I learned a lesson about worship a few years ago when I accompanied a group of high school students to a denomination sponsored youth retreat. The church I attended at the time was part of a conference known for its excellent youth ministry. The guest speakers and worship bands they brought in were almost always second to none. I enjoyed leaving the familiar surroundings of my own church, whose worship had become “old hat” to me. Since I worked mostly with young people, I was sometimes too critical when the rest of my congregation didn’t prioritize things the same way I did. I had made up my mind that the traditional and blended styles of my church were no match for the modern worship style I experienced at camps and retreats. And because this style suited my taste more, I figured most of the youth felt the same way.
That assumption was probably true to some extent, because I usually did hear complaints from kids along the lines of, “Why can’t our church’s services be more like this?” But one weekend I experienced something that helped me see things from a different perspective.
It was the opening worship session the first evening of a mid-winter retreat. The band was well into the first song and some of the kids who had been to these things before had moved up front and were really getting into it.
That’s when I noticed them.
A group of teenagers behind the other kids looked horrified. I think they were probably praying for the floor to open up so they could escape. I wondered why they didn't think the service was as great as I thought it was. So for the rest of the weekend, I found myself thinking about these kids and what they were experiencing.
Worship suddenly wasn’t about me. I desperately wanted this group of kids, some who probably weren’t even Christians yet, to experience God. It's as if I somehow glimpsed God's desire to see more people worshiping him. My measuring standard for what makes a good worship service was no longer what I was experiencing but what the entire group was experiencing, especially the ones who looked like they didn’t really want to be there. Instead of the worship segment being my own show with the band and the crowd serving as extras, I now saw it more as a community activity. I wasn’t able to shut everyone else out like I had done before. The more I experienced God, the more I wanted everyone else to experience him.
So I found myself praying for others before and during worship that entire weekend. And I went into the services thinking more about what I could give than what I would get for myself. Sure I wanted a touch from God and a goosebump experience, but now I seemed to want it even more for everyone else. That weekend I wasn’t just looking at the worship experience as a consumer. I suddenly had the mindset of a contributor.
This epiphany, however, didn’t mean I would lower my expectations for excellence in worship. If anything, I felt a need to raise standards. The difference was that my personal taste wasn’t the driving factor. I wanted worship to be more accessible so more people could worship.
I’d like to be able to say that I never slip back into consumer mode, but that wouldn’t be true. I still sometimes make snap judgments of worship services based on selfish reasons. But when my attitude is right, I get a lot of satisfaction simply knowing that other people are having a positive worship experience. There’s something about seeing God touch someone else that touches me.
It’s where community becomes something real to me and not just another trendy Christian word.