Several of my colleagues attended a conference where the overarching theme was something like, “Make Sunday Matter on Monday.” The claim was that most churches do a poor job of connecting what happens on Sunday with what happens in people’s lives the rest of the week. So, we should always plan our Sundays (i.e. the worship experience & formation activities) with Monday in mind. Is what we are doing in worship going to matter when people re-enter their weekly grind?
At first blush, I don’t disagree with this concept. I sense that it is easy for us as Christians to compartmentalize our lives (especially if we live in the Bible Belt, like I do). We have a “Sunday self” that does our duty by going to church, but we shelve the Sunday self during the rest of the week to make room for our workplace self (or family self or Happy Hour self or fanboy/fangirl self or sports self or… you get the picture). I believe that to be mature is to be an integrated person – that one’s life with God is so intertwined with one’s identity that we can’t help but express our love of God in how we live and how we love others. So, the act of worshipping together one day each week ought to shape how we choose to live every other day of the week.
On further reflection, however, the concept of “Make Sunday Matter on Monday” bugs me. I don’t know if this is true for the creators of the conference, but what I hear in this statement is the desire to be propositionally relevant. Here’s what I mean: The key to making Sunday matter on Monday is to offer a sermon that offers practical tips for how the Scripture should be lived out during the week. Not only that, but the church ought to create resources that make it easy for people to remember the practical application of the text and then live it out. If we fail to offer practical suggestions that relate to the real stuff of people’s lives, then what we do in worship won’t shape them… and they’ll probably be so bored that they won’t engage in worship (i.e. they’ll come infrequently, if at all).
Is the primary purpose of our worship gathering to offer people moral guidance or to help them think better about faith and about God? If we consistently do topical sermon series on things like marriage, family, evangelism or making one’s life matter, this is likely our bias. But this feels so limiting to me. Are churches truly nurturing mature disciples of Jesus if those disciples have to rely on the church staff or church structure to tell them what to believe or how to live? Besides, is it the data we gain by listening to a sermon that actually shapes us? Or is there something deeper going on in worship services?
I have been helped by the speaking and writing of James K.A. Smith in this. He just released a book called “You Are What You Love.” In a lecture I found on YouTube with the same title, Smith argues that habits shape us far more powerfully than right thinking. To experience transformation, we can’t just change our thinking; we have to change our hearts.
So, it’s not so much the weekly content of worship that ultimately shapes us, but the act of gathering week after week after week to give glory to God. It’s not what we take away from worship that matters as much as our choice to acknowledge a Being greater than ourselves who audaciously loves us through Jesus Christ. This means that the rhythm of worship can shape us even if the sermon is poorly given or terribly irrelevant. We don’t need a great band or excellent choir to worship together. All it takes is a community coming together to turn their attention to the power and presence of God in their midst.
I wonder if the struggle for worshippers is not so much the seeming irrelevance of Sunday morning, but our lack of consistency in our worship habits. We experience no change in our lives during the rest of the week not because we don’t know how to apply what we’ve learned, but because we haven’t allowed space for transformative life rhythms. No amount of good content will change us if we’re not opening ourselves to the presence and power of God… and worshipping together gives us the weekly opportunity to pay attention, to remind ourselves of who God is.
Rachel Young is the associate pastor of spiritual formation at Clear Lake Presbyterian Church, in Houston, Texas. She is married to Josh, who also serves on staff at Clear Lake Presbyterian as the director of contemporary worship and media.