After church buildings closed in the wake of COVID-19, many people started worshiping in front of a screen. Some had already done this, but for many people it was a new and novel idea.
New and novel.
Because it was novel, many people experienced a certain energy and enthusiasm at the whole prospect. We were together apart—digitally. Even though one day tended to bleed into the next, we certainly knew when Sunday was.
We were bonding together in a crisis!
We were going to persevere!
We were honouring the Lord!
But whatever novelty there may have been in the beginning is now gone—or, at least, mostly gone. Plus, people are tired. And frazzled. And unsure.
That’s why we need to be deliberate about how we approach worship.
Let’s be honest. It’s easy to “go” to church right now. Take my family, for example. Before this whole thing started, we woke up at a certain time (and had to set an alarm to do so), ate breakfast, walked the dog, had showers, got dressed, went to church early (I’m the pastor; my wife teaches a Sunday School class), set-up classrooms, worshiped God in the sanctuary, learned with one another in the Sunday School, had fellowship time and snacks (and coffee) with our friends and church family, and then got home just in time for a late lunch.
Compare that to what happens now. We sleep in, tune in to a screen, and sit on the couch. It’s not a problem to do that, of course. Technically speaking, it’s much “easier.” But I have a sneaking suspicion. When worship gets “easier” it can become something we watch instead of something we do.
So here are a few ideas to help you worship in front of a screen… better.
Designate a time
This wasn’t an issue before. The service started when it started. Now you can tune in anytime you like. Or not. So set a time and make it happen, whenever that time might be.
For those of you who have more than one person in your house or apartment, I think you should make an effort to worship together. In the Bible, worship normally happens in a gathered context.
Maybe this can’t happen if your work schedules don’t allow it. If that’s the case, don’t sweat it. But I think it’s important to resist power of screens to separate us — to isolate people from one another and to slowly (or quickly) chip away at family time.
Proactive not passive
This is about your frame of mind. Remember that you are going to worship God, not just watch someone else do it. Some people stand up to sing (even when they’re alone). Some kneel for prayers (even though it’s not about your posture). For some people, being proactive isn’t an issue; they’re very dialed-in to what they’re doing no matter how they’re doing it. But for those of you who easily slip into passive-mode (be honest), you may need to be more deliberate about what you’re doing to keep you focused.
Pray ahead of time
I hope you already do this. I expect my congregation to be praying for me as I prepare for worship throughout the week as I seek to bring a word from the Lord.
I also pray for them—that everyone worship and glorify God; that they are fortified in their discipleship; that the body of Christ is built up; that they are better equipped to serve others; that we grow in the knowledge of Jesus; that everyone is protected from the Evil One; and that people tuning in who don’t yet know God turn to him. I also pray for our Music Director as she prayerfully puts things together, for those leading youth ministries, and for those serving in many other ways.
It’s common for Christians to prepare themselves for worship by praying—not only for themselves but for others. That continues.
Sing the praise songs or hymns. You’re not watching musicians play or sing; you’re being led by musicians as you worship God.
And it’s not about how good you sound, or about how good you don’t sound. It’s about glorifying God. We sing for a variety of reasons; one of those reasons is because it belongs to the pattern of worship that we find in the Bible.
I realize it’s a different experience when you can’t hear other people. It feels different. And trust me, I have been moved many, many times by the voices of God’s people in our sanctuary. Then sings my soul, my Saviour God, to thee!… But remember that you’re not actually singing alone. We sing along with that “great cloud of witnesses” (Heb.12:1) all over the world and throughout all time and places! The point is to sing to God’s glory.
Bring your Bible and follow along
The Bible is the primary place where we learn about God’s will. The more we get into God’s word, the more God’s word gets into us. Have your Bible with you. Follow along. Take notes.
Plan for children
For those of you with children, you need to plan for what they will do, or what you will all do together.
Depending on their age and personality, some are able to follow along with an online service. Some aren’t. Perhaps they can worship for some of the time, but not all of it. Either way, make a plan. If your church provides a resource for faith-at-home, establish a time to do it together.
You can also worship together in a way that is altogether different. What if you read the Bible among yourselves? What if you brainstormed prayer ideas and held hands in a circle to say them together? What if you used your own musical talents?
Whatever you do, have a plan about what is happening.
Remember why worship is important
While I was writing this post I got an email describing how over 250 crosses have been removed from churches in China by the government. I’ve also been reading stories about how it is illegal in some countries to worship God. Illegal. If you get caught you get more than a ticket from a bylaw officer. You get thrown in jail. Or tortured. Your family gets persecuted.
But here in Canada we are free to worship. It is a privilege.
We worship God because he deserves it. We worship because it’s a faithful response to the Triune God—without whom we would be lost and separated from him and his goodness, forever.
The Swiss theologian Karl Barth said that worship is “the most urgent, the most glorious action that can take place in human life.” That’s a solid word.
Hughes Oliphant Old adds this: “We worship God because he created us to worship him. Worship is at the centre of our existence; at the heat of our reason for being. God created us to be in his image — an image that would reflect his glory.”
Worship lifts high God’s name in praise and gratitude. We come to him for his forgiveness. We ask him to powerfully help our broken world and lives. Plus, it’s for our own good: It renews us, grows us, and strengthens us, by the power of his Spirit, and gives us greater clarity of thought and action and the hands and feet of Christ.
Oh, and it’s also good for your health and makes you less stressed. But that’s another story.
These are just a few of the reasons why we worship. If we don’t talk about why we do it, it’s easy to not want to do it.
When worship gets “easier” it can become something we watch instead of something we do. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
We can be proactive—not passive—when it comes to worship, even when things are different. We worship not because there is nothing better to do, but because we can’t bear to do anything else.
To God be the glory forever!—in every home and in every heart.
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