Presbyterian Children’s Home and Services, and more than a few of them can tell you how a relationship with Christ has changed their lives. Some can talk about being embraced by a family called the Church after they were failed by other kinds of family. They share stories of transformation …. and joy.

Joy-filled worship is one of the signs of a healthy church. When we have Youth Sunday, the joy is contagious. It catches on. People talk about it all week long. It’s not that we do not have joy in other services. But Youth Sunday reminds me that we must always be looking for it. We need it.

Lately, I have come to wonder whether joy in worship is not as related to music or worship styles as much as it is related to real sense of our salvation: We have been saved, we are being saved, God will save us.

Many of the youth have an understanding that God has saved them – that sense comes through in their smiles, the volume of their singing, the joyful expression of their worship. First Peter 1:8-9 declares: Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

When the pastor or the liturgist gives the Assurance of Pardon on Sunday mornings, the only appropriate response is joy. Pure joy. Hear the good news! The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, that we might be dead to sin, and alive to all that is good. I declare to you in the name of Jesus Christ, you are forgiven. Powerful stuff! Do you believe it?

As I continue to bask in the joy of Youth Sunday, I am going to have in mind more ways that our congregation can discover or rediscover the joy of our salvation in worship – although I will be attune to not introducing this in an artificial or manipulative way. I may even want to find ways that we can incorporate testimony into worship– the lifting up among the people of what God is doing in individual lives in our community and among the congregation.

I think in attempts to experience joy in worship, we church people can get hung up on the wrong questions – questions about worship styles or music. I could be wrong, but I think the better questions surround what it means to be saved.

So …. when do we worship? I think we worship whenever we share the joy of our salvation and express our gratitude to God. But first we need to know what God has saved us from, and what God has saved us for.

What is your answer to these questions?

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