Humans are meant to live in community, yet we are facing an epidemic of loneliness and isolation. We are ever “connected’ but rarely are we truly seen. A very real antidote the Church can provide the world is participation in a faith community. People can be plugged into something bigger than themselves and can join in healing relationships.
One of the reasons why I am a part of The Salvation Army is because I believe the faith communities I’ve been a part of are sanctifying. I am touched, hugged, squeezed, and smiled at in my community. I share meals with unlikely people. I made to feel a wide range of emotions in my worship community. Often it is joy, other times I am deeply frustrated to the point of anger, and sometimes I feel deep sadness as we collectively mourn. Almost always, I feel like my worship community makes me more human.
Perfectionism is a tricky little idol that often creeps into worship. The threat of perfectionism is stronger than it ever has been before and leads to comparison. All it takes is watching a few videos of professionally staged worship team music videos or listening to a couple of podcasts of celebrity preachers to make your Sunday morning worship experience seem “quaint.” There is great temptation to want the glossy worship experiences of bigger churches with more talent and more money.
However, the point of worship is not perfection. Worship is an offering to God. We offer up something to proclaim that God is the creator, savior, and sanctifier. It’s not our job to offer something perfect, it’s our job to offer something true. In our worshipping and acknowledging that God is maker and we are creation, we are made more human and holy.
A secondary component of worship is that the Church gets to participate in being a prophetic witness for the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The Church becomes a proclaimer of something real for the world to see. In the Old Testament, God called specific people out from the nation of Israel to function more specifically as prophet to the King and to the entire nation. God gave them a word rooted in their present moment to call the nation back into covenantal faithfulness. In times of disobedience, confusion, and unfaithfulness, the prophet spoke difficult words in order to heal the brokenness of their hearts.
When Christ came into the world, he too was given the prophetic mantle to bring people back to God. That is his very nature as incarnate God- he heals the separation between heaven and earth through his being enfleshed and living a human life. While the prophets of Israel worked on a micro scale for the nation, Christ came to work on a cosmic scale. All things were to be brought into unity with their creator. All brokenness was healed. All relationships were reconciled.
As Christ’s Bride and Body, the church takes on the same prophetic mantle of reconciliation. Because of Christ’s reconciling work in us, we are able to show the world that reconciliation has happened, is happening, and will fully take place at the second coming of Christ. The story of Pentecost illustrates this most clearly: Christ’s Spirit was poured out upon the faithful and immediately the church was able to minister reconciliation among the crowds. Gentiles and Jews were unified, the culture of the Kingdom trumped personal culture, and the Spirit reemphasized that because of Christ all people are equal.
Today, the church continues to proclaim the reconciling nature of the Gospel. While we hear of the Gospel’s reconciling nature most explicitly from the pulpit, the reality is that the prophetic witness of the Church occurs most powerfully through our worship. When we truly worship, whether we like it or not, something prophetic is taking place. We bear the prophetic fruit of reconciliation. In our prophetic witness we testify to the truth of the resurrection but recognize that the we still await a day of complete fulfillment. We live in the tension of already, but not yet. As the Church, it is our prophetic witness which allows us to proclaim the reconciliation that took place through Jesus’s death and resurrection and live into it’s promises even if the world around us hasn’t caught up. It is our responsibility to proclaim how God intends freedom and healing for all and then to incarnate that within our own worship settings.
This can be messy, awkward, and hard. It is far from the heavily curated worship experiences we see on Youtube or Instagram. We should be encouraged though that these prophetic witnesses of worship are real and true.
While I love our tradition, sometimes I feel really discouraged. Our numbers in many places are dwindling, finances aren’t what they used to be, and often it feels like our shining reputation doesn’t take us as far as it once did. And without being dismissive of the real difficulties we experience and face in our individual contexts, I wonder if this isn’t a great gift to be radical in prophetic witness.
The truth is the answer isn’t necessarily more worshipers, we need more authentic worship that testifies to the reconciling nature of the Gospel. The answer doesn’t lie in perfect worship sets, it is found in living into the reality of the Kingdom of God. Without the spotlight and pressure we can try new things, involve different people, leave room for messy transitions, and find deeper intimacy.
One of the benefits of reconciliation is that it can look vastly different depending on its context. It is meant to morph and change to meet the specific needs of individuals and communities. How reconciliation manifests in your corps might look different than my corps. Perhaps it means healing broken relationships between family and friends. Maybe it means bridging the generational divide and the racial inequalities present in your church and city. Perhaps it means intentionally having women in the pulpit to testify to the resurrection. The same Holy Spirit who empowered the disciples to speak new languages, engage new peoples, and go to new places encourages your faith community to prophetically testify to Christ’s reconciling work.
We have a world full of people who are lonely and isolated. They are in great need to be made human and to be reconciled back to Christ. There is so much in this world that needs healing and the message that the healing has begun and will come to fulfillment through Jesus Christ. So, let’s forget about the perfect curated worship experience. Let’s stop pretending to be something that we’re not. Let’s drop the glossy idol of celebrity and popularity. Instead, let us focus on worship that bears the fruit of reconciliation. Let us become a prophetic body of worshipers for the world to see.