I went to church. The building: a small chapel on a university campus. The members were teens and young adults who were dressed in jeans and sweatshirts. The music was provided by an acoustic guitar and piano. The words to the song were projected on the wall. I didn't know the songs, but I lifted my hands as I was moved by the passion of those who not only knew the song, but sang it aloud. The way they sang the song, really expressed the lyric of Christ and his love, and it moved me to think about my own life. I didn't know the minister, but with a calm teaching voice he opened up worlds of insight into the history, and meaning both physically and spiritually behind the passage that he read. I didn't know any of the people, but when I was introduced as a new-comer to the group, they stayed after the session and welcomed me and showed me love like I was a family member. They also showed the ultimate form of love, by offering me food. There was no organ, or drum set, or choir, or suits, or familiar minister or any other things that I encounter from Sunday to Sunday, but I still had one of the greatest spiritual experiences of my life.
There are some people who believe that if a group doesn't worship God the way they do, then the people are wrong. Many churches become religious clubs, where only few are invited, and the goal is just to get excited and participate in a hype session. Please understand that I'm not bashing or slamming any style or culture of worship. I love all styles of worship, and in fact consider myself a connoisseur of worship styles. I enjoy various types from the Pentecostal jubilant and upbeat style of worship that's full of soulful harmonies and melodies, to the "classic forty" hymns from groups like the United Methodist Church, to alternative Christian rock bands, to Christian rap and Christ-centered spoken word, to acoustic worship; if it has the right message, I enjoy it, and worship with it. I believe that styles of worship are effective, and that they have a definite place in the church. The point I am making, however, is that one should never be so consumed in a style of worship, that he or she misses the main purpose. The main purpose of religion or Christianity isn't to make a person feel good. The purpose of Christianity is to bring people closer to the divine, and the unknown through Jesus Christ. Many people love the feeling of being in a "churchy" environment, and when they enter into the secular world, they find themselves lost. They partake only for the experience of the moment, but don't take away the things they need to make a substantial change in their life. I strongly believe that as people realize the sincere need for God, and not systems or religion, then they will seek after getting filled with the things of God, no matter how different the environment is where the message is being presented.
Here's a checklist that I use and find helpful to measure whether I encountered a productive spiritual experience when I attend a service.
- Did I have a spiritual experience? (Was the moment just hype and emotion, or did I really hear a message or conviction that resonates with my heart?)
- Did I learn something new? (Was my knowledge expanded about God, the bible, the figures of the bible, life, the divine, relationships and principles, or even about my own self?)
- Was the feeling I felt or lesson I learned, demonstrated? (Were there people who practiced what they preached, or did I see or hear about a living example outside of the text that proves the bible or lesson being taught to be true?)
- Did I receive something that was not only relevant to my life, but applicable? (Did I grasp onto tangible tools that I can implore to see the gospel come to life in my world?)
- Was I apart of the worship experience? (Did the environment engage my thoughts, emotions, and sometimes maybe even my physical participation?) And last but not least:
- Did my experience make me feel better? (Did I leave feeling encouraged, motivated, joyful, reflective, introspective, uplifted, renewed, revitalized, refreshed, or that I had a good time?)
These are the things that matter. Life is about growth, and progression. People who only situate themselves in one environment, miss out on the gifts that God has placed in so many different places. Church is out of style. Jesus and His love is the new focus of the day. In 2012 let us make a commitment keep our focus on Him, and worship God in spirit and in truth wherever we are.