I once read a story about a few members of a synagogue who went to their rabbi complaining the liturgy did not express their feelings and asked him to change it to make it more relevant for them. The rabbi responded saying the liturgy wasn’t aimed at expressing what they felt; in fact it was the other way around. Rather than change the liturgy to suit them, it was their responsibility to change and learn to feel what the liturgy expressed.
Sadly, the story reflects some feelings in the heart of all of us. Whether we are younger and find traditional church services uninspiring and our “felt needs are not being met”, or we are older and find contemporary songs and worship unengaging and not meeting our “felt needs”, the fact is that there is something in all of us that wants things to be the way we like them.
Yet, this story reminds us there are bigger issues at stake. The focus of our worship services is not us and how we feel, but about God and what God feels. Our services are not aimed at meeting our needs (although they often do), but in helping us continue the journey of discipleship—following Christ and becoming more like him.
Whether we are old or young, new in the faith or have been following Jesus for years, our church services are meant to draw us out of our comfort zone, challenge our assumptions, spotlight our lifestyles and spur us on. Rather than meet our needs, they draw us beyond our needs towards seeing us as God sees us.
Our church services are meant to draw us out of our comfort zone
In fact, believing church should meet our “felt needs” is really quite selfish and short sighted suggesting we may have forgotten our greatest need—the coming day when we all stand before the judgement seat of God. On that day our “felt need” will be whether we can stand before God accepted by him or not.
I’ve always been somewhat haunted by the statement of Jesus in Matthew 7:21-23 where he says, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven” (Matt 7:21). Here are people claiming Jesus as their Lord, doing great works in his name, and yet to their great surprise are rejected from the Kingdom of Heaven. Throughout their lives they thought they had made the grade and were quite unaware they would ultimately be rejected and called “evildoers”.
What was their problem? When compared with a similar passage later in Matthew (The Sheep and the Goats in Matthew 25:31-46) it becomes clear that their trust was in the wrong place. For them it was not about relationship but about good works, but good works by themselves are not enough.
It is sobering to be reminded there are good people who say they follow Jesus as “Lord”, who do good works in his name, but who nevertheless fall short of entering the kingdom of heaven. In our consumer driven, individualistic society, where many have slipped into believing that church is all about meeting my “felt needs”, we need to be reminded what our real need is.
Jesus came to earth and died to open the way for us to come into relationship with our Creator. As you eet woth other Christians Sunday by Sunday, each person with their own “felt needs”, it is good to be reminded that we come together not to have the neds of our feelings met but to acknowledge our real need before God and thanking God him again for his saving action in Jesus.
Stephen L Baxter