When Sunday Worship Doesn't Feed the Soul

Rev. Dr. Bret Lamsma

December 17, 2023

I can’t count the number of worship services I’ve attended over the years. Some have been amazing, filled with fantastic music, dynamic preaching, attentive congregations, and beautiful spaces. Others have been laid back, small, and intimate. Some have been awkward, poorly put together, or even boring if I’m being honest. Some I’ve attended alone, and some with my family, friends, or other groups of people. And again, if I’m honest, some I’ve gotten a lot out of personally and others I haven’t. I thought of all these worship services as I was reflecting on a question I’ve heard a few times in my years as a pastor: “What do I do if worship isn’t feeding me and my family?” There are a lot of assumptions that go into that question, the scope of which I’m not sure I can fully address in a brief post. But let's consider some basic responses I’ve had to it over the years.

Its about God

First and foremost, remember that worship is primarily directed to God and not toward us. This is a reality that we often forget. When we worship, we glorify God for who he is and for what he does in this world and in our lives. Through the sacraments we remember his promises to be with us always and we celebrate his sacrifice that forgives our sins and brings about salvation. We hear God's instructions for our lives that constantly remind us that he is God and we are not. And we commit ourselves to live lives that glorify him in all that we do. The Old Testament prophets (Isaiah 43:7), New Testament epistles (1 Corinthians 10:31), and the confessions of the church (Westminster Shorter Catechism Q&A 1) all point us to the fact that everything we do, including corporate worship, is about glorifying God. While we are active participants in worship and are invited into worship by a loving and relational God, worship in all of its aspects is totally focused on adoring and glorifying God. It is not primarily about our entertainment or about making us happy. Those notions are modern inventions that have infiltrated the church from popular culture.

Practiced with integrity

Now, all of that said, God does call us to be faithful and excellent in our act of worship. Biblical preaching that reflects his word accurately is important. Worship that points us to him and to our neighbor rather than ourselves is also important. Faithful celebration of the sacraments and reminders of what God has done and continues to do for us are vital. If these things are missing or wanting, then it makes sense to question the worshiping community that you are a part of. If those are realities for you I’d strongly suggest talking to church leadership, elders or board members, or church staff and pastors about them. While these can be difficult topics to talk about, the fruit of those discussions can be very beneficial to everyone involved. The goal of a conversation about these things isn’t blame or threats, but learning and understanding on all parts. Maybe a better understanding of the philosophy of worship at your church can help you feel better about it. And maybe honest feedback to church leadership can bring about positive change for everyone involved.

Belonging to Christ’s body

It's also not about you as an individual; the church is a worshipping body. We worship as a "we" not as an "I." As the body of Christ, we commit to each other. The church I pastor has official membership where we covenant together to live life together, grow in our faith and love for God, and use the gifts that God has given us for his kingdom. When we make that promise we mean it. Even if your church doesn’t have a formal membership, any worshiping community that you belong to still comes with commitments and responsibilities. You are a valuable member of your community, and it wouldn’t be the same without you. In 1 Corinthians 12, the Apostle Paul talks about the body of Christ, the church, in terms of an actual human body. All of the parts are important, even indispensable.

Take your time

Unfortunately one of the byproducts of not being happy with or "not being fed" by worship in a church community is that a member of that community leaves. While it might be understandable in some circumstances, and even advisable in others, leaving a church community is not a decision to be taken lightly. If we view membership as a covenant commitment, it means breaking that commitment, and that is a big deal both for you and for your community. Without you the community you leave won’t be who they were with you, just like a body is inherently different if it loses a hand or an eye. Again, there may be times when the decision to leave is necessary, but it is never a decision to be taken lightly.

Engage in self-reflection

So before making a decision to leave a worshiping community I’d advise some self reflection and soul searching take place. First take a look at yourself, your relationship with God, and your relationships in your community. Self reflection can be difficult, but ask yourself what your motivations are. Are there other areas of your life like work, family, or friendships that aren’t feeding you either? Are you putting unfair expectations on corporate worship? Are you investing in your relationship with God for more than just an hour or two on Sunday morning? Do you have connections with other people in your worshiping community or do you feel relationally alone there? Or are there difficult relationships with other members or leaders at your church that might be causing some of your feelings? 

I know that these are difficult questions to ask, but some reflection on them might help as you wrestle with your feelings about worship. Our spiritual needs are filled by ongoing connection with God, not just an hour on Sunday morning. No church service is going to fill a spiritual void that is being ignored. Foster a healthy spiritual relationship in which church attendance plays a supporting role. A trusted friend, mentor, or counselor might even be useful to help you process you and your family's feelings about church and worship.

Make an investment

Lastly I’d suggest taking a look at your family's larger involvement in your church community. One of the earlier reflection questions I asked was if you are investing in your relationship with God for more than just an hour or two on a Sunday morning. I’d ask the same question about your relationship with your church community. Are you investing in that community on more than just Sunday morning? Are you an active part of that body throughout each week? Are you connecting through children’s ministries and youth ministries for your children? Are you involved in a Bible study or small group where you are learning about who God is in your life and who else is in your community? Are you using your God given gifts to serve other members of your community? Are you giving financially? Are you leading where you may be called to lead? I don’t ask those questions simply to make you more busy each week. But to truly be a part of a community means investing in it fully and being an active part of it. Becoming more active might lead to more fulfillment from the whole of the church experience, including corporate worship.

About the author — Rev. Dr. Bret Lamsma

Bret Lamsma lives in Lakewood, Colorado, with his wife Julie and two children. He serves as the Director of Faith Formation at a church in Denver and has served churches in California and Michigan prior to moving to Colorado. In his free time he enjoys hiking and camping with his family, rooting for the Chicago Cubs, and watching Marvel movies and Star Trek episodes. You can find more of his writing at ourfaithformationjourney.wordpress.com.

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