I’ve just read a booklet entitled ‘Evaluating Worship’ by Mark Earey, and I found it fascinating – he talks about the different models of worship that exist, for example, do you think:
- Worship is for the individual to draw closer to God, or
- Worship is to enable us to be more open to the readings and preaching, or
- Worship is our duty – it doesn’t matter whether we like it or not, or
- Worship is heaven on earth – as the angels are singing ‘Holy, holy, holy’ in heaven, so we reflect that praise on earth…
The models of worship are different to ‘styles of worship’ – so any of these models could be formal or informal, they could use hymn books or the words on a screen. In fact, often when we argue about the style of worship (eg. we mustn’t have bongo drums in the service) we are really trying to defend our model of worship (eg. I don’t care whether people like bongo drums – people should see worship as a duty).
I don’t particularly prefer any style – I like both formal and informal worship – but a more interesting question for me has been ‘What is my model of worship’ – none of the above really resonate for me.
Having reflected on it, for me it is about the family of God coming together around the table and being equipped to serve the community. I value us showing up, week by week, getting to know each other well and becoming a spiritual family. I also value us being sent out into the world to serve others and to let God’s love be known.
There are many sobering scriptures where people think their worship is great but God has other ideas – the classic example is from Amos 5:
I hate, I despise your festivals, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies…Take away from me the noise of your songs; I will not listen to the melody of your harps. But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. (Amos 5.21–24, NRSV)
The booklet ends with a quote from the theologian the Reverend Michael Vasey:
The evaluation of worship in any Christian tradition has to attend not only to the emotional and aesthetic experience but to its outworking in agape, justice and mission.
How can you tell if worship is any good? Not by asking ‘How many of us liked it?’ (the ‘emotional and aesthetic experience’). What Vasey reminds us is that the truest evaluation of worship will always be based on what are essentially long-term criteria, rather than the short-term criteria we often apply.