Embracing the awkward in our church gatherings.
This post originally appeared on the Redhill Church blog.
Sometimes in our church gatherings, things get ‘awkward’.
Sometimes there is no neat segue between the last song and the sermon. Sometimes there is confusion as the person who’s meant to be leading communion has ducked out to the toilet. A toddler will cry out during a reflective moment. A wrong chord is played. The lamp that was brought in to create ‘mood lighting’ blows its bulb. These things will happen, particularly in a little church like ours with limited resources. But rather than merely cope with these unplanned moments of awkwardness, we want to learn to embrace them.
We exist in a Christian subculture that likes things to look good, sound great and run smoothly. You know how it goes: the music slowly fades to a light key-tinkling or finger-plucking. The drummer has been hands off for a while now; her head is bowed in reverence (or maybe she’s asleep). The worship leader makes eye contact with the service leader. A faint nod ensues. The service leader walks slowly (so slowly!) to the centre front, eyes fixed on the floor. The service leader begins to speak in a deliberate, hushed tone. They could be giving directions to the toilets but in that voice it would be interpreted as a prophetic word about cleansing. Around the room, eyes flutter open. Raised hands are lowered. Feet shuffle towards chairs in a ‘trying not to spoil the mood’ kind of way. Chests are cleared, lights are undimmed. And smoothly, seamlessly, the service moves forward…
Of course there is nothing wrong with looking and sounding great, and seamlessly moving from one thing to another. I for one love some good artistry. I love a well-placed word; a well-timed verse. I love the power of images and the way lighting can establish a sense of place. I love a melody and harmony so perfectly spaced that it makes your heart sing, and rhythm that compels you to move. I even appreciate a well-chosen font. I believe God is the ultimate artist behind all artistry, and I suspect He loves it when we use these things to celebrate Him. In the Bible we see God’s ultimate act of artistry in creating the heavens and the earth as well as evidence of the value placed on artistry and craftsmanship among His people (as examples, see the intricate design process for the tabernacle in Exodus and the formation of the Levite choir in 1 Chronicles). We reflect this when we meet together. We try our best to play beautiful music, to choose our words well and to create a space where people can focus and reflect on Jesus.
But while we celebrate these things, we also need to be okay when things don’t go to plan; when things go from arty to awkward. Why? Because how we react when things go ‘wrong’ can send a message about what we believe about how God relates to us and us to Him. After all, if being aware of God’s presence requires a certain guitar effect and lighting scheme, we are reducing His presence to mere ambience. If ‘focusing on God’ requires a complete absence of all earthly distractions, we are reducing Him to something that merely captures, rather than deserves, our attention.
If we rely on our artistry to focus on Jesus and to be aware of His presence, we miss out on the opportunity to discover Him in the ordinary. As a church community we want to disciple each other in drawing closer to Jesus every day, not just when we meet on Sundays. And for most of us, our ‘everyday’ doesn’t come with synthesizer backing. We all need to continually learn how to be aware of His presence in the midst of the ordinary, and to focus on Him amidst distraction.
So when a child tugs at your leg while you’re in a deep prayer ministry moment with someone, take comfort in the fact that as far as God is concerned the moment isn’t ‘ruined’. Rather, it’s a reminder that we don’t commune with God and each other in an ambient vacuum but in the midst of the mess of life. And when the worship leader muddles a lyric, while it wasn’t the plan it is now an opportunity to be reminded that we are not merely props in an instagrammed worship scene, but rather we are real and imperfect people singing an imperfect song to a perfect God.
More than just putting up with the awkward, we can learn to embrace these unplanned moments. When things look good, sound great and flow smoothly, we can enjoy that moment and thank God for such beauty. And when things are not so smooth, we can enjoy that moment too, and thank God for the reminder that His presence is more than ambience, and that everything beautiful on this earth is but a shadow of His full splendour anyway.