Have you ever watched the TV series Lost? It is about a group of people who survive a plane crash that lands them on what appears to be a deserted island in the middle of nowhere. After the crash, this panicked and traumatized group begins to formulate what survival on this island looks like. The show tells the story of leadership, love, betrayal, and human nature. Just when it seems like this group might have figured out how to become a community that can make it-- the writers of the show introduce a new element—another people group who occupy the island. A war of sorts breaks out.
My wife and I found ourselves totally hooked on this show. Lost had already been out for a few years, so we went a little crazy and binge-watched on Netflix —as in all of the episodes and seasons in a few weeks. It was quite the marathon. The show was so intriguing that we would be exhausted, could barely keep our eyes open, knew we would need to get up early the next morning for work, but just couldn’t stop watching because the last 2 minutes of every episode left you desperate to know what happened next. This lasted for 3 or 4 seasons of the TV series. Again all in a timeline of a couple weeks.
Eventually we finished the whole show—all 6 seasons. Lost was a show that started off brilliantly, grew in its intrigue, built suspense and momentum, but never could quite live up to the hype. It didn’t have a solid ending. Towards the concluding seasons of the show, the story line didn’t even make sense anymore. It had outgrown itself past a sustainable point. It had tried to do too much, and, as a result, lost its value.
Unfortunately, worship services in a church have the potential to have a similar dynamic and unfolding as the show Lost did. For a Christian—especially a new Christian—the process of driving to a church, walking in the doors, being greeted by someone, getting free coffee, singing songs, listening to a sermon, meeting people, finding out how you can serve, even giving financially can be exhilarating. This process of “doing church” feels right because it is right. A worship service is a part of God’s design for us as humanity.
The issue arises when a worship service put on by a modern day church organization becomes more than just a part of our Christianity—it becomes the whole thing. This worship service grows to encapsulate how we define the church and what it means to follow Jesus. This type of growth takes the worship service outside of the context that God designed it for-- ironically by placing too much importance on it. This church service can then become an idol of sorts; people come to depend on to survive the everyday stuff of life in their relationships, homes, occupations, and lifestyles. When people depend on the church service and organization too much, it causes them to no longer depend on the church as a community—which is what a church really is intended to be. When this happens, people are left incomplete, empty, and alone—even while being within the walls of a church building and during a church worship service.
The worship service was never intended to be the main point. The worship service exists for the sake of the local community. That community does not exist for the worship service. This is a deadly reversal of roles. Yet if we are honest about how we “follow Jesus” it frequently feels like we as the Church, exist for the worship service.
A worship service is a beautiful, God honoring, integral part of Christianity. It must remain so. Nothing more, nothing less. It is unwise and unhealthy to build a worship service into something larger and more significant than it was intended to be. To do so is unsustainable, and will leave us disappointed. This is not a call to devalue the church worship service, but rather to value it properly. The role of the church is too important for us to get distracted by making something intended to be a part of our Christianity, all of our Christianity.