At Old Hickory, we have been in the process of taking a congregational survey designed by LifeWay Research for the purpose of analyzing the spiritual pulse of our congregation. More specifically, by participating in the worship, classes, and additional projects at our congregation, are people experiencing genuine spiritual transformation?
I am anxious to see how the results turned out. One thing that I've noticed, being on the administrative end of the survey, is that it is amazing how many variant interpretations people can have of the same questions. Some have taken it with no problems, but others have really struggled to understand the terminology used in several of the questions. As we've wondered how many people actually took the survey--they could have taken it online--we've gotten feedback ranging from extremely pleased to extremely perturbed by the process. Something Don and I were talking about today is how there's bound to be something good about the fact that we've tried to give people an open venue to share their thoughts with us. Even if they didn't give their thoughts, they won't be able to say that we haven't been willing to hear what they have to say.
One area that this survey has brought to my attention is the function of worship services. Lots of their questions centered around what we did with our worship services. I guess my underlying question is, "What is the purpose of worship services?" For teaching? For evangelism? For edification? For fun?
One of my professors, Dr. David Fleer suggests that good preaching (and good worship services) should have three aspects present, which he draws from Cicero; a master rhetorician. These elements are teaching, pleasing, and persuading. I am not here trying to make a doctrinal statement, but rather a stylistic statement. Aside from the question of what elements should be present in worship, how can we use these elements in a way that impacts people?
He had a quote, and I may not be remembering it correctly, but it was basically, "To teach is a necessity, to please is a sweetness, to persuade is a victory." In worship, it is crucial that true things are expressed about God and how he relates to our lives. It's wonderful if people learn, and it's even better if they find the sermon--and the rest of the worship--an enjoyable experience. But if by their presence, they are genuinely convicted to make a decision, or to live differently in some way, then we will have had a real spiritual victory resulting from our assembly.
I think churches are unwise to ignore any of these elements. If no real teaching happens, then church is nothing more than entertainment, and it has lost its teeth, as well as its ability to retain members once they are bored with the routine. Some people are too quick to dismiss the aspect of emotion in assemblies, saying that it is just entertainment, or that spirituality is somehow different than emotion. But God gave us hearts, and we need to hear stories and have experiences that draw our hearts through the whole range of our emotions. A completely stoic worship service with only dry, intellectual preaching is ignoring a vital part of our being. Some prefer an experience that involves fun and learning, but no "meddling." They want interesting sermons with applications about helping people in third world countries, but not about anything that I have to do differently this afternoon in how I treat my own family and friends. They like the routine of church, and punching a heavenly time card, but they are not interested in really being challenged. I believe in all three of the areas I've listed, if we don't give them their due place, sincere Christian people will feel the lack of what is not there.
I think the responses we get from folks about their attendance here will probably illuminate our strengths and weaknesses in each of these three aspects. Are we helping them to grow in wisdom and discernment? Are we inviting them into experiences which touch their hearts in new and challenging ways? Are we making high enough expectations of their lives outside of the assemblies?
We should find out soon. I pray that we'll do what's right in how we move forward.