We settled into the pews. The auditorium began to fill. Waiting for the service to start, I leafed through the handout we’d received on our way in, sixteen pages long with only one page of announcements.
Before the service even started, a leader stood and led us in preparatory music, one hundreds of years old and one decades. One of the songs included an explanatory note to convey the meaning behind the song to those who might misunderstand it.
And then the service started: a call to worship, three Scripture readings, six songs (all of them meaty), four prayers, and an hour-long sermon, concluded by a time of silence for reflection and preparation. Two hours later, I felt exhausted — not the bad kind of exhausted, but exhausted like I feel after going to the gym, with the accompanying endorphins. I hadn’t been a spectator that morning. I’d been an active participant.
For years, we’ve assumed that we had to make our worship gatherings less demanding. Many of us have shortened our worship services, removed challenging songs, and reduced the number and length of prayers. I understand the impulse: we don’t want to make our worship gatherings unnecessarily complicated or burdensome.
In the process, I wonder if we’ve gone too far the other way. We demand less, and as a result, we miss out on developing some of the spiritual muscles that need a workout. It’s possible that we’ve removed so many demands from our worship gatherings that we’re missing out on what the demands were meant to do.
The pastor of the church I visited says that the church is designed for two kinds of people: those who are exploring Christianity, and those who are serious about following Christ. If you are spiritually curious or hungry, you will probably find that church compelling. It’s not designed for those who are looking for a convenient form of Christianity. It’s hard to attend that church as a casual observer.
Perhaps we need more of the same. It’s not wrong for our corporate gatherings to require something of us. We arrive cold; our hearts need to be warmed. We are needy; we need prayers of confession, praise, thanks, and petition. We imbibe lies from the world every day; we need to be reminded of the truth. We need all of this in the context of a community of other believers who are taking God seriously too.
I worry about what’s lost when we make our corporate gatherings too easy. Just as some workout programs promise killer abs with no effort, some churches seem to promise spiritual health with no demands. Neither one delivers on its promise.
I’m not arguing that we make things unnecessarily complicated. Nobody needs worship gatherings that are stale or songs and sermons that are incomprehensible. We do, however, need the right spiritual muscles developed, and that will require something from us.
I walked away from the service I attended tired, a little sore from sitting so long, but also strengthened and encouraged. The details will vary depending on our context, but we need to resist the drift to easy worship in our gatherings.