I know worship is not entertainment; it’s an opportunity to connect with the living God. But recently, I’ve been astounded by the banality of some of the worship I’ve attended. Its tedious ritual by rote amazes; its ability to create the perfect divine yawn catches me off guard.
When this happens, it feels a bit like sin. We’re supposed to be offering God our first fruits, the best of our creativity and soul-felt gifts.
Worship is a relationship. But it’s supposed to be one that has the potential to transcend the grayness of the everyday life and transport us to a place of holy possibility. Too often we settle for filling the hour with tradition, ritual and some very safe emotions.
When is the last time you felt worship transformed your soul?
That’s why I was delighted the other day to stumble into an interview with Eileen Gunther, who coordinates the worship at Wesley Theological Seminary in D.C.
Guenther, who led worship at Foundry UMC for many years, now has her Sundays free to travel around the area experiencing worship at different churches.
She’s had similar disappointing experiences, she confesses. Worship leaders forget that they are communicating the best and most powerful story ever told and settle for going through the motions. They serve up stale communion bread and wine that could never intoxicate. They deliver sermons that they themselves are not excited by and hope that God will somehow intervene.
But at Wesley, Guenther is challenging United Methodists to bring new life to worship. What would happen, she asks, if the same energy used to create a church’s new praise services, was poured into its traditional service? What would happen if worship became multi-sensory and story-filled and invited people to be community together, united by healing and renewal in God?
It was Irenaeus, an early church father, who said the glory of God is a human being fully alive.
I’m hungry to feel fully alive in worship. I think a lot of people are.
Part of this for Guenther, is for churches to adopt a philosophy of “and,” rather than “or.” Churches should not have to choose between traditional or modern; the organ or the praise band, loud or silent. God delights in it all.
God shows up in creative expression, Guenther said. God shows up when excellence is a guiding value, and when faithfulness trumps all.
For me, the best worship comes when my whole messy and complicated life is carried into worship and I am given an opportunity to lay it on the altar and be reminded that I am a child of God and that each of us is beloved.
This, for me, is a moment of light, a moment of grace.
Eileen Guenther is a magnificent musician and her gifts elevate any worship experience. But she’s also a woman with God’s light in her heart. It’s a light that banishes the boring. It’s a light I wish all of us could carry into our next encounter with worship.