One trend in the Evangelical Christian community that I have become increasingly aware of over the past few months involves the way in which a congregation is invited to worship.
As a whole, the Evangelical church in America has done great work in establishing a deeper level of transparency and honesty among its congregations. Today, it’s no secret during a church service that many, if not all, of those in attendance are under the weight of some heavy burden in their personal lives. In my own experience I have seen many worship leaders and pastors take great care to lovingly address their burden-laden congregation and, for many, this honesty has caused them to feel more welcome and engaged at church than ever before. However, this positive growth in the church has also come with some negative effects.
With the church regularly acknowledging the burden of its members, a somber and humble call to worship has become normal and is even expected in most churches. But, this expectation of down-heartedness has generated a new issue that is the exact opposite of the original issue. In the past, church-goers tended to feel excluded from congregational worship if their hearts did not match the upbeat and joyous tones of their church service; now, church-goers may feel out of place and inauthentic if they do not share in the grief or the burdens of the rest of the church body.
Where is the balance?
I believe that it is possible for churches to honestly acknowledge the trial and pain of its members without forgetting God’s promises of peace and joy. The Psalms are a beautiful illustration of this possibility. Psalm 30:11-12 says,
“You have turned for me my mourning into dancing; you have loosed my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness, that my glory may sing your praise and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever!” (ESV)
While it is necessary to acknowledge the reality of suffering and pain within our lives, it is equally important—if not more important—to remember God’s promises of peace and joy in the midst of them. For many, every day is a reminder of the trials that they face, but congregational worship is a special reminder of the everlasting faithfulness and steadfastness of God—an opportunity to come together as a body of believers and declare that God is good and that He never changes, no matter what one’s circumstances may be.
I think that many believers have sufficiently grasped the reality of suffering. Thus, I believe that churches have a responsibility to focus on declaring the everlasting joy that believers can find in God and leading their congregations towards Him with praise.