One of the trends creeping into the contemporary church is that during worship, we turn the house lights down ("we" being the contemporary church, not any congregation in particular). There are a number of reasons for this. It enhances the experience, we say. It keeps the congregation focused, we also say. With the words to all of the songs plastered across an array of digital screens and a well-rehearsed band on stage to lead the music, all of our attention should be up front.
What else would we possibly focus on?
Let's not mince words here: how about...God?
All this show that we put on on Sunday mornings, the way we've tuned our congregations to our ear, the way we lower the house lights so there's nothing else for them to look at has put a huge emphasis on the act of worship, but it draws away from the act of worshiping, which is very, very different.
Throughout her history, the people of God have come together to worship. They have come together to lift their voices as one. They have come together to read His Word as one. They have come together to speak life over one another and to give glory to God. That is not often the case in today's churches, where the people of God have simply come together to...come together. We even say it like that, "It's great to have you with us today." "We have come together today as an honor to God." "How great it is that we can come together like this." As though coming together is what congregational life is all about.
You don't have to look very far in the Bible to know that this is not what God had in mind. There is not one scene in all of Scripture where God calls His people to come together, they do, and He says, "Good. Now, go home." The people of God always come together for a purpose. To worship, to praise, to pray, to celebrate, to sacrifice, to fight, to honor, to glorify, to break bread, the list goes on and on. They never come together just to come together. They certainly never come together to watch someone else worship, praise, pray, celebrate, sacrifice, fight, honor, glorify, break bread, whatever.
And that's the problem with this trend where we turn our house lights down. We're no longer inviting our people to worship.
We're only inviting them to attend.
If you want to put a little more skin on this, just take a look around. Congregations where the house lights are up are congregations where you're more likely to hear the voices of those not on the praise team. Because most persons don't want to sing in the dark. They don't want to sing when the focus is up front, when they're not part of the "official" worship presentation. They don't want to be that weirdo singing along and getting caught, like when you're rocking out to a good song on the radio in the car and catch the guy next to you at the stoplight staring. Turn the house lights up, and all of a sudden, the congregation feels like they've been given permission to join.
Because the focus is no longer up front. Their attention hasn't been pointed in one way or another. They're allowed to wash in the worship, letting it rush right over them and wrap them in its invitation. And all of a sudden, in the light of the Lord, they sing. And no one thinks it's weird.
See, turning the house lights down sends a subliminal message. "The focus is up here." The focus is the stage. The focus is what the professionals who have practiced for this is doing. Let them worship. Let them be the ones to sing. After all, they're good at it. You, maybe not so much. You, just stand there. You, raise your hand if you want. You, sway a little bit. You, watch this.
Turn the house lights up, and there's no longer a "you." There's no longer a "you" because there's no longer a "them." There's a we. All of us gathered here together under one roof in one fellowship for one act of worship that includes all of our voices. There are no mere attenders in a church with its house lights up.
We have come to worship.
Not for the act of worship, but for the act of worshiping, which is a completely different thing.
Don't get me wrong. All your laser lights are neat. Your 4-screen, hi-def lyric projections monitors are pretty cool. Your praise band is well-rehearsed and that guy on the drums? Yeah, he's got it goin' on. But if the atmosphere you're creating puts all the focus up front, then your people are missing what's happening up on high.
Which is the greater thing?