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Not a Concert and TED Talk – a Dialogue

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Throughout the time we have been studying worship in our “Back to Worship” sermon series at Faith Church, I have been thinking about a comment I heard a number of years ago about church worship services. Essentially, someone stated that many people view a church worship service as a concert followed by a TED Talk, as there is music and a message. While this person didn’t mention this, we could add another element of a “commercial break” of announcements between the concert and the TED Talk sections. From an outside perspective, worship service may look like this, but there is a better way of viewing what happens in a service. This analogy is that of dialogue, as the elements of the service function as part of a dialogue in which God speaks and His people respond. Worship is not a passive experience of entertainment and education, but one of engagement with the God of the universe who enters into a covenant relationship with His people.

God Calls Us
The reason people gather for worship is because God calls and commands His people to worship Him. This truth is why our church services feature some type of “call” to worship God – typically the reading of a portion of Scripture. In introducing the service this way, it becomes clear that this is not simply a concert to sit back and listen to others perform songs, but rather to burst forth in praise in reflecting on who God is and what He has done for us in Christ. This is not just an icebreaker or a warm-up, it is the call of God to His people that invites us to respond.

We Respond in Song
When you attend a concert and sing along to the songs, who are you singing to? I’m not totally sure if it is the band (so they hear how you are enjoying it) or to yourself as a mark of joy, but whoever it is, and for whatever reason you are doing so, it is different from what we do in a worship service at church. We are first and foremost singing to God. There is also a sense in which we are singing to each other (see Ephesians 5:19), not to impress them, but to encourage as we remind others of God’s truths that we need to hear. In some ways, the singing is less of a concert and more like a birthday party in which you have been summoned not just to sing and have fun, but to sing to someone to celebrate who they are. Our songs in a worship service are our responses to God.

God Speaks to Us
God speaks to us through the Bible. Therefore, whenever Scripture is read in a service, it is the Word of God to His people spoken through a preacher or another person. While the sermon is the primary way in which God speaks to us, it is not the only way. At times we will read Scriptures that might call us to confess our sins, give us assurance of our forgiveness, or invite us to consider a particular truth. Regardless of what is being read (and when) in the service, it is God speaking to us. The Reformed tradition also views a faithful sermon as part of how God speaks. Chapter 1 of the Second Helvetic Confession (written in 1562 by Heinrich Bullinger in Basel) states: “When this Word of God is now preached in the church by preachers lawfully called, we believe that the very Word of God is proclaimed.” This is not saying that you should view each and every word of the preacher as inspired by God or allow for a preacher to claim divine authority in the pulpit. What it does mean is that God has chosen to speak to His people as the Word of God is both read and then explained to His people. The sermon is not a TED Talk with some ideas that might help you – it is God declaring to His people who He is and how we are called to live. Celebrating the sacraments of baptism and communion is another element in the worship service that God speaks to us. These sacraments stand as visualized ways of God proclaiming His truth about what Christ has done for us.

We Respond to His Truth
As we hear God speak to us in different ways throughout the service, we are called to respond. This may be by speaking to Him in prayer (corporate or privately), receiving the sacrament, or through a song of response that arises from the truth being proclaimed. One of the distinctives of Reformed worship that I have loved over the years is that it does not just end with a sermon but typically with some sort of response, usually a song. Ultimately, we need to respond to the Word declared by God in obedience (which might involve believing, valuing, or doing something differently), and this song can help us do that as well. The announcements and collection of offerings also stand as responses to what God is doing. We give our financial resources back to God to honor Him and seek the extension of His name in this world as well as devoting our time and talents to various endeavors and opportunities to grow deeper in faith and put it into practice. Announcements are not commercials – they are calls to action in response to what God has done!

God Sends Us
If worship is a dialogue, who gets the final word? As you might expect, God does. This happens as the service concludes with a blessing from God to His people. God’s Word is once again spoken over us as a way to equip and empower us to live in light of the conversation that we have had with God that day. We are invited to respond to this final word of that truth until we gather again.

What Kind of Conversation Partner Are You?
When we recognize the church service as a dialogue between God and those gathered, it invites us to consider how good of a conversation partner we are with Him. Are we listening to what He is saying? Do we reply back to Him with a thoughtful response, or just the bare minimum required to be polite? May we be active listeners and active respondents in the dialogue that is Christian worship.

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