Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Here I Am To Worship?

Does anyone else find it hard to worship in church on Sunday?

My problem, from what I can make out, has 4 sources:

- theological college, where we were taught to be critical, and there was an overall ethos where everything you did was evaluated. It was intense to the point of destructiveness, and it meant that people hung back from really getting stuck in to worship, or preaching their hearts out, or being zealous and 100% committed to things. That was naivety, the unforgivable sin. We were sophisticated theological students, and we didn't want to let our guard down.

- from my conversion at age 15 I've always had a strong sense of 'how does this look to outsiders?' Nearly 25 years on, I think I'm a bit hypersensitive to the way what we do in church comes across to folk who are visiting. Religious language, obscure songs, in-house jargon, there's a part of me I can't switch off which is scanning everything for off-puttingness. Trouble is, I'm far more sensitive to this stuff than most of our visitors, who seem to take it far more in their stride. Yet I continue to be acutely aware of how weird and strange church must seem to folk who aren't used to it.

- perfectionism: At least I think that's what it is - there's very little about myself, the world, the church etc. that I'm happy with exactly the way it is. Continuous improvement - a jargon phrase from days in management training - pretty much sums it up. So it's incredibly hard to take part in an act of worship without thinking how it could be better: the preaching, the liturgy, whether we needed a bit of silence after that Bible reading, whether the hymns/songs are too touchy-feely, or not personal enough, have people been welcomed, is it all going on too long, etc. And that ruins it as an act of worship/sermon. It becomes an object of analysis, rather than something I'm listening to or engaging with. Goodness knows how I'd have managed with one of St. Pauls all-night teaching sessions, or Jesus saying rude things to some of his 'visitors'.

- the experience of being a regular worship leader and preacher for the past 10 years, and occasionally for 10 years before that, means that it's well-nigh impossible for me to be part of something without working out how I'd have done it differently.

Chatting to someone today, she raised the question of where I go for spiritual nourishment. "Where can I go to meet with God?" Bizarrely, the first answer which came to mind involved the theology of Spiderman 3, then how good it was to talk to other folk over coffee. Maybe it's through things which don't look like normal 'worship' where my critical faculties are down, that God can get in and do something. Perhaps that's why 'alternative worship' has always attracted me. Perhaps it's also why Christian music often doesn't engage me in the same way as 'secular' music with a spiritual message (e.g. Coldplay, U2)

This may sound like complete cobblers. You may be thinking 'whooah boy! Our vicar's losing his faith!' You might be a church leader who can relate to some of this. I don't know, it's not often I try to work out what's going on in my head at 10.30 on a Sunday morning.

And sorry for saying 'I' so much (am I being hypersensitive again?), but it is my blog, after all.

Extra bit: I should be grateful, by the sounds of it David Ker struggles even more than I do.


  1. Yes particularly the bit about critique and theological college -depsite the fact taht I was in a "leadership" contect of worhip for some 15 years before ordination! Thanks for sharing it...

  2. David, I'm there! ;-)

    I don't object to the "off-puttingness." Seekers or whatever aren't coming to church to find what they've already got. Plus, I think there is a funkiness to groups that have grown together over the years. Being able to enter into the quirkiness of a loving group of people who are trying to serve God is in my opinion really terrific.

  3. David

    There's something in what you say about whether we relate to church as an event or as a community. Maybe my experience says something about the way I view church, that's it's something we stage rather than something we belong to. And that's not what the church is. So now I'm even more disturbed!!!

  4. For the last few weeks, I've seen the Alpha course advertised in church as 'Why am I here?'

    Given the difficulties I have with being inside the church building, it seems very apposite. I hate church. Most of the time I feel like running away.