Note: If you are a worship leader in the US, you know that we just went through the Memorial Day season. This article is definitely written from that perspective, but for those of you in other countries, I think there could still be application and discussion as it relates to the specific holidays of your home.
Question: How does your church handle holidays? I’m not asking about the big ones like Christmas and Easter, but cultural ones like Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, and especially patriotic related ones.
On the surface, the answer may seem simple. “We have moms stand up, and the kids sing a song.” “We do a special prayer for dads and give them a book.” “We pray for those who have lost a loved on and do a special number.” “We have veterans stand up and applaud them.” None of these are wrong or bad answers, but perhaps the question is deeper than we first realize. Maybe your church goes all out, giving a huge chunk of service time to the said holiday, or maybe your church just ignores that it’s even happening.
I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately for a number of reasons in my role as worship pastor. For one reason, it’s getting harder to handle these holidays without a lot of “baggage.” Some people aren’t as patriotic, and some are very much so. Some ladies so badly want to be a mom that it’s hard to hear other moms celebrated. Some folks are reminded of the terrible father-figure they had in their life.
But even deeper is the tension between what my role is as a worship pastor (essentially leading people to focus on the greatness of God and worshiping Christ) and the cultural expectations of people in our churches. Add on top of that the biblical reason for gathering. If we accept the premise that when Christians gather to worship corporately (usually played out in the typical Sunday gathering), the purpose is to worship God – giving Him praise, adoration, etc – and it’s (as has been sung) not about us, then the issue gets complex.
I’ve read recently in Worship is a Verb by the late Robert Webber about this very matter. He talks in chapter 8 of the book about the phenomenon in churches to devote large portions of a worship service to a particular national holiday while often ignoring the majority of seasons on the Christian calendar that capture the life and story of Christ. He writes “Morning worship is a time to celebrate the even of Christ’s living, dying, and rising for our salvation. I believe we need to refocus on our Christian heritage and the variety of events in Christ’s life and, in doing, restore a sacred sense of time to our worship” (pg. 159).
Is he saying that we should never acknowledge or give attention to these special secular days? Absolutely not. What he is questioning is whether or not the Sunday morning worship service is the right or best place to do so. He suggests that perhaps these special days could be better celebrated in special events.
As I think about this, I’m further drawn to the fact that even as we in the US include these focuses in our services, there are many Christians in countries where they are not free to worship. I wonder if they take time to celebrate national holidays in their gatherings when their nation is against them. If we were to find ourselves in a time or place where we were not accepted as Christians, would we give as much attention to these types of holidays? While the style and expression varies from place to place, should not the biblical essence of worship be pretty similar no matter where you are?
Don’t misunderstand me. Am I saying that I’m not thankful and grateful to live in the country I do? Of course not. I very much am grateful to live in America. I enjoy the Fourth of July with my family and recognizing the patriots of our country. I think it is entirely appropriate to thank God for the freedom to worship and for those who have secured that freedom. But is the focus on God, or on man? I’m constantly reminded of the words of Paul in Philippians 3:20, “But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Here’s the hard question…Does God care if we are American? Should not worship (and its elements) – if it’s biblical – be transferable to any cultural or ethnic setting? This is not meant to be a style question. These are not easy questions to answer. I am still wrestling through them and what it means as I plan services with my team. I don’t have the answers, and am still trying to balance including these elements while keeping the congregation focused on the Lord.
I’m sure that I probably have challenged some people to a large degree, and some of you reading may totally disagree with what I’ve written. I’d like to hear your thoughts, both on how you handle this and what your viewpoints are. May we engage in the dialogue with the love of Christ while growing in our calling to lead people in worship of the Lord Almighty.