Why worship matters (and why I am a pastor)

Published 2:06 pm Saturday, February 11, 2017

by Andrew Book

As a pastor, my position leads me to many different roles, from counselor to program director to leadership development and many more, but the most public part of my job is leading worship. Many people see leading worship as primarily about the sermons I preach. As a result, the title of “pastor” has been replaced by “preacher” in many people’s minds and the worship service has become called “preaching.”

Many people decide whether to come to Sunday morning worship based on how good, helpful or meaningful the “preaching” may be. If the pastor is a “bad” preacher, many people don’t think it is worth coming. If the pastor is a good preacher then they will be more likely to gather.

If the pastor starts meddling in areas of life that make us uncomfortable we withdraw from Sunday worship, whereas we are more likely to come to a worship service where the preaching makes us feel good about ourselves. These dynamics underline a misunderstanding we have about why we gather for worship in the first place.

Worship services are not primarily about you learning something from the sermon. Worship is not about the pastor and how skilled she or he is at sharing the Word of God. Instead, worship is a time for you to get your eyes off yourself and place them on God.

Worship is time when we recognize we are not the center of the universe, God is. It helps us to get perspective on our lives and on the world around us. Worship shapes us to be like the one we worship, so gathering to worship a God who is loving, merciful and full of grace will help mold us into people who embody those characteristics.

Worship is an exercise in humility because every time we gather to worship, we are acknowledging that God is greater and we are less. We acknowledge God holds the universe together rather than us.

Worship services should be times when we come face to face with the God of the universe. We should find ourselves echoing the words of Isaiah:

I saw the Lord. He was sitting on a lofty throne, and the train of his robe filled the Temple.2 Attending him were mighty seraphim, each having six wings. With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. 3 They were calling out to each other,

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Heaven’s Armies! The whole earth is filled with his glory!”

4 Their voices shook the Temple to its foundations, and the entire building was filled with smoke.

5 Then I said, “It’s all over! I am doomed, for I am a sinful man. I have filthy lips, and I live among a people with filthy lips. Yet I have seen the King, the Lord of Heaven’s Armies.”

6 Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a burning coal he had taken from the altar with a pair of tongs. 7 He touched my lips with it and said, “See, this coal has touched your lips. Now your guilt is removed, and your sins are forgiven.”

8 Then I heard the Lord asking, “Whom should I send as a messenger to this people? Who will go for us?”

I said, “Here I am. Send me.”

– Isaiah 6:1-8

Worship is where Isaiah sees God, and as he sees God, he can truly see himself and recognize his own weakness, brokenness, and need of God.  It is in worship God calls us to be people who say, “here I am, send me.”  We are transformed by God’s presence in worship.  This is the reason I am a pastor, because I long for us to be a people who have seen God, been touched by God, and transformed by God.

People who have had an encounter with God are those who will live to transform the world by ending hunger, combatting modern-day slavery, embracing the outcast, and sharing the Good News of a God who gave everything for us.  We live for God when we have encountered God.

I have been a pastor long enough to know I am a good preacher. Preaching is one of my strengths (we will leave discussing my weaknesses for another da!), but the best sermon is worthless if we don’t draw near to God in worship. I would happily trade 10 compliments of “that was a good message” for a single “I saw God today” because worship is about getting close to God rather than enjoying my speech.

Take time to be a part of worship services. Regardless of whether your pastor is an amazing or an incoherent preacher, you need to be in God’s presence. You need to get your eyes off yourself and look at God. If you don’t have a community to worship with, you are welcome to join us as we look for God at Courtland United Methodist Church each Sunday at 11 a.m., but don’t come here to hear me preach — come here because you want to worship God.

ANDREW BOOK is the pastor of Courtland United Methodist Church. He can be contacted at 653-2240 or andrew@courtlandumcva.org.

Get Rooted: As we prepare for Lent, Pastor Andrew is inviting the people of God to consider different spiritual practices each week in February. Join us each Tuesday at noon on Facebook Live (or check out the videos on our website courtlandumcva.org/getrooted.html after Tuesday). This week we are exploring “The Practice of Being Still.” You can subscribe to receive updates and resources by emailing the office at officeadmin@courtlandumcva.org.