For too long in our worship services we have seen the congregation as the audience. In recent years a new emphasis has directed us away from that kind of thinking by helping us to see God as the audience and the congregation as performers for Him. While this metaphor has changed the course of the conversation and helped us to use new language, like referring to the stage as a platform, I don’t think the metaphor has been carried far enough.
The more I reflect on worship in the house of God, the more I want to completely abandon that idea that there is an audience at all. When it comes to worship, maybe there is no audience. Audiences tend to be spectators but they don’t usually contribute to the what is happening in the show they are watching. If it’s a movie, the audience pays their money then they sit back and let the performers on screen do the work. At church we often plunk down our tithe and let the people on the platform do the work.
While I believe the metaphor of seeing God as the audience and His people as the performers is better for helping congregational members to engage more in worship, I still think we can do better. A passive spectator is the furthest thing from what Christianity means when it uses the word God. God is not a passive spectator and neither should His people be, after all, liturgy is the work of the people.
The Christian faith has always affirmed a Creator God who is active in His creation, all of His creation. God is not an academic pursuit for us, God is our source of life who draws near to us, reveals Himself to us, intervenes in our lives, changes us, disrupts our days, dies for us, resurrects for us, and just won’t leave us alone even if we want Him to. You can run from yourself but you can’t run from God.
In worship we remember together, we retell the story, we share a meal, and we commune with God. He isn’t an outsider to our worship, He is the host who is drawing us in, welcoming us, and has the table prepared for His family to dine together. Even outsiders, non-believers, are active participants in worship because we believe God is present to them as well, calling them and drawing them to Himself, weaving them into His story, usually against their will and often against their long held beliefs.
Even so, God is a relentless pursuer who loves us too much to leave us alone. Worship is not meant to be judged by what type of an emotional experience we had anymore than a family dinner gathering should be judged by the emotional experience it evokes. We gather together because we are family and God is having us over to His house for a meal.
Family gatherings can be rough. We don’t always see eye to eye. Sometimes we are an embarrassment to our family and they are an embarrassment to us but often they are the only strength we have and are a great source of life. Say what you want about family, good, bad, or ugly, they will always be your family. The Father is calling us to the table and I think this may be a more helpful way for us to see Him in our worship than to see Him as a grand spectator.
Worship is not a show as much as it is a family gathering. Come to worship this Sunday and participate in the story of God, with God, and with the congregation. Come worship this active God who is even more present than we are as we gather together. He is the Father, the host, and we are His children called into His home to dine.