Brenda* loved her church in Phoenix with its high-energy, contemporary worship services. Electric guitars and the beat of the drums lifted her spirits and made her want to sing at the top of her lungs. She loved the dynamic, relevant preaching that had a lot of life application. She liked the large size of the church because it offered so many programs for a single woman like her.
But a few years ago, Brenda took a job running a bed-and-breakfast retreat center in the mountains. She moved there without knowing a soul and threw herself into this ministry. It was a great career move but a tough church move. Her only options were small, country churches where traditional hymns were sung with tinny piano accompaniment, and the pastors were either inexperienced or close to retirement. There were almost no other singles except for the elderly widowed.
Bob and Charlene* have just the opposite problem. They loved the ancient hymns and dignified preaching that had characterized their church for most of the 50 years they'd attended there. But the pastor who came to the church a few years ago changed everything. He introduced a worship band that led the congregation in songs that Bob and Charlene were completely unfamiliar with and was of the type of music they never would listen to under any other circumstances. He also has a fiery and, what felt like to Bob and Charlene, irreverent style of preaching. They don't want to leave the church because of their long history with it. Besides, their friends are there. They aren't complaining to the leadership, because they understand why the church chose to make these changes. But they find it difficult to worship on Sunday morning.
What are Brenda, Bob, and Charlene to do? The churches they attend are not going to change—at least not in the immediate future. And they either don't have an alternative or are too attached to their church to consider leaving it. How can they learn to worship wholeheartedly when their worship preferences are shattered?
Much has been written about the fact that worship services are for God, not for us. And that is certainly true. Yet, we're bound by our likes and dislikes. Sometimes even our moods affect us. You may love to sing, but if you're feeling tired or at all depressed, singing may seem almost beyond you.
Even if we love our church's worship services, there are those Sundays when we just didn't like the music or the pastor's sermon hit us wrong. So how can we recover and worship God in spite of our disappointment? Consider these ideas to do quietly and unobtrusively, so that you don't disrupt other people's worship.
Concentrate on the words of the songs more than the melody. If you don't like the type of music in your church, focus on the words to the songs more than the tune. In fact, if you don't like the tune, stop singing and just let the words minister to you. As a new Christian, I learned a great deal of theology from the hymns. Thinking through what each one meant brought more spiritual growth than any other single thing at that point in my life.
If your church sings worship songs that have little or no meaningful lyrics, that could be something to bring up to the leadership. Rather than approaching them with your own problem with the lyrics, explain that there are some in the church who cannot sing for various reasons: illness, strained vocal cords, can't carry a tune. Emphasize how having meaningful lyrics to read helps those people join the group in worship, even if they can't sing.
If your church leadership doesn't respond to your request, memorize the words to some hymns and let those words flow through your mind during the singing portion of the service. Or simply listen to other enthusiastic people sing. Sometimes just observing someone belt out a song is contagious and can help you worship through their enthusiasm. Look around and pray for others during the singing. Or focus on different character aspects of God. Allow those thoughts to move you into worship.
Concentrate on the Scriptures rather than the sermon. If you don't particularly like the sermons your pastor gives, read and contemplate the Scriptures during the message—either the designated readings for that week or a passage of your own choice. Or make notes of the points the pastor makes and find Scriptures to back it up or refute it. These are not to share with anyone else, but just for your own growth and spiritual formation. If you are really creative, just sit and think how you would preach the topic if you were the pastor.
If your church lacks programs you would like, consider starting that program yourself. When my husband and I were newlyweds, we moved to a new community. What we most wanted in a church were other young couples like us. So we visited numerous churches, but the church that kept drawing us back was one located in our neighborhood. We liked the pastor and the music, but it had only one other young couple.
Instead of abandoning that church, we started a young couple's class and social group. We and the other young couple began to invite people to it and it grew from there. By the time we moved three years later, there were about 15 young couples in the church.
Not enjoying the music, sermon, or programs in your church can be difficult, but it doesn't have to stop you from worshiping. It may be that with a little creativity, you'll get more than ever out of being at your church.
*Names have been changed.
JoHannah Reardon is contributing editor to Kyria and managing editor of ChristianBibleStudies.com.
Copyright © 2011 by the author or Christianity Today/Kyria.com.
Click here for reprint information.