“I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.” Romans 12:1-2
Not conformed, but transformed
Notice the two words, “conformed” and “transformed.” Worship has a huge role in forming, re-forming and transforming us to be less like our culture and more like Christ, and therefore enabling us to be a witness to it. I want to talk here about the importance of how we shape our gathered worship.
If you do an ‘image search’ on Google using two different words, ‘worship’ and ‘concert,’ the results are remarkably similar! Why is this? Is it because we are aiming to make our services more ‘relevant’ to the world?
Two kinds of relevance
There are actually two kinds of ‘relevance.’ We’re familiar with the relevance of sameness. Speaking the same language as another person enables communication! Catholics used to require worship to be in Latin, to unify believers around the globe, but this hindered communication, as people didn’t understand what was being said. This raises the challenge - is our language a bit too ‘in house’ at times?
Then there’s also the relevance of difference. Medicine has a healing effect on a sick person precisely because it is not simply ‘more of the same’ stuff already in their system. The gospel is news to be shared, and it is not like the stories of the world! So this raises the alternative challenge - do our services focus too much on looking, sounding, and smelling like the culture? Do the means drown out the message?
Jesus himself is a great example of the balance we need. Jesus was human, just like us, because it was humans he was saving! But he was also divine, not like us, because he was saving us! Jesus is the most relevant person to save us, because he is both ‘like us’ and ‘not like us!’
Now, there are many aspects of culture that are good, and can be appropriately used in worship. In fact, almost all of our language, symbols and forms are borrowed from culture! But, because culture is always a ‘mixed bag’ of good and sinful elements, we need to aim at the ‘divine and human’ balanced relevance as we borrow things from culture.
The witness of 'relevant' worship
Every time we gather for corporate worship, we have the opportunity to be not “conformed” but “transformed.” Here’s what it means – for every major section of a worship service:
Gathering (Call to worship, songs, etc.)
o In a consumer world, where we choose how to spend our time and money…God calls us to gather. We don’t create God’s presence - God summons ours!
Word (Scripture readings, songs, sermon, etc.)
o In a story-filled world, where God’s story is lost in hype, media and advertising…we continually remind ourselves of the gospel story, subverting all other stories!
Sacrament (Communion or baptism)
o In a multi-tasking world of tasks, ‘opportunities’ and projects that dis-members us…we remember Christ, and are ‘re-membered’ as members of His body!
Sending (Song, benediction, etc.)
o In a world of productivity and efficiency which seeks results by deadlines…we are sent back into God’s world as loving servants, in it for the long haul!
Ultimately, these ideas come back to the following question:
Is your worship formatted to form people to be conformed to the world? Or is it shaped to shape shapers of God’s world?
Dale Campbell is a Pastor at Northcote Baptist Church and he shared these thoughts at the North Island BYM Youth Leaders Training this year.
Photo Credit: Pearl/Lightstock.com
Scripture: Unless otherwise specified, Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.