Get real! You want real worship? It’s right there, churches like First St Johns

The evidence keeps rolling in, while people don’t seem to actively express the desire, more and more it seems that people want worship that is serious.

The common rap is that “liturgical” worship is “boring”, it’s not fun, it’s not entertaining. Who said that worship was suitable for any of this. No it isn’t entertainment. But when you actively participate, when you genuinely try to understand versus this odd idea that most come into worship with: “I’m an empty vessel fill me”. These same people have been going to worship for years, decades, yet two, maybe three times a month, they go to worship and say “fill me, I haven’t done anything, you need to do it for me.” OK, sure, I’m there “to do”, to lead in worship. But folks, this is the “Body of Christ”. If you come in with the attitude that it’s all about me and you need to do for me, it’s not going to work and I submit that is becoming more evident in all these “churches” that do everything but worship.

People are looking to be connected to God, we are connected to the Father, because of the Son, by the Holy Spirit. As I said, this is “the Body of Christ.” What does that mean? The head does all the work and everything else just hibernates. That’s not going to work in human biology, why would it work as a Christian. If the heart stops beating, the head isn’t going to be of much use. You can sit there with head and heart, but if nothing else works, you’re simply not going to get it. Christian worship is participatory, not passive taking in. The issue becomes who is worship for? Well yes, it is for you, it is for those around you, it is for those out in a dark, cold world. It’s not for God. He wants us to worship and through our worship He feeds us, He builds us up, but you need to genuinely be heart and soul in worship, passively sitting back doesn’t work for you, brothers and sisters in Jesus or God. The church is there to serve, to equip you in order to grow in Jesus, but my philosophy is that if there is 5, 50 or 500 it’s still the same. If 5 have shown up, I’m not going to get all bitter with the others who didn’t. Five people, plus me, showed up to worship. I have 5 faithful brothers and/or sisters (it’s only 5 it could be all guys…) Anyway, they are there for me, I am there for them, we’re all there before God, that’s all that matters.

In a Leadership Journal article Marian Liautaud likes to pat herself on the back as to how millenials have become so critical in their thinking. (Make Room for Me Fall 2014 pp 55-57)They haven’t found genuine worship in churches, so they don’t go to worship. I’d like to assure them genuine worship is very much alive, if you haven’t found it, you haven’t looked to hard. Now, I have to wonder, is this just an excuse to avoid worship or a lack of effort to truly look. My answer is “yes”. Everyone likes to pat themselves on the back as to their critical thinking and discernment, but they frankly still want to sit back and just be an empty vessel. Frankly, I don’t even get the title. I assure you Marian, 100%, you show up with a genuine willingness to be a part, I will do back flips for you to be a part. But frankly in that generation I get this sort of “arms-length” attitude, they really don’t want to make an effort, they want someone to read their mind and they then still continue to dissemble.

Heather Stevens, a junior in college, writes “If you are a church leader, this data should stop you in your tracks. It should make you think, ‘What the heck am I doing wrong?'”

Wow, isn’t that just precious, her go to position is someone else is doing something wrong. I would agree to an extent, there is a lot of “wrong” “worship” out there. Seems to me Heather is more concerned about changing the places she thinks are wrong to fit her profile, versus finding the places that will meet her questions. This is another indication that people today, and frankly it’s any age group, are not very critical in their thinking. ‘Something’s wrong, so it must be someone else’s fault.” Instead of, I need to keep an open mind to the other possibilities out there, that do offer genuine worship and are eager to share that, to disciple others. I would jump through flaming hoops to have such a group together, but they won’t, they’re not really looking for answers, they’re just about airing out their lungs, letting everyone else know what their uninformed opinion is.

However, and I’ve said this before, the church has messed itself up too, The church has tried, for at least, the last three generations, to cater to this attitude that Heather expresses. So it’s not just millenials, it goes back to at least to people in the Depression Era. The church hasn’t stood up and said “this is what’s important”, it’s kind of groveled and said “tell us what you want, just try to make it in a Christian context.”

Just expressing what any contemporary American could/would say Taylor Snodgrass says: “Our generation has been advertised at our whole life and even now on social media,’… Consequently, if a church isn’t giving you the whole story, if it’s sugarcoated or they’re onstage putting on an act 20s see through this. It causes us to leave. We’re good at seeing when people are lying.” Well bless your heart Taylor, you have part of it, but it’s still a copout, an excuse. Great, if you think that, but be as honest as you claim to be. You don’t really want the truth, I feel like Jack Nicholson here, “You can’t handle the truth.” You want to avoid and you’re using someone else’s failure to drop out. Believe me, if people were genuine in these assertions, the church I pastor would be heaving at the seams, instead it’s excuse after excuse.

