It is hard for people to see the importance of worship when their experience of worship is generally not glorious. Too often worship is dissatisfying, it is frustrating, it is downright disappointing. God does not break in, boredom breaks out. That’s why many people – not least young people – no longer go to church. Church is boring. What’s gone wrong?
First of all, in many circles worship has become centered on ourselves: the emphasis is upon our feelings. We spend much of our time telling God how we feel, as an examination of any collection of modern songs quickly reveals. Furthermore, there is a tendency to expect that worship should always make us feel good. Instead of coming to worship God because he is God, we come to worship God because we need a boost. “Join us for worship”, declared a noticeboard outside a church, “you will feel better for it”. But is that necessarily true? If God is to the fore, we may not initially feel better at all. An encounter with God may actually prove to be painful and may entail a call to sacrifice, commitment and self-denial. In the words of the late English Baptist, Ralph Martin: “The call is not so much, ‘Smile God loves you’ as ‘Repent’, ‘Weep’, ‘Tremble'” (The Worship of God, Paternoster, Exeter 1982, 5)
Secondly, and related to our first point, much contemporary worship has effectively become ‘entertainment’ and ‘consumer-oriented’. So Andrew Walker and Robin Parry write in their recent book Deep Church Rising: Recovering the Roots of Christian Orthodoxy (SPCK, London 2014, 98):
If we position worship as a form of Christian entertainment we will shape Christians who consume worship as a product; Christians that move from one worship ‘high’ to the next, chasing one stimulating event after another; Christians that assess how good the worship was by how fuzzy it made them feel; and Christians that will leave one congregation for another with little hesitation if a more entertaining gathering springs up in another church. But this kind of worship is, at rock bottom, all about me, and God is approached as if he were under some obligation to keep me happy. He is my drug of choice, but if he gets boring, I’ll move on.
Thirdly, much contemporary worship has lost its direction. The sense of movement implicit in some of the traditional orders of service has been abandoned and little of substance has been put in their place. The ‘new wine’ of the Spirit has proved to be heady stuff. It has burst its old containers. It needs new wineskins, new worship structures, if it is to be contained. Alas, in many non-liturgical churches, worship at times lacks form and therefore lacks direction. Many pastors have abdicated their traditional role of leading worship and handed it over to the church’s musicians, without apparently realising that there is a great difference between leading songs and leading worship.
If worship is to be truly satisfying, if worship is to lead into the presence of God, if worship is to provide the norms and inspiration for living, then there must be structure and direction. Freedom without form all too often means that worship becomes an emotional experience, which does not actually meet the needs of the heart. In this context a new sense of liturgy is needed.