These questions are often tossed around in church staff meetings, at Christian conferences, at the latest cutting-edge leadership seminars, etc. At first glance, they sound caring and attentive to the needs of the people. However, when you dig deeper into the heart of this people-first approach to ministry, you will find it empty, vain, and anything but healthy for the ministry leaders and its participants.
This distorted focus on ourselves is found in all flavors and sizes. From the theater-seat auditorium to the small country church, looking for the best and most effective "worship experience" preoccupies the minds of pastors, leaders, and concerned congregants across the nation. This attitude goes way beyond the obvious "I love hymns" vs. "I like contemporary music" debate. Whether your pastor wears a clerical robe, a t-shirt and jeans, or a $2,000 business suit, there's a very good chance he or she is wearing it because it's what you and the rest of the room find most appropriate. And the problem certainly is not what the music sounds like or what the clothes look like; it's WHY the music sounds like it does and WHY the clothes look like they do.
See, the frustrating and annoying thing about God is that He couldn't care less what style of dress or style of music people prefer. He's staring straight into the ribcage covered heart of everyone in the room looking for someone whose heart is loyal to Him (2 Chronicles 16:9).
And that's only the surface of the issue. The people-pleasing attitude goes much, much deeper. Not only do we want our music to be stirring, our sermons to be uplifting, and our time at church to be meaningful to us, we want the Holy Spirit to come and give us an experience.
Here lies the danger: we conjure up just the right atmosphere, we set the right mood, we sing the favorite songs (you know the ones where everybody can really "feel" the Holy Spirit during the bridge and then BOOM there's the chorus again), and after it all we may or may not say "wow, that was a really moving service today." We place so much value on the Holy Spirit when He shows up during our services, but what about during the daily grind of regular life? Do we cherish when He nudges us to do something uncomfortable or sears our conscience about a glaring weakness in our life? It's as if we turn the Holy Spirit into some sacred commodity that can be packaged into a "worship experience" and peddled to anyone who will come join.
Thankfully, it's not a new problem:
“The multitude of your sacrifices—
what are they to me?” says the Lord.
“I have more than enough of burnt offerings,
of rams and the fat of fattened animals;
I have no pleasure
in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats.
When you come to appear before me,
who has asked this of you,
this trampling of my courts?
Stop bringing meaningless offerings!
Your incense is detestable to me.
New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations—
I cannot bear your worthless assemblies.
Your New Moon feasts and your appointed festivals
I hate with all my being.
They have become a burden to me;
I am weary of bearing them.
When you spread out your hands in prayer,
I hide my eyes from you;
even when you offer many prayers,
I am not listening.
Just showing up and doing the routine of church, regardless of the style, strategy, or flavor cannot fool God. Whatever worship service you attend is not about you at all. The songs you sing are not for your own goosebumps, the sermons you hear are not for a fleeting sense of "being moved," and the money you give is not to further build the certain type of "worship experience" you value. Worship belongs to God. The songs are His. The sermons are for His glory. The Holy Spirit is there to do whatever or NOT do whatever He desires.
God's value of our worship is not measured in experience; it is measured in our obedience. (1 Samuel 15:22)