600 years ago a church service looked far different than it does today.
The Medieval mass truly was a performance. The priest was turned away from the congregation for most of the congregation and spoke (by some reports mumbled is a more appropriate description) the service in Latin, a language the commoners didn’t speak and often the priests themselves didn’t speak.[i] The congregants observed the mass in silence. There was no participation.
600 years later much has changed. And yet much remains the same.
In the American evangelical church, our liturgy looks about as different from the liturgy of the church of the Middle Ages as you could imagine (and yes, while we don’t have a formalized liturgy, we share a collective informal liturgy – you can go to just about any evangelical church in America this weekend and expect a similar service). But church, as much as ever, is an experience those who attend come to watch. And like the church in the Middle Ages, we also are struggling with attendance, with a faithful church goer now coming to service a mere twice a month.[ii]
Perhaps even more importantly, most Christians remain on the sidelines when it comes to service. Approximately 20% of those who attend church are engaged in service.[iii] We ought to celebrate that 20% who are serving. And yet, 80% of American evangelicals are having the functional experience of a medieval peasant. Other than experiencing a worship service in their native tongue, they are otherwise every bit the observer of the congregant 600 years ago.
This is particularly painful because Martin Luther, who led the protest against the Medieval Roman Catholic Church 500 years ago, hoped for a day when “the word priest [would] be as common as the word Christian” because all Christians are priests.[iv]
Luther was claiming Peter’s assurance that the church would complete what God had promised the Israelites: that they would be a royal priesthood.[v] We are those who God has made for his ministry. Not just pastors, but every believer. Two chapters after Peter’s bold proclamation that we are a royal priesthood, Peter explains, “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God's varied grace.”[vi] To use the unique gifts God has given you in the service of the church is to experience God’s grace and offer that same grace to others.
Those 80% who are watching from the sidelines and foregoing the opportunity to serve are not only missing out on an opportunity that those in the church didn’t have for centuries, but they are missing out on an opportunity to experience and to give God’s varied grace.
Don’t miss the opportunity for God’s grace in your life in utilizing the gifts he has given you in serving the church.
Photo credit: Josh Applegate/Unsplash
[iii] Multiplying attendance rates recorded by the Pew Study above by the 45% average rate of service in evangelicals according to the Unstuck Report’s 2017 Vital Signs Report.
[iv] https://tifwe.org/resource/the-priesthood-of-all-believers/ quoting Martin Luther’s commentary on 1 Peter.
[v] 1 Peter 2:9
[vi] 1 Peter 4:10