I used to be a worship snob.
Growing up in a family where we would sing two-part harmony as we washed dishes, I would do my best not to sit in front of someone in church who sang off-key. And it would completely ruin my Sunday if the pastor’s sermon was too hard to follow or too simple, if it bored me, or if it was, in my opinion, too one-sided. If the musicians played too loudly or not loudly enough, too quickly or too slowly, or without enough feeling, I was ticked off.
In short, I expected a smooth, professional approach to worship, with a sermon delivered by a pastor who was confident but humble while admonishing the hypocrites in the church. If I made a contribution to the worship service, I expected a certain amount of praise and recognition for my efforts. I thought, in short, that worship was all about me and God—in that order. I expected my pastor to be a perfect stand-in for Jesus and the music to be angelic. I called this “critical thinking.”
Meanwhile, I never once considered the feelings of the folks who made the worship service possible or considered that the people using their gifts of preaching, teaching, and music were doing what they did for God’s glory. I just couldn’t seem to get past my own need for edification. Simply put, I had the ABC’s of Christianity all wrong. I had a bad attitude, followed by poor behavior and an inactive conscience.
With what attitude do we come to the body of Christ? Do we recognize Christ as the head of the church, or do we see ourselves as the center? No man is an island unto himself, said poet John Donne, but really, when we’re being honest, are we not individually at the center of our own universe? Imagine what the church might look like if each person participating in its fellowship was there to honor Christ, the head. Perhaps it’s time to dust off those old plastic WWJD (What would Jesus do?) bracelets to remind us to have the mind of Christ. After all, our attitude has a direct impact on our behavior.
How do we behave toward our fellow Christians? Do we treat one another as valuable coworkers in the kingdom of God? I remember actually criticizing a fellow Sunday school teacher for singing too loudly with her class. Of course I didn’t talk to her directly; I just talked about her. How pathetic is that? When we can’t treat one another with respect, we’re not in a position to invite others to join us.
How do we invite others to join the body? Do we even have friendships outside the church? Back when I was a high school student, I remember thinking that my friends who attended other churches in town were only nominal Christians. Did I think this because they weren’t walking the right path? Not at all. I thought this because they weren’t attending a “true” church—that is, my church. And yet I never thought to invite them to come to youth group with me. I forgot to ask myself these important questions: Can others see the relevance of my beliefs in my actions? Does my walk match my talk? Does what I say match my beliefs? If not, then perhaps I was having problems with my conscience.
In my personal experience, an inactive conscience doesn’t happen overnight. It happens through a series of small temptations in which we rationalize our poor choices over and over again until they become unconscious habits. Spiritually, this can happen quite easily. Our busyness gets in the way of spending time with God, and running short of time becomes a habit. As a congregation, it can happen when we point the finger at the leadership in our churches. What is our excuse? We no longer live in a time when only the pastor and a few wealthy members are able to read the Bible. When we refuse to get into God’s Word and spend time in prayer throughout the week and then expect our worship leaders to fill us up on Sunday morning, we are like binge eaters who starve themselves all week long and then expect to get all their nutritional needs met in one meal. When we continually deny our conscience, we make its voice quieter and quieter until finally we can’t hear it at all.
The remedy? We need to seek God in prayer. We need to ask God to cleanse our hearts and renew a right spirit within us, to realign our attitudes and correct our behavior to reflect the life and teachings of our Savior, and to reignite our conscience.
I started out by admitting that I used to be a worship snob. Although I still have the tendency to judge, I am learning that the worship service is about God, not about me. I am learning that I am part of a community of believers. I am learning that if the service didn’t speak to the depths of my soul, maybe it spoke to someone else’s soul. When I pray for God’s blessings and for strength for my pastor and those in church leadership, I find that my own attitude changes. By getting involved in some of the behind-the-scenes activities that go into making a worship service come together, I have gained a new appreciation for the amount of work that is involved. And I am finding that when I exercise my own gifts, I have less time to be critical of others. I try to remember that my fellow Christians are my teammates in God’s kingdom—not my rivals. Most of all, I prayerfully try to put Christ—not me—at the head of the body, where he belongs.
So was the singing at your church off-key this Sunday? Were there some awkward moments? It’s quite possible. But more important, was the truth proclaimed? Was your spirit involved in your worship? When we worship God in spirit and in truth, then our off-key singing sounds like an angel chorus to God, and the awkward moments are only the tiniest blip in the scope of eternity. After all, none of us has achieved perfection yet. Remembering that helps me relax a little on Sunday mornings.