a book i would encourage anyone to read is marva dawn’s,
a royal “waste” of time. she asks amazing questions about how we do worship and comes to some fantastic conclusions.

i read it for a class this semester, and here are some thoughts about
two chapters in particular from a review i did for class (hence, the capitalization…)

[Dawn, Marva J. A Royal “Waste” Of Time. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999. 377 pp. $19.00]

In A Royal “Waste” of Time, Marva dawn explores what it means to worship God intentionally in every aspect of the Christian life. Writing as a scholar and preacher in the Lutheran tradition, Dawn explores the impact of compromise and ingenuity on our worship as well as the status of the heart condition of worshippers in our services.

In the chapter five, “Worship for Postmodern Times”, Dawn writes the following:

Why does so much of the new and old music used in
many congregations lack theological depth, biblical
images, motivation to be about God’s purposes of
witnessing, justice building, and peacemaking in the world?
What kind of people are our worship services forming?
[1]

I cannot think of a more important question that is not being asked in many of our churches today. In all of the discussion of worship styles, worship planning, and worship philosophy, this is the first instance I have encountered where the question was asked “What kind of Christian is our worship forming?”

The fact of the matter is people are shaped by the worship that they participate in every week. If the only songs they sing are so ambiguous that they could be played on secular radio and everyone would presume it was about a boyfriend or girlfriend, then there is a problem. Our worship is a response to who God is and what he has done. If the only imagery we can muster is focused on exploring and describing our own emotions, then we have greatly malnourished our congregations.

Worship is not only a means of expression, but also a time of instruction and edification. Does our worship content prepare our congregations to deal with hard times and rely on Christ when nothing goes right for long periods of time? Do we learn more about the character and attributes of God beyond what could be described as physical attributes (lovely, beautiful, etc.)?

One major area that would be impacted if this question were taken seriously would be in the area of worship planning. Rather than planning a service based on a set number of fast songs to bring them up and a certain number of mid tempo songs to contemplate, and a few slower songs to get everyone in the mood (whatever that means) for the sermon, what if our main question was, “What kind of Christian will this service form?” This is not the same as planning a service for worshippers rather than God, but it takes into account that whatever happens in worship, those participating are being shaped and formed. Whether or not they are being shaped and formed into believers with a greater understanding of God and who he is, what he has done and how we are to live in light of this is up to the content of our worship. The stakes are much too high to leave this formative aspect of the Christian life up to aesthetics.

Dawn’s chapter entitled “Don’t Let the People Cop Out of Witnessing” was one of my favorite chapters. In it, Dawn addresses an issue that has become somewhat of a preoccupation with me recently. She addresses the conflict and confusion between evangelism and worship. With Dawn, I stand loudly to proclaim the great need to witness and as a pastor, I embrace evangelism and its rightful place in the life of a believer. I do not think, however, that it is justifiable to create our worship services in a way that their aim is evangelism. Dawn says it better than I:

If we choose a certain music style or other elements simply
to appeal to those outside our walls, then we are forcing
worship to bear the brunt of evangelism, which is instead
the task of all believers. Don’t misunderstand: good worship
will be evangelistic, but that is not its primary purpose, for
it is directed toward God, not toward the neighbor. No
passage in scripture says “Worship the Lord to attract the
unbeliever.” Rather, in countless texts we are commanded,
invited, urged, wooed to worship the Trinity because God is
worthy of our praise. As stated in the beginning of this chapter,
worship can actually be done only by those who recognize that
worthiness.
[2]

Dawn has articulated a concern I have had for a long while. While we should expect that there will be unbelievers in our midst each week, the purpose for gathering together is for the worship by and edification of believers. The New Testament church was a gathering of believers. This is why it perplexes me when churches will completely alter the way that they “do church” in the hope that more unbelievers will come. By doing this, churches fail in their purpose of being a church. While it is true that we are commanded to evangelize, and we should do so joyfully, the Great Commission says “as you go on your way make disciples…”[3] not “get them into your meetings and hope they ‘get it’.”

When our worship services and worship content become geared toward the unbeliever, we are neglected the growth needs of the believer. While it is true that singing and teaching on the nature and character of God is and can be evangelistic, the believer needs to move beyond (though not forgetting) the basics of the gospel so that he or she may grow into maturity.[4] As long as our services are planned with an unbelieving target audience, the needs of the growing believer will go unmet in the long run.

[1] p. 69
[2] p. 123
[3] Matthew 28: 16-20
[4] Hebrews 5: 11-13

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