I am a consumer. I confess. I am a consumer in my daily life as I go about buying tortillas and english muffins, fruits and vegetables, etc. But where I’m most ashamed of my consumerism is in my mentality toward the church.
I guess I should define what I’m calling “consumer” before I go on. A consumer in the most general sense is a purchaser of goods or services for his own benefit. More specifically related to the church, a consumer is one who wants to be filled up and blessed or convicted which will ultimately be for his own improvement and walk with the Lord. Some similarities exist between the two definitions.
Certainly these qualities are not all bad. I think we can fall into being consumers with good intentions, truly wanting to be walking closer with the Lord, truly desiring to hear from Him in a service and be convicted or changed. I think it has it’s place in certain settings. We all need to be poured into. We need to eat the Word of God which is the bread of Life and we need to be in community and learning from each other and being challenged and convicted and blessed by fellow believers. BUT I think we err when we start to make that what Sunday morning Worship is about.
Who is Worship for?
Had you asked me that question one year ago while I was still in our beloved home church in the states, I would have answered God. Hands down. Worship has little to do with me and what I receive. It’s about pouring myself out for Him. I would have scoffed at the suggestion that I was a consumer, looking to get something out of it.
But then I moved to Africa.
It was easy for me to answer that question in the states, where I was worshipping exclusively in my own language, with friends that were as close as family to us, with top-notch preachers and teachers whom we both respect and admire (and still do). I would have said it’s not about me, but God can still choose to bless me with a word or a conviction on Sunday morning. And I would have been right, at least partially.
I’ve really wrestled with myself over the past few months because Sunday morning worship here can be hard. We have Rift Valley Academy (RVA) Sundays and we have Africa Inland Church (AIC) Sundays. In the beginning I struggled with both. I’ll just lay out for you descriptively each worship service.
RVA Sundays are much more Western in liturgy, we sing familiar Hymns and Praise songs, we have nursery for the babies and children’s church through pre-k. The preaching is often by our staff chaplain and two part-time student chaplains and it usually follows a three point outline, much like the states.
AIC Sundays are different, as you can imagine. Though we attend the English service and 95% of the service is in English, songs are often sung in Swahili (which is kind of fun). They frequently recognize birthdays and sing to them. The service is just shy of 2 hours long and the wooden pews keep you sitting upright. Kenyan babies seem to sit still for the full 2 hours so nursery care is not available (somehow American babies/toddlers are much squirmier). You never quite know what to expect out of the service or the sermon. Though I know they preach from the Bible, the realities of the harshness of life (and death) are much more prevalent here so detailed stories that we would tend to gloss over sometimes make their way into the preaching.
I mentioned that I struggled with both. RVA Sundays were OK but I would find myself emotional in the service because I was trying to worship with people I didn’t know and listen to a sermon by someone I didn’t know. I would find myself angry if we sang a chorus over and over again since it was unfamiliar, but then equally angry if we sang a beloved hymn from “home” because it felt so odd in an unfamiliar environment. AIC Sundays were even harder. I struggled to get past singing and style that was not my preference, 30+ minutes of teaching in a thick Kenyan accent that I had to concentrate to understand, all while keeping my children occupied in the pew with us for those 2 hours.
A few months in, it hit me. I am a consumer. I’m attending church looking to get something out of it for me, getting upset that I’m not being fulfilled in the way I should be each Sunday, and quickly losing the enthusiasm for attending worship on Sunday morning.
Whoa. Who am I? Who is worship for? What DO I believe?
It’s not about ME. It’s about HIM. It’s certainly not about what style of music I like or Heaven forbid I have to listen intently to understand something. It’s about His name and His fame and His recognition.
What is of utmost importance is that He IS worshipped and exalted and glorified here in Kenya in all of the 60+ languages spoken here and that He IS worshipped and exalted and glorified in America. It matters not what I get from it. It matters what I put into it for Him. I still absolutely believe that He can choose to bless me in a Sunday service with a Word spoken just for me, but It’s not about me. And I shouldn’t go in expecting that.
And I’m ashamed and convicted to admit that I’m only just learning this now.