What is the goal of what happens on Sunday morning? What is your goal when you come? What are you looking for? What is your expectation for what you will have when you leave?
Those are some of the questions we can ask to get at our real motivations and expectations for gathering on a Sunday morning. Our answers to those questions are probably formed by many things: our childhood experience in church, or our lack thereof; our adult experience in church(es); what our friends and family tell us they get; what we’ve observed at other congregations we’ve attended; and the (sometimes) subconscious desires and preferences and prejudices we bring with us. There is not a single person in a given congregation who is not formed and shaped by some combination of those things (and probably more).
What if someone asked you the question: “What makes Lutheran worship Lutheran?” If you were going to describe or define Lutheran worship, what would you say? What makes it unique or different from worship as you might experience it or participate in it in any given church across the country or around the world? Is it just that Lutherans do “Catholic-lite”? Is it that Lutherans have a particular order to services, or that we have prescribed readings and written prayers? Is it that we haven’t quite shaken the ghosts of our Germanic ancestors?
How are your feelings related to your worship? That is a question that is behind many of the arguments in the church related to worship. Talk to enough people from various congregations and it will not be long before you come up against a division between those who, on the one hand, know that they have been to church if they feel good, or different, or forgiven and, on the other hand, those who do not seem to care whether they feel anything at all. The division can be seen most clearly when someone leaves a particular (“stale,” “dead,” “boring”) congregation for another (“refreshing,” “alive,” “exciting”) one in which the Spirit seems to be moving more noticeably. What is striking about those conversations is that the descriptive words are completely tied to individual perception: that is, for worship to be good, everything depends on the feelings of the individual who is participating in the worship experience. If someone does not feel (there’s that word again) that he or she “got anything” from the service, and if this experience goes on long enough, such a person may be inclined to seek out a church where something (the “something” is rather ambiguous) is “gotten.” You may recognize a friend or a family member—or yourself—in that description.