Hopefully, you've read part one of this series and read a bit on why I'm taking the time to detail these powerful threats to our Sunday gatherings.
I've already described a bit about why we need both "pedals on the bike". Sundays are essential but not sufficient for discipleship. Sunday gatherings do not form Christians sufficiently nor is our Christianity supposed to fit inside an hour once a week.
And before you say, "that's obvious and everyone knows it", I'll bet you at least a few things in your current ministry work against this truth.
To begin, let's look at a few symptoms of undervaluing the Sunday gathering. These are signs that you're probably expecting too little of your 60-90 minutes together. Listen to this first symptom and ask if maybe you don't personally fall into this camp…maybe there are ways that you yourself undervalue Sundays.
SYMPTOM #1. YOU ARE HYPER CRITICAL
From the moment we step foot on the property, many of us become "secret shoppers",
publicly privately making notes of all the imperfections, people that bother us, and what we would do different. Many of us worship leaders do this to protect ourselves from critique. Others do it because we simply have a hard time celebrating wins. The comments from the congregation often don't help:
"That doesn't look right. That doesn't sound right. They aren't living right."
"I didn't like that sermon, When are we going to talk about (insert favorite topic, probably an area of Christian living that by God's grace we have never wrestled with)."
"Please tell me they aren't doing announcements again."
"This is not how I would do things."
"Where’s my favorite worship leader playing my favorite songs at my favorite volume?"
Have you heard these statements between services? Have you heard these things inside your own heart?
If so, I would argue that our/their view of Sunday is too small. If Sunday is simply an event to be run smoothly, we have removed the authority and joy of our Triune God and replaced God with our own assessment and opinion. If we reduce the saints gathered to an experience for our own whims and preferences, then it would follow that we are the purpose and highest judge of the time together. The "experience" of Sunday becomes king, and execution becomes the idol. This reduces Sundays to a meeting that needs well-trained event planners instead of expectant kids awaiting their Father's words and movement.
What is Sunday then? It's a collision of the Triune God and the pinnacle of His creation. It's a time and place where the Spirit is present in a unique way, and in His kindness, the Father recalibrates the hearts of believers towards ultimate joy and satisfaction. It's a time to be reminded of grace anew, and to respond accordingly through song, communion, baptisms, prayers, and time together...and maybe a doughnut and coffee.
REMEDY #1. ASK BIGGER QUESTIONS
How do we break out of the hypercritical death-spiral? Rather than getting hung up on which parts of the gathering don't suit you or which parts didn't go perfect (as if that were the grand plan and intention), take a cue from Colossians 3 and think on what is above. Remember that much of God's purpose for our time together will happen in human hearts, outside of our view.
For the person singing off key, ask, "does her voice please the father?" For the typo on the slide, ask "is Jesus disgusted by this and now distant?" When the song begins that you don't care for, ask God, "who in this room needs to hear this, and is there something I need to hear?" Ask God to help you pray for others.
"This reduces Sundays to a meeting that needs well-trained event planners instead of expectant kids awaiting their Father's words and movement."
If Jesus is not hyper-critical of you but instead in his omniscience is gracious and merciful, how would that shape how we approach the gathering? If Jesus isn't sitting with arms crossed in judgement of our mistakes and misguided attempts at throwing a good celebration, should we be?
Now, Keller has famously said that, "sloppiness in the horizontal distracts from the vertical" in corporate worship, and I couldn't agree more. We know Sundays are in fact important. If Sunday's do matter then, what is a godly criteria? What kind of questions should we be asking? Whatever you believe about God should help answer that question.
- Were we a warm family? Did I make an effort to love someone, encourage someone, welcome someone in to the community? (God is hospitable)
- Did we preach and sing things that are true? Did we share the gospel message clearly? (God is true and worthy of praise)
- Was the focus on Jesus? (Jesus is above all)
- Did we pay attention to who was among us? (insider language ostracizing new people, not defining terms, etc) (God is welcoming)
- Did we offer hope to those in hard places? (God is comforting)
There's certainly nothing wrong with evaluating our time together. In fact, we do that as a staff every Monday together. But we’re all a lot better off if the critical, nit-picky spirit in us dies, and instead we look for wins and ask good, thoughtful, “above” kinds of questions.
The cure for picking apart Sundays is asking bigger questions. You'll not be able to approach Sundays the same way if you remember how God sees us and our simple times together.
Tune in for part 3 for another symptom that we (or someone you know) is making too little of our weekly times of worship together.