Written by Emily Hein / October 2018
There are quite a few churches in the area around my house. In particular, there is one “mega-church” about a block down the road. Now, as a disclaimer, I have never attended this church and have not personally experienced the type of worship that goes on there. However, I can say that I’ve heard them worshipping there. Just a few weeks ago, while on a walk around my neighborhood, I heard some loud bass coming from what I thought was a car driving past, perhaps listening to some rap music. However, it turned out to be the mega-church down the road. A quick Google search provided me with images of the inside of the church, which looked to me more like a rock concert venue than a church.
A little further into my research of this church, I found videos of worship services. I thought I would take a look and see what it was like. About 10 minutes into the first video I found, I had only heard God mentioned maybe four times. The pastor had walked onto the stage in jeans, a polo, and a leather jacket and started talking about the state fair. I wasn’t sure if this was supposed to tie into a sermon or not, so I kept watching. However, nothing he was saying in the first 10 minutes of a 30-minute video sounded anything like a sermon. Another video I began watching showed the congregation lifting their hands and swaying along to a rock song that mentioned Jesus once or twice.
So many churches in today’s world are shifting the focus of their worship to the worshiper, not the One being worshipped. Things like this make me appreciate the traditions and worship style of my church. I can appreciate the liturgy we follow, the hymns we sing, and the sermons we absorb every Sunday so much more when I know that there are people who essentially go to a rock concert to worship God and miss out on hearing the law and gospel. When Jesus was speaking with the Samaritan woman at the well, He told her that “God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:24). Worshiping God is not meant to be about us. We are there to sing our praises to Him, not to sing something that will make us feel emotional. We are there to learn His Word, not to watch a show. God’s house is to be a special place where we as Christians can gather and hear His Word in its truth. God wants us to “speak the things which are proper for sound doctrine” (Titus 2:1). Sound doctrine is vastly more important than how much we like a song that we sing in a worship service.
Our church services are to be centered on God and His Word. Singing worship songs just to elicit an emotional reaction from the congregation is not what the Triune God is about. The Spirit works in the hearts of those who have heard the Good News of the Gospel. It doesn’t depend on how much we swayed or how high we raised our hands when listening to a worship song. Jesus commanded us to preach His Word in the well-known words of the Great Commission: “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20a). As Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 9:16, “For if I preach the gospel, I have nothing to boast of, for necessity is laid upon me; yes, woe is me if I do not preach the gospel!” Preaching the gospel is what God wants us to do! Not just singing to Him without any real substance in our words. We shouldn’t strive for an emotional response; we should strive to strengthen and build up our faith.
Emotional reactions are not what God is looking for in a worship service. That’s not to say we shouldn’t be moved by what we’re listening to in a church service. There have been times when I’ve felt so relieved hearing the pastor pronounce that my sins are forgiven that I’ve been overcome with joy. Or when hearing a hymn sung at a close relative’s funeral has brought me to tears. However, emotional responses based on songs that don’t even touch on the gospel is not edifying for our faith; it rather makes us feel good for a short time. We need to hear the law and gospel in order to truly hear God’s Word for long-term, faith-based responses. This can be the danger with churches like the mega-church down the road from my house: If the law is not preached on a regular basis, and no confession of sins or absolution is spoken, how can we know that we need a Savior, or that our sins are forgiven? “The entirety of [God’s] word is truth” (Psalm 119:160a), so we should preach the entirety of Scripture!
Focusing on God’s Word and hearing sermons that preach law and gospel are to be the focus of our worship services. Once we start focusing on ourselves and our feelings, we lose sight of what’s truly important – God sending His only Son to take away our sins. Faith in Him is our ticket to heaven, where we will be blessed to continue our God-centered worship into eternity.