Saturday, July 14, 2007

Worship Narcissism

The following is a post on my Pastor's blog that I think is one of the most insightful thoughts on worship I have read. He quotes Robert Webber, and his thoughts on worship are what I have stumbled and stammered and have not been able to put into words. He has, and they resonate in me and answer many questions I have had. I hope you enjoy it as well.

Avoiding Worship Narcissism
Reading the latest Relevant Magazine Online, I was intrigued by the writer’s recent experience at a nationwide worship event called TheCall. It is a 12 hour fasting and worship experience, happening in various cities this year, for people “serious about encountering God and changing the world.”
And maybe it is a life changing experience. Maybe it is an event different from so many others, where people come for the mountain top adrenaline rush of a stadium rally. But I wonder how much of what we call worship today, in that context, or in most Sunday services, is really worship. Robert Webber, in one of his last books before his death, Divine Embrace, speaks to the “worship narcissism” prevalent in so many gatherings today, where the main attention is given to seeking some transcendent experience. But under the cover of these words, and more than we realize, our focus is much closer to home--on us and our experience--on our story rather than on God and His story, His purpose for us. And here’s how we can tell if it is located in our story: we leave this gathering asking one another—“Did you like the sound?” “Did you sense the presence of God?” “Did the message speak to you?” “Did you like the worship?”
Maybe we should be asking—did God like our worship? But even this question, according to Webber, misses the point. It misunderstands the purpose of worship. Authentic worship is not about approaching God as the object of worship. It is rather about seeing God as the subject of worship. This statement in itself brings me up short for sure. It causes me to stop and ask myself how often I have entered worship with this perspective. Far more than I would like to admit, I have come in as subject. I have come to ask God to participate in my story. I have come with no expectation God is already actively doing something, asking me to get in step with. I have come consumed with my needs, hoping worship does something for me. If I am moved to get the attention off myself and unto God, even here, God is simply a transcendent being to be adored.
Webber’s point is that if God is the object of worship, then worship must proceed from us. We, then, are the subject of this gathering, and in this, the true worship of God is located in me. But if God is the subject of worship, acting in this world, involved with creation, ruling over the heaven and earth, then we gather to do something else. We come to engage in what He is presently doing, God acting through Word and Spirit, song and sacrament. We come to contemplate and celebrate our present union with Him. We enter, not waiting for something to happen, planned in advance by the worship leader. We enter to continue God’s redemptive story, living out our death and resurrection. We step into His present purposes in community, proclaiming and living out the good news, offering our bodies as living sacrifices, which is our “spiritual act of worship” (Rom. 12:1-2).
It was one of my hopes to meet Webber, who was scheduled to teach a doctoral class for our program, until his illness forced him to cancel. There are a lot of things about worship I would have liked to ask. So I am guessing a bit, but in this final writing, where Webber seems to be gathering the fruit of a lifetime of teaching, he is underscoring--that while there is a “bowing down to adore Him” side of worship (proskuneo), it really isn’t worship if it is not first rooted in His story. It is not worship if it does not generate--at the same time--a participation in community—praying, healing, ministering spiritual gifts, mutually releasing the indwelling Spirit to one another, moving out in a corporate way to advance God’s kingdom and continue the work of Jesus. The early church called this leitergeo, (lit. the “work of the people”), a public works term borrowed from the culture of its day, and it too became a term for worship. This is why worship in its earliest form was called “service”. But “service” today means little more than a time of gathering. And if in that gathering, it is reduced to mere verbal response or singing, treating God as merely one who sits in heaven rather than the God who acts in this world, inviting us to get in step with Him and His story as we enter, then no matter the emotion it generated, something besides worship happened.
July 12, 2007 Permalink


front films said...

I'm not sure if it's the same feeling I have, but I often feel that "worship" centered services are much more about us than God. I recenty went to a service that was worship centered and I felt a lot about the attendence, but little about God. I didn't feel presence, I felt people trying hard... And I always leave these experiences questioning whether or not I am a Christian, and asking if I call myself something else?

Anonymous said...

when I first read this post that points us to worship God as subject and not as object, I was unclear of what that meant. Then the other morning I opened to the 148th Psalm and begin to focus on how David was praying. It then became clear to me, if you read it you see David is extoling the actions of God, what He has done and what He is doing. God is the subject of David's prayer. I hadn't thought of it in that light before. I don't see it as the only way David prays or that we are exclusively taught to pray this way, but it is a different focus than most prayer I hear.
I like the end of the quote--
"treating God as merely one who sits in heaven rather than the God who acts in this world, inviting us to get in step with Him and His story as we enter, then no matter the emotion it generated, something besides worship happened."
No matter what emotion is generated, if we are in step with God in His story, we are in worship.
In general, I feel like I understand my walk with God fairly well, until I get around other Christians that is, then I find out all kinds of things about myself I don't really want to know. I guess that's why we fellowship?
Love Dad

HAINAngel2000 said...

When I see this picture (going off the picture not the post) I see an angel that has been through hell in back, with spiritual warefare! I bet my angel knows the feeling lololol
Thank you for posting this! Mary

Anonymous said...

Yes Mary,
The angel does look like that. I hadn't noticed that but you are right.