What Pleases God in Worship?

May 6th, 2014

I was trained to keep things moving in worship. Leaders in a worship service should be in place, ready to speak, the moment one worship element ends, ready to move on to the next. No “down time.” Don’t lose people’s attention in the transitions.

I still believe in the importance of transitions that are smooth and don’t distract people from the purpose of worship. Yet, I questioned the whole process this Sunday morning.

I try to sing with the choir most Sundays. Unfortunately for me, as the pastor, the choir anthem comes right after the pastoral prayer time. To get to the choir loft, I have to cross a large chancel area. It slows things down.

Our pastoral prayer time ends with the Lord’s Prayer. As I was leading the congregation in that beautiful, familiar prayer that Jesus taught us, I felt pressure to get my stuff gathered together, so I’d be ready to move the minute it ended (gather my choir music, my water bottle and have everything in place to start the sermon as soon as I got back from the anthem).

A wise mentor of mine once told me to start the congregation in saying the Lord’s Prayer and then get moving, to be in place for the next thing. I could pray as I went. As a leader of worship, it is not necessarily my personal time to worship. It is my time to lead and make sure that others connect with God.

Yesterday, I thought about starting my move in the middle of the Lord’s Prayer, to cut down on the “wasted” time. But something stopped me and said, “Just pray. Be in the moment. People need to follow a pastor who truly worships.”

I thought about the one or two people who might notice me moving across the chancel in the middle of the prayer. What would that speak about the importance of the Lord’s Prayer? If I’m so worried about the details of worship that I am not actually worshipping, what does that say to the people looking to me for direction?

When was it that everything became so fast and nuanced in worship? I wonder if the early church made sure everyone was in place, ready to go for the next part of the worship service, with no lost time. I doubt it. But then again, they didn’t have a clock to watch, to make sure sanctuaries and parking lots were emptied for the next service (or to get people out in an hour or less, so the wait at the local restaurant wouldn’t be too long.) They could just worship…freely.

Where is the stillness, the silence and the waiting in worship? Does everything have to be so fast-paced, so perfected? Are we so constrained by our “instant gratification” society that even our worship must meet those demands?

I stopped myself in the middle of worship and really prayed the Lord’s Prayer. Then I walked over the the chancel to start singing. People waited ten seconds longer while I gathered my things before making the move. I don’t think worship was lessened in any way because of it.

Then I was standing outside the sanctuary after the church service, talking to the last remnants of the “greeting line”. My little group suddenly took notice of Emily, a six year old girl in our congregation with Down Syndrome. Emily was standing at the pulpit, playing “pastor” to the empty church. We heard her say into the microphone: “Please stand for the Call to Worship”. Then she instructed her invisible congregation to “turn to page 9.″ She then led them in a rousing chorus of “O How I Love Jesus.”

With tears in my eyes, watching her pure heart and deep love for Jesus, it dawned on me: The most beautiful moment of worship in the Sanctuary that morning was happening right in front of me. For all our polish and nuance as worship leaders, the thing that pleased God most was not how smoothly the transitions went in the service. What pleased God most was an angelic child, singing beautifully off-key about how much she loved Jesus.

Should we, as pastors and worship leaders, do everything we do (both in the worship service and outside it) with as much excellence and nuance as we can? Certainly. But we forget too easily how much God cares about the heart a whole lot more than the outward appearance. Maybe my friend Emily will become the first United Methodist pastor with Down Syndrome. Wouldn’t that be a beautiful picture of the Kingdom of God? I’d go to that church. That’s my kind of church!

But Jesus said, “Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to those who are like these children.” Mathew 19:14 (NLT) 

Tina Fox blogs at TinaFoxTalk.com.

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