What is the difference between a secular concert experience and a worship service on a Sunday morning?
Both can be described as a “spiritual experience,” and I believe they both legitimately are. There is something about gathered people singing together, united for one purpose through music (and other elements of the “event”), that elicits a spiritual experience. Hearts are lifted in both expressions toward something greater and beyond – transcendence.
As pastors who are primarily responsible for guiding people on a journey of discipleship, why do we encourage people to attend a Sunday morning worship service rather than a secular concert/show? The answer is obvious: because they worship Jesus on Sunday morning and not an experience or artist. While this is true, I want to go one step deeper.
The secular concert experience elicits a spiritual experience. People pay good money to sing songs together and have “a moment” with the artist and those in attendance. A good time is had and the concert ends leaving the experience largely unresolved. They approached beauty and transcendence – dare I say a shadow of the Transcendent – only to have the moment end, hoping for another opportunity to have a great night out like that in the future.
In the Sunday worship service, the congregation approaches beauty and transcendence directed toward the Transcendent One who has enabled immanence (God revealed in Christ, existing in and throughout the created world). While this is a move in the correct direction that distinguishes the Sunday service from a secular concert, something else needs to take place – a grounding of the transcendent and immanent that allows for resolve.
Without this the Sunday service turns into what the secular concert inevitably creates: spiritual consumers chasing after beautiful moments of transcendence. An idol of the experience is created.
What grounds us in something real, that resolves this corporate moment? The Eucharist (Communion). It is the focal point of all religious experience, transcendence, beauty, immanence, love, and satisfied human desire. In the Eucharist the person who experiences something spiritual in the service has a place for that moment to land. While having an altar call where people are prayed for as the moment of response is good and appropriate, it still leaves the moment unresolved. This experience needs to be grounded. The Eucharist does this.
What does this have to do with discipleship? EVERYTHING. Are we modelling a way of relating to God that reflects culture or the story of the Bible revealed in Christ? Are we making disciples who chase after the experience with God rather than God, himself? The Eucharist makes this distinction perfectly clear: God revealed in Christ on the cross is the focal point.