There might be some questions if you’re new to our church and are worshipping with us:
- Why don’t you sing songs like X or Y?
- Aren’t liturgy and written prayers less genuine?
- Why is this church so unexpressive in worship?
- Wow, why is this church SO expressive?
- Why do we sing sad songs?
- Why are the so few songs with so much space in between?
- Why are there so many songs with not enough spaces?
- Why do you keep explaining things and talking to visitors? Why aren't you just talking to the Christians in the room?
To answer some of those questions, let's ask another one. Who is the audience when we gather together for worship?
Mike Cosper in his book Rhythms of Grace lays out three primary audiences in worship.
The first audience of worship is God. We gather to speak truth about Him, bring glory to Him, give our all to Him, delight in His presence with us and praise Him for what He’s done. For some, this is pretty much all a worship gathering is for, but scripture actually goes further!
The second audience in worship is one another. Ephesians 5:18-19 says "...be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart." Worship is for us to encourage one another. More about this later.
The third audience in worship is the unbeliever. When we start to worship the Lord side-by-side, embracing one another despite our differences, and do so in one voice, then we are putting on display that which the world cannot explain except but the power of God. In 1 Corinthians 14:23 the apostle Paul expects unbelievers to be present in worship! Our worship must be comprehensible to unbelievers, and not be a mystery in coded language.
A look at what it means to sing to "one another"...
Now, let me take a few moments to talk about the second audience of one another. What does this mean?
Some of you may not know it, but we have a wide range of people in here who come from a lot of different traditions. For some of us City On A Hill felt like a place we could connect right away. For others of us it’s been more of a process, and not as easy…it’s taken time and struggle…it’s taken the love of people to come alongside us and help us understand that this is a place we can call home.
City On A Hill is not the kind of church I would’ve ever attended when I first came to Boston. Frankly, 15 years ago, anything outside of a majority Asian context in church made me uncomfortable, or would feel just “not right" or "authentic enough". I would go to conferences or worship services that were by people predominantly of other cultures and I’d find myself feeling uninspired, or at worst judgmental about the way that people had worshipped and prayed, did community, and exercised leadership.
And I’ll be honest, since coming to be a pastor at City On A Hill, it’s not always been easy to have to explain myself and my culture to others when my whole life growing up, church was the one place I finally didn’t have to explain that, it was always my safe place after being in the world all week where very few people understood me.
So let me pause and say to those among us who at times find being with us to be a stretch or strain…..we see you. We know it’s hard. Some of you struggle to understand sermons and songs that are all in a language that is hard to learn. Some of you feel like what we do here on Sundays might as well be a foreign language b/c it’s so different from what you’re used to! I just want you to know….we see you. We understand.
My wife Tanya, once read our weekly scripture passage on Sunday in Russian. Later on she mentioned to me that because she read it in her heart language of Russian, the sermon was easier to understand than it had been in months. And if you know my wife, her English is excellent. But nonetheless, it enabled her soul to be ministered to in a fresh way. This is why historically we have from time to time read the scriptures aloud in different languages. It’s both a reminder to those of us who find this environment comfortable that not everyone feels that way, and it’s a comfort to those who are making a sacrifice to be here.
This is not about pleasing everyone. But it is about encouraging one another and remembering what worship is about.
You see over the years, the Lord in His mercy has shown me… this is not about me and my preferences. It’s about Him, what He’s done, and the people He’s called to Himself. Each of us, as we’ve been learning through Nehemiah, has a role in the body of Christ.
Ephesians 2:14 "For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility."
Our peace and comfort are not ultimately in getting what we want out of a worship gathering, and building walls between us and others based on our preferences. Our peace and comfort are in Christ and Him alone.
Worship is celebrating what God has done in Christ, and what He’s doing. We’re giving Him glory. We’re declaring this to the world and showing them the continued “preview” of what the redeemed humanity and world will look like. We’re reminding one another of that truth too.
Let’s come to gather in worship with all of this in mind. Let’s get rid of “me and God” being our only focus….. Let’s instead strive to actively be a part of a people that say “WE worship You, oh God”, while we encourage one another with truth, love, and display to those who don’t know Christ what it means to be a reconciled people.