Did I Just Witness or Worship?


I’ve recorded my sermons and posted them online for some time.  I do it because I have no notes or manuscript when I preach, so if you missed something or just wanted to go over it again later, you’d be out of luck.  Sometimes we want to ruminate over a sermon or go back over it at a later date.  I don’t want to have my sermons online as substitute for worship.  Listening to me preach is hardly all inclusive of the experience of worship.  Not to mention that I am extremely contextual in my sermons.  I am preaching to the congregation before me based upon what I know about them and their needs, and it is tailored to each individual worship service at my church.  The idea behind my preaching is that there is openness and space for the movement of the Holy Spirit, but that also means that it’s not ever going to be preached by me again.  Not in the same way, and generally not the same pretext.  Next time, the same scripture passage might say something different to me.  The congregation might have changed, or I might have a new understanding of the message.

(Image courtesy of tackytreasures.com)

I know that some churches make a video recording of their worship and have that for viewing online.  I understand why you might do that, and why someone might watch it.  If you’re church shopping, it can be a great resource.  You will know right off the bat if you’d be comfortable or not.  It would help you plan your outfit and get a feel for the congregation.  As a church, it’s great PR and you have the opportunity to showcase your worship, provided that is a strong suit of yours. 

Nowadays you can watch an entire worship service over the internet live.  I was intrigued by the churches who seem to be doing this, especially since they are part of the same mainline stream of Christianity that essentially derides the televangelists who use “canned” Sunday morning worship to elicit donations.  My first concern is that people will use this as a substitute for finding a church home.  That doesn’t mean I think all Christians have to have a community of faith that owns their own brick and mortar church.  On the contrary, I find something very intimate and appealing about the house church concept that traces its roots back to Pauline beginnings.  But the Body of Christ has to do two things: we have to gather together, and we have to have corporate worship.  Why?  Because God said so.  God created the plans for the Tabernacle (Exodus 25:9) and that was the model of its descendent, the Temple in Jerusalem.  Jesus tells us that wherever two or more Christians are gathered in his name, there he is also (Matthew 18:20).  The night in which he was betrayed, Christ instituted the sacrament of Holy Communion and told us to “do it in remembrance” of him (Luke 22:19).  For reasons I could guess and for theology I know, God expects Christians to be a community of faith and that we worship together.

I worry about people thinking that having a screen open with someone’s worship playing while they hang out at home is equivalent to corporate worship and fellowship on Sunday.  It’s not, and it never will be.  There is no connection to people I don’t know.  While some of you are thinking that the same thing happens all the time in churches, I agree, but we bear the responsibility for that if we don’t take the initiative to fellowship and cultivate relationship.  There’s no relationship with people I watch on TV or view over the internet.  You can watch and read everything that out on a particular celebrity and feel like you know them, but you don’t.  The same goes for people you merely watch worship.  When you watch others doing something, you’re witnessing.  When you watch other people who are gathered worshiping, you are merely witnessing their worship.  It can be enlightening.  It can be interesting, educational even, but it’s not the same as you being in worship. 

I had this argument with my Evangelism professor in seminary.  He’s a big fan of coffee shops and piping in worship there.  The minute I step outside the sanctuary, I’m out of worship.  I know because I have had to do it.  You will never feel the same movement of the Spirit, the presence of God, or the gathering of the Body of Christ in the narthex that you will in the sanctuary, much less at a satellite setting.  While I love my home and my sweet desk set up, it’s not the hallowed place that it needs to be for worship.  Unfortunately, worship is one of those rare things for which you just have to be there and experience for yourself.  I’d like to think that my preaching is that way too, since I can’t stand to listen to myself recorded.  I know I’m a different person in worship than I am in my home, or my church office, or teaching Sunday School, because the Holy Spirit is working in me (and on me!) while I’m in worship.  Why deny ourselves that opportunity to be there and feel what it means to be the Body of Christ?  You can be one of those people who recall something as profound as worship because you saw it, or you can be one of those who recall it, because you lived it, you were there.


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