All around the country many pastors are constantly checking with Government guidelines to see how and if they are able to meet them. While there are moments where we are having to try an interpret the rules each week, there are some things that remain consistent, one of those is congregational singing. Some people are enjoying new a creative ways of doing worship, (we have been doing reflective “not sung” worship services for a few years now – so we have got used to it) while others are finding it much harder, one minister said on a facebook group “I have never ever led worship without singing”.
But it is not just pastors, churches are having to get used to services without sung worship and some people just don’t like it. Someone I know said this to me, on why he will not be attending, “with no singing I doubt I would (come)…. (I can’t) understand how your church like virtually all the rest are not bothered about singing”. The criticism is a little unfair, as I imagine most church leaders are bothered, but just know that the guidelines are clear.
Now I do not believe that God caused the pandemic, but I think that God can use the Pandemic to teach us. We are a church in Exile, we are in a strange land, because we have lost the familiar of what our worship used to look and be like, whether that is hymns or choruses, choirs or guitar and drums, most worship involved singing. We are learning to not sing the Lord’s song in a strange land. See Psalm 137.
So what is God trying to teach us? I think we have become too reliant on worship as an activity we do “in church” together, we have become used to doing worship rather than, as Paul writes in Romans 12 offering our bodies, our lives, as worship.
Amos 5 (and we have to be careful not to assume that Amos is talking to us directly) says that the worship of the people of God had become detestable because unless worship led to an outbreak of justice, unless it radically changed our perception of the world, then worship was something that God “despised”. Has our sung worship become so detestable to God that he needs to force us to stop singing?
Author Stephen Mattson said this on Facebook recently “Worship isn’t always a hymn or song or sermon. It’s often a protest, an act of civil disobedience, a march, or a night spent in jail.” People have told me that God needs our sung worship, maybe God doesn’t need it at all, maybe the point of worship was to break the chains of injustice. Maybe what God wants from our worship is not what we think he wants.
Jesus said in Matthew 25 that when we feed the hungry, give water to the thirsty, house the homeless, clothe the stranger or visit the Prisoner, we do it for him. Maybe this is exactly the type of worship we should be offering to God. Maybe this is exactly what Paul was talking about offering our bodies.
When people said that the churches were closed, I refuted that, we never did close and yes many went online, but many also discovered that the church could be a place for real good.
During lockdown many big “worship” led churches have found themselves becoming food banks or clothes and food distribution centres. Pastors were walking dogs and doing shopping. The Youth Worker connected to our church was cycling around the local area delivering food. My fear is, that when things eventually go back to normal, when Exile ends, we will just go back to singing the old songs in the old ways. Will all the efforts that have helped so many people just cease?