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Monday, December 6, 2010

Disciplined Worship

There is a lot of talk that a consumerist mindset has taken over in the American church. Most of our culture is built on the premise Burger King has turned into a slogan: “Have it your way.” Personal preference rules. We consume what we want. For instance, you can’t just go to the store and buy a box of crackers any more. Now you get to choose between salt-free, fat-free, reduced sodium, reduced calories, gluten-free, eco-friendly, name brand, generic brand, whole grain, wheat, white, chocolate, vanilla, or the new improved regular crackers. (Okay, maybe not all of those, but you get the point.)
In many ways, this is what the American church has begun to offer. There seems to be a different type of service, a different trend in worship, for every person out there. Tell the church what you want, and they’ll try to make it happen for you.
Recently, I’ve been rereading a book called John Wesley’s Sunday Service of the Methodists in North America. This is a liturgical book outlining a pattern for worship services that Wesley urged American Methodists to follow. In a sense, this book was John Wesley’s last will and testament to his American followers, setting a pattern for Methodist worship in its earliest stages in America. Wesley wanted to take ancient forms of worship practice and spirituality and pour them into the local church. It outlines orders for morning and evening prayers, communion, baptism, marriage, etc. Wesley also gives a guide for daily scripture reading and prayer.
Someone once told me, “Look at what you spend most of your time doing. That will tell you what’s most important in your life.” If we were to agree that in general this applies to worship, then there is no doubt in Wesley’s service orders that the reading of scripture and prayer were most important. The majority of the service is scripture reading or prayer. In fact, the Sunday morning service opens with five scripture readings followed by a prayer of confession, a prayer of pardon, then the Lord’s Prayer. After this, the community then recites multiple Psalms. (As an aside, Wesley also encouraged his followers to read through the book of Psalms once every week.)
This struck me as something amazing. That is a lot of scripture. As I thought about Wesley’s structure for worship, I began to wonder if it would work in the church today. Honestly and unfortunately I don’t think it would. It doesn’t fit our consumerist mindset. It’s not entertaining. It’s not what I want. To be fully honest, we’d probably think it’s pretty boring.
            I think some of the reason a service like this would be difficult today is due to the fact we are not disciplined Christians. (And unfortunately for us, discipline and disciple aren’t words too far from each other.) James White writes in his introduction to John Wesley’s Sunday Service, “It took incredible discipline to be part of these worship services.” We aren’t approaching worship as those who have been disciplined throughout the week. I wonder how much daily discipline would enhance weekly worship. If I were to spend more time in the scriptures and prayer, would a service that does the same be more meaningful to me? If I make other things priority with my time, will other things also become priority in my worship?
            Maybe a consumerist model isn’t all bad. Perhaps it’s what we are consuming that needs to change. If I spent less time consuming the unnecessary things my life and spent more time consuming the Word of God, something would begin to change. Maybe I’d find that I’m not the one doing the consuming, but instead I am the one being consumed into the life of God.  

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