Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Worship Attendance Overrated?

Bill Easum has been a leader in the "church growth" movement for years and years.  In a recent blog post, Easum grapples with the reality of competition between worship and youth sports.  In the past several decades, the culture has grown less and less accommodating to Christianity, and families must often now choose between extra-curricular activities for their children and worship attendance.  Easum's solution is to let the youth participate, but then encourage them to be missionaries on the ball field.  Worship attendance, according to Easum, is overrated.
I think we place too high a premium on church attendance.   Most of our people spend too much time a church and not enough time sharing their faith with their neighbor. We have led our people to believe that attending church is the mark of a Christian. But it’s not. The mark of a Christian is what we do in our everyday lives.  
Although I love the idea of young people showing the love of Jesus to their teammates, Easum shows a regrettable disregard for worship.  I'm afraid that he is not alone.  For many Christianity is simply doing.  Modern evangelicals might add a vague personal relationship with Jesus, but we Protestants have primarily focused on doing good works and changing social structures.  What we are missing is an ecclesiology and a theology of worship.

Consider the church's current infatuation with the word, "missional".  If the purpose of the Christian life is mission or ministry, the church simply becomes a society for good works, and worship becomes a pep rally for mission workers.  A biblical focus on God's mission to the world need not exclude the church or worship, but sadly too often it does.

In contrast, I would argue that the purpose of human life is in fact worship.  As the Westminster Catechism describes it, "Man's chief end is to glorify God, and enjoy him forever." As the Apostle Paul states,
"God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father" (Philippians 2:9-11).
When the Scriptures criticize worship, it criticizes worship that is hypocritical.  For example, Paul condemns gluttons and drunkards who deny others food and drink at the Lord's table (1 Corinthians 11). The problem is not the Lord's Supper, it is the Christians who fail to "discern the body".  Mission, ministry or the life of discipleship should be an extension of worship.  The Bible again and again uses the language of worship to speak of our good works.  The acceptable sacrifice is a "broken spirit, a broken and contrite heart" (Psalm 51).  The fast that God chooses is "to loose the bonds of injustice" (Isaiah 58).  As we gather in worship, we catch a glimpse of the kingdom of God, and we are called to carry that vision into the world.

Our salvation is not dependent on our Sunday morning attendance, but why would we want to give up that vision?  Why would we begrudge our youngest missionaries the reason we go into the world?

UPDATE: Bill Easum responds on his blog.
James, you took my comment out of context. I didnt say worship wasn’t as important as doing good. No way. I said we put too much emphasis on going to church as if that were the measure of a Christian. I was talking about being a representative of Christ in the community as one of the most important thing a Christian does. Sure worship attendance is important, but it is not the final measure of a person or churches worth. The final measure is whether or not the community would miss the church if it were no longer there.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Here is my response to Bill Easum...

I apologize if I misunderstood your post. Every so often, I hear of a congregation who cancels Lord’s Day worship to do good works (evangelism and compassion) in the community. Although I understand why they do it and I applaud the actual work accomplished, I think we are missing something. Worship is one of the few times in the week that we actually humble ourselves before God. Encouraging the youth leader to equip the youth for their time away from the body makes sense. However, this ignores the fact that worship is the primary opportunity for spiritual formation in most congregations. If I had my choice, I prefer not to lose that.

Finally, I absolutely appreciate developing measurable goals and seeking tangible results for churches. However, I remember congregations in the early 20th Century who were smitten with the social gospel movement. They made huge impacts on their communities, but they failed to pass on the faith to the next generations. Congregational leaders always need to be discerning as they seek to love God and love neighbor. Actually, the best of the “missional” movement enhances the works of worship. I know that I’m treading on familiar paths, but thank you for letting me think through this with you. You have much more experience that I do, and I’m learning a bunch from your blog. Thank you for writing it, and thank you for your service to the Church.