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What Makes “Good” Worship?

October 9, 2019
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Today on the blog, Rev. Ann Willet asks the important question: What makes “good” worship? Spoiler alert: It’s many secondary things that lead to one primary thing. Read below to learn more!

I have the blessing of standing at a door at the close of our services to greet you as you leave worship and return to your places in the world.  There are hugs and handshakes, high fives for the kids, and sometimes I’m racking my brain to remember the name of a newcomer that I met the week before.  Tim’s postlude is ringing joyfully from the organ, chatter and laughter fill the sanctuary, and little ones are ready to break free from a parent’s grasp after an hour of sitting still.

“Worship was really good today!”  “Thanks for a great worship service.”  “The choir was amazing today!”  These are words of affirmation that we worship leaders appreciate hearing as you leave.  Ministers and worship leaders spend a significant amount of time and energy planning for these important hours together at 8:45 and 11:00 a.m. each Sunday.

And yet, I wonder….what it is that makes worship “good.” Our common values at FirstChurch guide us to high standards of excellence regarding worship elements and mechanics.  Our choirs are rehearsed and ready, our ministers have prepared faithfully, the sanctuary is clean, and the worship bulletins are waiting at the doors.  Is it excellence in those worship elements that makes worship satisfying to us…..or is there more?

Worship is unlike any other gathering that we attend in a typical week.  Worship is not a lecture, worship is not a concert, worship is not a business meeting.  At the heart of Christian worship is the notion that God is the audience — the recipient of our prayers and praise — and the congregation is bringing the offering, guided by the worship leaders and planned order of worship.  In a setting such as ours, where worship leaders strive to be our very best, it’s natural that some should think of worship as a performance where the congregation is the audience.  It’s understandable….and it’s backward.

God is the recipient of our “good” worship.  As we enter the sanctuary, we turn our minds and hearts toward God, through praise and prayer, through hearing of scripture and experiencing the sacraments.  Worship is good when we disengage from ourselves and our distractions and pay attention to God, just for an hour.  Worship is good when we engage with the scripture and sermon, and allow it to affect our thoughts and actions on Monday morning.  Worship is good when we allow the music to warm our hearts and take us to a place of pure praise for our Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer….who is also our audience on Sunday morning.

Yes, the music is amazing.  Yes, Andy really hit the nail on the head with that sermon. Yes, the ushers do a great job getting everyone to the communion rail.  And those wonderful, well-rehearsed elements are a means to an end.  The end result of good worship is the joy of turning our attention to God and God’s presence in the world.  The end result of good worship is hearts transformed by the Holy Spirit’s presence with our willingness to receive God’s inspiration.  The end result of good worship is a congregation returning to our weekday lives, refreshed and renewed, knowing that we have offered God our best.

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