On our recent holiday we went to three different churches for the morning service.
The first had a congregation of about 30. Some were young, in their twenties, one or two children.
Men mostly wore dark suits, younger men more casual. We sang from the old version of Christian Hymns (using books) to keyboard / small organ accompaniment.
The Bible version was the AV.
The sermon was about 45 minutes, three points, two clear pastoral points, the third a clear evangelistic message. Two of the young men were, I learned afterwards, Muslim friends of one of the young men from the local university.
The order of service, prayers and readings (two) were quite traditional. Preacher preached from the pulpit.
Coffee afterwards. People friendly.
The second Sunday saw us in a congregation of about 120. Virtually everybody dressed casually, many men in shorts. Without introduction a young man (whom I knew to be the minister only because I had seen him on the website) gave out some notices and then led into singing of a short song from a screen. A music group of about four was on the platform. We sang again, a couple of times.
The minister, dressed in jeans or casual chinos and hoodie, told the story of the Good Samaritan using pictures on a the screen. We were not sure if it was meant for children or adults.
No pulpit, he held his Bible and used a music stand occasionally to rest things on.
Afterwards he made a few more adult points of application. There was no reading of the Bible (he just talked his way through the parable) – our boys picked up on this.
Songs interspersed. We were invited to talk to our neighbour during the offering. We stayed for communion. Nothing to distinguish believer and unbeliever or to challenge the unbeliever.
Coffee afterwards. People friendly.
The third Sunday morning saw us again in a congregation of about 120-150. Minister (slightly smarter chinos, casual shirt) welcomed people, we sang a song which was a mixture of an old hymn with new added words to a difficult modern tune.
Band of about 7 in one corner. Bible reading. More songs, one traditional hymn. Notices, and then a five to ten minute break for the children to leave and for people to talk to each other. Why?
Sermon – about 35 minutes, expository and quite good, certainly faithfully dealing with the text. Used the screen for three pictures related to the sermon (debatable if they were necessary) and for three points of application towards the end of the sermon.
Quite a lot of movement during the service - getting cups of water etc. All casually dressed, many men in shorts. All hymns on overhead screen.
Where did we find it most easy to worship? I know, for sure.
Was this just because it (the first Sunday – in case you had not guessed) was more what we are used to (though by no means in every detail)? Was it just a cultural, and therefore what people would call an ‘indifferent’, matter? Or is something more serious at stake?
Where was the greatest sense of God? Of the magnificence and holiness of the one with whom we have to do in worship? Where did we sense that old fashioned thing called reverence, humble piety, the conviction that we were coming into the presence of our Maker and Judge and not just our buddy?
It was noticeable that only the first church preached a clear gospel message and directly challenged an unbeliever. You could concentrate on the words of the hymns, on the Bible reading, on the sermon – on seeking God - without the countless little distractions that attend greater ‘informality’ and the quest for innovation. Casualness, informality and chatty busyness are antithetical to spiritual worship which is the hardest activity to which human nature can address itself.
The atmosphere and approach in the latter two churches would have been unrecognizable as worthy of Sunday worship to non-conformists of an earlier generation. Isn’t worship meant to be a serious matter?
Is it just that the times are a-changing? Cultural adjustments we should just get used to? Or is something going seriously wrong with evangelical worship?