Each year for my Church history class I have my students attend either an Orthodox or Catholic worship service and write a reflection paper on their experience. As I graded their assignments (I wrote this a while ago but forgot about it) I was again struck by their observations regarding worship. These served as important reminders for me.
1. Worship should involve reverence for God.
A number of students commented on how the worship seemed more reverent than they were used to experiencing in their own churches. One student even said that there was a divine reverence beyond what they have seen before. This was (another student commented) “refreshing.”
Even as I reflect on my own experiences in worship, I think I find myself expressing my “love” for God more than I do my reverence. While God does love us and call us his friends, there is a sense that familiarity with God can lead a person to forget that God is…well…God!
2. Worship is to be God-directed
Yes, it seems obvious, doesn’t it!? But, think about these points:
a) Worship isn’t a show
As many of us know, planning a worship service can become a lot like planning for a show. And once the service starts, people sometimes watch you … kind of like you are indeed putting on a show! By contrast, some students noted in their experiences that the worship was very clearly focused on God. So, for example, one student observed how the congregation could not even see the person playing the piano and leading the singing and how there was no one on “stage” (“stages” are something “shows” have), which meant that you were truly singing to God, rather than (I suppose) having a good sing-a-long (like at a concert).
b) Worship isn’t about emotions
A few students observed how the Churches they attended seemed to have no concern for making the worship experience emotional. On account of this, the students commented, it was clear that God was the focus, rather than the people attending.
One doesn’t have to become Catholic or Orthodox in order to have reverence for God and to ensure that worship is focused on God. Likewise, one doesn’t have to become more liturgical for these characteristics to be found in worship. However, the way that evangelicals worship certainly does create challenges that we need to think through intentionally.