So much of our emotion, time, interest, and focus in western church culture today is on the public face of worship in the big box. Even most of those who react negatively to the "how to video" and those who feel strongly in favor of the video are drawn into this same primary ditch: worship is all about what we do in the box with a bunch of other people over the weekend.
I'm as guilty as the next person with this issue. So much of my time and energy have been focused on worship in the big box. There are moments when the worship is rich, the conviction is strong, and the Spirit's presence is palpable. Our lives are given an opportunity and motivation for change. Our life trajectories are at least briefly re-oriented with the experience and conviction that sweeps over us in a shared moment of grace. So I'm not bashing these events — in fact, I'm committed to be a part of them. I'm just convicted that they are not enough and they for sure are not the ultimate goal of our walk with Jesus.
Seeing people get juiced up in genuinely meaningful worship and then remaining unchanged disappoints and disillusions me. There are times when big box worship becomes a kind of inoculation that blocks people from going deeper and from recognizing their craving for something richer that comes from the Holy Spirit. A daily walk with Jesus fades in the glamorous light of big box worship performance. Genuine fellowship is forfeited on the altar of excitement. Worship becomes the box and not the altar:
Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God — this is true worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is — his good, pleasing and perfect will (Romans 12:1-2 TNIV).
Paul's words are rich, but tough. Say them out loud with me:
urge ... mercy ... offer ... bodies ... sacrifice ... holy ... pleasing ... worship ... transformed ... renewing ... mind ... test ... approve ... will ... good ... pleasing ... perfect.
Did you notice that there was no talk about the big box or the crowd in these words about "true worship"? Yet there is talk of community — brothers and sisters ("brethren"). Offering ourselves is not done in isolation from others. It is done with the help of a family of faith.
We find the same principle in Jesus' life and his teaching. He had the masses who crowded around him, but he taught his closest followers — called disciples — often calling them away from the crowd. He invested himself in them, sharing with them parables about the Kingdom of God and teaching them to pray, "OUR Father in heaven ..." He referred to his followers as family and his teaching centered around the ethics of living together as family. Yet the four gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) show Jesus distrusting the crowds, leaving the crowds, and calling a few folks close to him.
So why? Why this avoidance of getting too invested in the crowds and getting radically invested in the lives of a few men and women?
I believe the principle is as profoundly simple to articulate as it is difficult in our public world to live: we must go smaller to go deeper. The radical kingdom family of Jesus requires a smaller core of committed fellowship or it crumbles into pep rallies that leave people excited for Jesus, but unchanged by his radical call to discipleship.
Many don't like the whole going smaller things because we can't program it into a fixed time on a set day and then be done with it. Going smaller won't fit our "Minute to Win It" lifestyle. We avoid it because we have to be transparent with real people who are real close to us. We are wary of it because it calls us into messy relationships with challenging people with whom we are called to live a radical ethic — a one another lifestyle that connects people into our lives where accountability, confession, and forgiveness have to occur. We resist it because we have no where to hide when we talk with others about our spiritual journey. Our lack of our commitment and the loss of our passion for the example and words of Jesus show up too clearly in the light of those who really know our struggle.
So I am convicted that to go deeper with Jesus, we've got to go smaller — I've got to go smaller. I'm not suggesting that we do away with the box thing on the weekend — I know some of you are suggesting that, but I'm not. But, I do believe that we've got to give even more attention to the family size relationships with others who are hungry to be formed by Jesus ... and then we have to help each other walk with Jesus and not just talk about him and sing the latest song that celebrates him.
So as a final thought, I want to remind you of two little nuggets describing the early followers of Jesus. These show that Jesus' apostles came away with the "go smaller to go deeper" conviction. They used this conviction, along with the big worship events, as a key to growing in their lives as God's family:
Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts ... (Acts 2:46).
You know that I have not hesitated to preach anything that would be helpful to you but have taught you publicly and from house to house (Acts 20:20).
Do you think "worship in the big box" (worship services in church buildings) is essential — and why or why not?
Which do you think is more helpful to living out your daily worship of Jesus in your everyday life — big box worship or small box worship?
Why do you think Jesus spent time with both the crowds and also his disciples?
Choose a gospel and notice what Jesus did and taught with the crowds.
How is that different and alike what he did with his disciples — his closest followers?
What do you think the primary differences between big box worship and little box worship is?
Which do you most need right now?
What do you need to clear out of your life to connect with that element of worship you most need?