Songless Sunday

Can you imagine going to a church service without music? How foreign would that feel? No hymns, doxology, praise songs. That’s what happened last Sunday at The Mission.

First, you have to know that we love to sing praise to the Lord. Two of our elders are longtime worship leaders. We planned Sunday as a testimony service, but intended to end with corporate worship. The Lord had other ideas.

The service began with prayers for the body, our city, & needs around the world. We then examined Jesus’ teaching in Luke 10 as foundation for explaining our church vision to newcomers. At that point we asked some folks who’d been through Missional Training to talk about how it changed their perspective and (more importantly) how the Lord has used them since to touch lost people’s lives.

End result: we ran out of time for music. Most people had so much to share; they simply couldn’t keep it to 8 minutes. And I couldn’t cut them off. Hearing how the Spirit has been at work in a broken world through his people was … well, worshipful.

Knowing the children’s ministry workers needed rescuing, we concluded with the offering & prayer … even before the final couple had a chance to share. The guitars stood lonely on stage, wondering why no one picked them up. We pondered the same thing.

Imagine being a visitor (of which we had a few). Unless they were from another continent, they came expecting about an hour of music & message. How mystifying it must have been to instead see people rise from the chairs around them go forward to pick up a microphone. Over and over, people of various age & background testified how God’s used them as missionaries in their neighborhoods and workplaces.

At the end of each testimonial, we asked the speakers to name some specific lost people they knew and cared about and lead us as a congregation in prayer for them. That’s usually when tears flowed. On and on it went. Testimonies and prayer, over and over. How puzzled our guests must have been, wondering why this worship service was so unlike the typical American church service. Yet, perhaps it is more biblical than we are aware.

Today’s typical service recipe combines equal parts music and sermon. Fold in offering with a dash of announcements. Sprinkle with prayer and bake for one hour at a comfortable temperature. Serve with coffee.

It’s unlikely that’s what Sunday mornings looked like in the first century. After all, is that what we see in the book of Acts or the life of Christ? When did musical worship become so paramount? How often do you read of Jesus singing? (Answer: once, after the Last supper). If we’re to model our entire lives after the Savior, it’s reasonable to ask how his example has impacts our worship service design (or not).

These words may step on some toes. I apologize. I truly do love worship. The intimacy we enjoy with Christ in worship is wonderful. I don’t mean to imply that music doesn’t play a vibrant role in the Christian life (see: Eph. 5:19; the entire book of Psalms). While singing together on Sunday is good, being the church on mission Monday through Saturday is essential.

This past Sunday, the stories of folks loving their neighbors took center stage. Perhaps right where it should be. As we heard story after story of people reaching out to the lost and ministering in the Gospel, it made me wonder how similar this service may have been to those in the days of the early church.

As new believers gathered together to celebrate Christ’s redeeming work in their lives & community (in fear for their lives, no less), excited people gathered to tell stories of Christ-changed lives, praising God & giving glory at every gathering! In song? Perhaps. More likely, it was relational real life.

Picture someone arriving to Sunday service in the first century. The man enters a home with a Roman soldier following behind him. He then introduces the young man to the group, saying, “Brethren, this is Marcus Urilius … our new brother in Christ Jesus.” As the place erupts in praise and people rush up to hug the new convert, everyone eagerly wants to hear the salvation story. In their celebration, Christ is exalted. God is glorified.

Through an unconventional service this past Sunday, the Lord reminded us that worship isn’t about the music we sing.

It’s whether our lives echo it.