Ya, maybe my candor, might be a little intimidating, but that’s what all these “get real” types want, isn’t it? No, they want nice, they want sugar coated, just their way, not their parents. I’m not saying beat people, pummel them with truth, that’s not my style either. But my style is to be upfront, to challenge, to deal with the real issues. Come on, let’s deal with them together, I’d love it!

To wit, let’s look at the rest of what millennials want and a church like First St Johns has. “Visual clarity: ‘Millennials want to be able to answer the questions ‘Where am I?’ and ‘What’s expected of me?” This is according to David Kinnaman, president of the Barna Group….”

“As part of Barna’s study on Millenials and church architecture, they brought two groups of 20-somethings to modern churches, and then to cathedral style churches. In the cathedrals, ‘they felt it was a space for serious activities such as prayer, coping with tragedy and communing with God. They sensed the spirituality of the place,’ says Kinnaman. ‘At the same time, they were concerned about how they would fit in – If I visit, do I need to wear dressy clothes? – and a few participants, especially unchurched people, felt intimidated by the spiritual intensity of the space.'”

Well! Welcome to First St Johns. First off, no, believe me “dressy clothes” are not a big priority. We have plenty of people who do the best they can, that’s all I can ask.

One of the biggest kicks I get being the pastor of such a church is showing people the church sanctuary. I don’t think it’s failed to happen yet, you hear them silently, reverently suck in a little air and say a quiet wow! You want a place that evinces true Christian spirituality? Look at the featured picture, and that really doesn’t do it justice. If you don’t know where you are, well you have problems that I can’t help you with.

I did find the point of bringing nature into a church an interesting one. . I’d like to see if we could do more of that. I will say Christmas the altar is covered with poinsettias and Easter with lillies. But it is an inner-city church and a place in the church that would be a place where we could have some plants and some kind of natural effects would have a huge benefit, so thanks for the suggestion. Let’s see some of these people who talk a good game show up and put it in motion, I’ll be right there with you.

Respite” “Millenials, perhaps more than any other generation, have a deep need for peace and quiet; they long for a sanctuary. ‘Our culture is fragmented and frenetic and there are few places to take a breather to gain much-needed perspective,’ says Kinnaman. ‘Ironically, most churches offer what they think people want: more to do, more to see. Yet that’s exactly the opposite of what many young adults crave: sacred space.,’ ”

“Our churches are places of action, not places of rest; spaces to do rather than spaces to be. The activities, of course, are designed to connect people with God and each other – and some Millennials hope for that, too – but many just want an opportunity to explore spiritual life on their own terms, free to decide when to sit quietly on the edges of a sacred space and when to enter in.”

My answer, you need sacred space at two in the morning, you call me up and I will come down and open up the church. But you better be serious, don’t be there whining, be there genuinely searching. I would love it! We have action, we are an inner-city church and we often have to deal with real issues, but our priority is always spiritual health. Dr Luther describes pastors as Seel Sorgers, ‘soul healers’ that’s what I am first and foremost, but I try to do the other things.

When we first got to First St Johns, we set up a “Prayer Room”, I also had a few, very few, people want to go into the sanctuary to pray. We have prayer groups right after worship, we have a prayer breakfast once per month, we have a “Healing Service” one per month, Matins worship Thursday mornings and Sunday morning. I’d happily do some of these much more often, but frankly, not exactly overwhelmed with response as it is now.

“Give them Jesus – building relationships and learning about Jesus are two central reasons why Millennials stay connected to church. Barna’s research shows that young adults who remain involved in a local church beyond their teen years are twice as likely as those who don’t to have a close personal friendship with an older adult in their faith community (59% vs 31%).”

For a small church, we do this pretty well, we could do better, but there has to be buy-in from everyone and again I would jump through hoops to facilitate it.

So to Marian and David, Taylor and Heather, here you go. This is it right here. Genuine worship, genuine doctrine, genuine space, genuine relationships and authenticity. Let’s sit and talk, let’s really deal with our relationship with Jesus and genuinely worship and honor Him. Does He need our worship? No, but we need to worship and we need to do it with authenticity, not sit back and fill me/entertain me. Don’t expect me to just pat you on the head, sure when it’s needed, but today, we need to get real and get back to the real church and not the happy/clappy God just wants me to be happy. No, it’s joy in Christ, won’t always be pleasant, but it is true relationship. Do you want that or not?

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