A few weeks after we got married, my husband and I moved to a different city and had to start the long and frustrating process of searching for a new church. We visited old ones, new ones, traditional ones and modern ones. We critiqued the music, the teaching, the friendliness of the congregation, the doctrine. We commented on the light shows, the dusty hymn books, the iPads – always finding a fault, always struggling to commit in case we could find something else more comfortable—“more us.”
We just wanted to make sure it was the right fit, we said.
But as Rachel Held Evans wrote in her book Searching for Sunday, “Right’s got nothing to do with it. Waiting around for right will leave you waiting around forever.” What we finally realized was that showing up to church for worship wasn’t about being right or being us at all. It was about God – his “rightness” and everything else that He was, and is, and is to come.
See, God doesn’t care about whether we are singing a new song or harmonizing the melodies of old. He doesn’t care if we have guitars and drum sets, or chant a capella in historic pews, musty with centuries of accumulated incense. He isn’t preferential to dissonant harpsichords or to compelling lyric videos that enhance the worship experience. In fact, He isn’t concerned with the worship experience at all. What He wants is the offering.
The biblical definition of worship comes from the Greek word proskuneo. This New Testament term refers to the human expression of reverence and adoration. What this means is that the value in what we bring to worship is not in our savvy or our songs, but in our hearts. Our worship as Christians is not so much an action as it is an attitude, a positional stance of submission to the Lord of our lives. Worship is about Christ, not Christians.
Whenever we become overly focused on the details of our church services, we’re taking God out of the equation. In critiquing and criticizing, we become focused inwardly instead of upwardly, and this sense of self-concern detracts from the whole point of worship in the first place. To participate in the corporate church means to voluntarily give up our preferences so that we can take part in something greater than ourselves. In Ephesians 5: 19b-20 we read our Sabbath calling: “Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Our worship isn’t about the music—what we have done—but about God and what He has done.
God finally gave me and my husband clarity while we were visiting a church that was stylistically different than what both of us felt we preferred. Incidentally, the preacher was speaking on the topic of our American tendency towards self-gratification: “Even if you don’t feel like you’re having an emotional or engaging experience,” he said, “God is still moving.” This powerful truth stopped both of us right in the tracks of our criticisms. We had been struggling to embrace and participate in the body of Christ because we’d somehow cultivated the selfish belief that to worship was to feel good. Yet right there, seated completely outside of our comfort zone, the spirit moved in us. God wrenched our hearts, and nothing about it was comfortable—not the music, not the lighting, not the sting of conviction. But God was good amid it all, and we worshipped him for it.
In our age of technology, we may find ourselves pushing for progress in our worship services while at the same time rebelling against it. We create and we condemn, frustrating ourselves by fashion trends to the point where we forget that God isn’t concerned with style. That is to say, God doesn’t prefer flashy and modern over reverent and traditional, or vice versa. His desire is simply that we come to the altar with the offering of our whole selves. When we bow down before him, He is exalted—no matter the lyrics or melodies that we may choose.