Better than Sex

Been a bit irregular with my blogs lately, due to the sheer pressure of work and a few football induced injuries... but in order to fill the virtual space and to lay down for "posterity" some material that I wrote some years ago without the aid of an "IBM-compatible" (do you remember the days when that was the standard!?) computer, I'm going to be raiding my paper archives for some material, including the series entitled "A Life of Worship" which begins with the post below. It was originally "comissioned" (with no money involved) by the Methodist Newsletter, but the eventually stopped asking for it when they got letters complaining about it... It was intended to offer insights regarding worship (from a vaguely humourous perspective) based on real experiences down through the years...

One of the most challenging statements about worship was made by the theologian Karl Barth, who said:

"Christian Worship is the most momentous, the most urgent, the most glorious action that can take place in human life."

Naturally a statement like that stirs the imaginations and aspirations of those of us who are charged with leading worship, and so it was a favourite quote of one of my lecturers at theological college. He would waste no opportunity for trotting it out, and when he did you could see him literally shaking with excitement.

One day when we were discussing it among a small group of final year students, he mentioned this quote yet again, and as he expanded on it (as lecturers and preachers inevitably do... Why can't we just quote something and let the quote speak for itself?) he got so caught up in the excitement of it all that he blurted out...

"What Barth is saying is that worship is even better than sex!!!"

There was a pause... Then there cane the wave of uproarious laughter that such a statement deserves. I don't know what that statement says about that lecturer's sex-life... I dare not even think about that. I don hope that he meant it as a joke, because that is exactly what it is . A very funny, yet at the same time a very sad joke. Among our group that day was one colleague, who was due to get married the following summer, and I turned to him and said:
"Just think what you've got to look forward to... According to that your sex life will be less fulfilling than than an evening service on a wet Sunday night in winter!"

If sex was less fulfilling than my experience of worship in many churches, then the human race would have died out a long time ago.

My lecturer's statement is obviously nonsense. But then again, so is the original quote from Barth. Inspiring nonsense, but nonsense all the same.

Christian Worship should be the most momentous, the most urgent, the most glorious action that can take place in human life. That much is true. But is it? In my experience I would have to say that 99% of what we describe as worship falls far short of that ideal. Perhaps I have been unfortunate, but that is my honest experience. I have been involved in services of worship that have been truly uplifting, but all too often I have been profoundly and mind numbingly bored, or worse, alienated and embarrased.

Every year in the Covenant Service of the Methodist Church we say:
"We confess the poverty of our worship..."

And I'm sure there would be a hearty "Amen!" to that from other denominations. Now that doesn't just apply to our services of worship, but the fact that we do now worship God in and with everything that we have, are and do.

But if we focus on our services of worship for a time, I have to ask myself where does the blame lie for that poverty of worship? I continually tell others that worship is more about what we bring to it than what we get out of it. So taking my own teaching to heart, it the truly awful worship that I have experienced my fault, either as a congregational participant or, latterly as a worship leader?

So I have trawled through my memories of worship in an attempt to answer that question. Some of these are memories of truly dreadful services, some much more inspiring, although the inspiring ones are probably unrepresentatively numerous, simply because they have imprinted themselves on my mind through being out of the ordinary. Some are formal acts of worship... some very informal. Some are services where I was a member of the congregation, in some I played a more prominent part in leading the service. Some suggest lessons to be learned, some are just funny.

The insights gleaned are not terribly profound, but I do hope that some will be helpful. I am sure that many people will disagree with my opinions... Well, praise God! Worship would be even more tedious if orchestrated according to one person's prejudices. But if nothing else I hope it will reassure others that their frustration with turgid worship-life is not unique...

By the way. When this introductory piece was published by the Methodist Newsletter all references to sex were removed, for fear of offending... Reducing this to a piece of pointless, turgid prose... Pretty much what we do to worship most Sundays...


Mr. Moo said…
Dare I agree with most of what you wrote here? Yes, I think I must.

My tuppence: Worship will only become what it might be when prepared-for and actively participated-in by the entire congregation. Leaving it to a few people to plan and execute results in dullness more often than not.

Obviously, worship is for God, not us, but if _we're_ bored I can't help wondering how the Almighty might feel.

There _are_ bright moments of joy in many acts of communal worship; I long for more.

I am challenged, thank you.
Mark said…
You will go and use that little word, won't you... ;)

Something unexpected that just popped in to my head: is aspiration somewhere close to the heart of worship?

Or perhaps the kernel is in the phrase "what we describe as worship"?
Have been thinking along those lines myself recently so will look forward to what follows ....

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