Part 9 of series: Choosing a Church: Some Recommendations
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This recommendation might seem so obvious as to be almost not worth mentioning. What is a church, if not a place to worship? But finding a place where you can worship, truly worship, is not quite as simple as it sounds.
For one thing, worship isn’t just sitting through a so-called “worship service.” It’s not listening to a sermon. It’s not evening singing songs and reading Bible passages. Worship, at its core, is intimate communication with God. It’s responding to God’s nature and activity by offering to God praise, thanks, honor, love, and, most of all, yourself. (I’ve had much to say about worship over the years, most of all in my series, The Soul of Worship.)
So, when you’re searching for a church home, look for a place where you can worship, where what happens in the service facilitates your offering to God. The main point isn’t the excellence of the sermon or the music. It isn’t even whether you like the worship services or not. Rather, the main point is whether a church helps you to offer yourself to God in the weekly gathering, and, by extension, in the rest of your life.
What helps people to truly worship God varies widely. I have dear friends who, though once in low-church, evangelical congregations, have found deep inspiration for their worship in Eastern Orthodox worship settings, with its elaborate liturgy and pageantry. I have other friends who grew up in very formal churches, but who have been set free to worship in free-flowing, band-led services full of praise songs and other contemporary expressions. And then there’s everything in between. (Photo: The Festival of Carols at Irvine Presbyterian Church, one of my favorite worship experiences.)
I don’t mean to imply that a worship service can be anything you want it to be. A true worship experience is focused on God, God’s grace, God’s nature, God’s activity, God’s love. It regularly holds up the good news of the gospel, in word, in song, in prayer, and in deed. It includes the reading and preaching of Scripture. The sacraments of communion and baptism and regularly shared. But these various elements of worship, which are common to all true Christian worship, can be experienced in a wide variety of genres and styles. I don’t care whether you go to a church that uses a choir and hymns or a band and praise songs or some combination. I do care that you find a church in which you are let to the throne of grace, where you might experience mercy and find grace afresh, and where you might offer yourself to God on a regular basis.
I must qualify what I’ve just said, however, if you’re something other than a single person. If you’re a member of a family, then you’re facing a potentially more complicated issue, because you need to find a church that facilitates the worship of your family, and not just yourself. This may be easy, but probably won’t be. These days, it’s quite possible that your spouse is moved to worship through a different style from the one you prefer. And if you have teenage children, as I do, it’s almost certain that their preferences won’t be the same as yours. So you may very well be looking for a church that offers a variety of worship experiences.
I’m not interested in debating in this post whether it’s good or not for a church to have diverse worship services. I’ll save this for another time. But, given what I’ve said above, you can probably surmise that I’m less concerned about the style(s) of worship in a church than I am about the understanding of worship and the way it is facilitated. A church with a right theology of worship and wise worship leaders will be leading people to offer themselves to God in their traditional service, their contemporary service, their blended service, their vanilla service, their chocolate-chip service, and who knows what else.
These days, many churches have developed theological statements in which they discuss their understanding and practice of worship. If the church you’re considering has such a statement, it might help you discover whether this church is right for you. You can find an example of such a statement on the website of Irvine Presbyterian Church, where I served as pastor for many years. The leaders of this church and I developed this statement primarily as a guide for our own worship. But it also helped potential new members learn what we believed and practiced.
In the end, however, statements will only take you so far. You will only know if you (and your family) can truly worship in a given church by regularly joining the congregation in their worship.