Who do we worship? To who or what do we give our attention, thoughts and time? And when I say ‘we’, I mean me most of all.
Could it be that we actually worship church? Christianity? Do we worship…well, worship?
The amount of energy we put into sustaining a cyclical pattern of meetings, worship sets and ultimately a wider ‘Christian culture’ is huge. I find myself looking at a lot of what I continue to invest thousands of hours a year into and feeling; ‘I miss Jesus’.
We probably agree that a core belief we hold as Christians is that Jesus is alive. Right now. Another is that He promised the Holy Spirit, who accordingly turned up and lives within us. These powerful factors should keep everything pretty fresh.
So why do many people leave the church? Obviously there are myriad reasons, but I wonder if it’s partly because we talk more about church – in church, than about Jesus himself. Do we spend more head-space on creating, reading, buying, and attending resources to perfect the congregational worship experience than actually thinking about Jesus’ life and teaching? Do we have more meetings about the up-keep of various very well-meaning functions of church, over learning more about the guy whose church it is?
I have met many Christians suffering from what I’ll call church fatigue. It’s that sort of weary despondency to any talk of church. In many cases it becomes cynicism and finally some of these folk abandon church altogether. Yet, I’d say a lot of these people have no essential problem with Jesus. Doctrinally speaking, they are still believers and many would publicly state they have an allegiance to Jesus.
In John 4, we see Jesus chatting to the Samaritan women at the well. She asks about which mountain is right to bring proper worship to God from. She was talking about which religious ritual pleased God most. This is probably similar to many of the committee meetings that take place across the church; this colour carpet or that? Jesus replies to her with the famous line about the time coming when worshippers would worship God in spirit and truth, and that living water was available right there and then. In the following chapter, Jesus confronts the religious Jews: “You study the scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.” Just as in those times, can we worship the book, rather than the one the book is about?
I think all this leads to a Christ-less experience of church. Like going to see your favourite singer, and only finding the backing band. The reason you bought the ticket to the concert, and the CDs was because the voice moved you, spoke to your heart and made life seem better. It resonated with you. So when all you get is a noisy room and no sign of the singer, you will be disappointed. It’s an empty experience. Jesus said his sheep know his voice. Do I know his voice or have I drowned it out with all the worship music I’m so well-meaningly playing?
I wonder how many of our differences and struggles would seem insignificant if we spent more time at the feet of the master, listening to his instruction and enjoying his presence? He is alive, after-all. Like with Mary and Martha, Jesus will tell us what’s what – and then we can move on it. We wouldn’t have to brow-beat ourselves into mission if we were captivated by his person, message and presence; we’d carry them wherever we went.
I’m not saying all tradition is bad, and that there aren’t amazing resources out there to enrich our devotion. I am asking, who puts the Christ in Christian? Who should get the most attention, and how would things be different if he genuinely was the centre of my world?
This article follows on from Dave’s previous piece, Consumer culture vs kingdom culture.