Should We Cancel Worship?

Ekklesia reports that the campaign “Faith in Action” begun by World
Vision is recommending that churches cancel some worship services for
the purpose of serving the poor.

Is this really the best response?

Should we cancel church services in order to serve the poor? If we do
this, in my opinion, then we are perpetuating the cycle of the poor.

The major problem of the poor is the seperation, isolation and
dehumanization that takes place when the middle class connect with the
poor. As long as we react to the poor with pity (often labeled
“compassion”) and with service from one’s arm’s length, then the cycle
of poverty will continue. As long as we see the poor as the “other”
that we have to reach out to, then we will never see the poor as
“us.” If we do not see the poor as “us” then the divide between the
ruling middle class and the poor will never be breached.

Rather than cancel our services, we need to have a reformation of our
services. We need to make our services less focused on the middle
class and their values and instead make them reflective of the values
of the working poor. We need to stop having offerings at the center
of our services. We need to find ways to welcome the poor. We need
to teach in our sermons not to use language or to have attitudes that
disrespect the poor.

James said that we are not following the law of Jesus if we disrespect
the poor. But in focusing on the middle class values and dreams in
our worship and sermons, we are asking the “rich man” to sit in the
best place and telling the “poor man” to “sit at my feet.”

Our churches have disrespected the poor. How can our worship better
welcome the lower classes?

Steve K

Comments (13)

  1. somasoul

    I can’t say that cancelling service to serve the poor is a bad thing. One has to ask: “Is cancelling service to serve the poor a benefit to the poor or to the congregation?”

    I think it is a benefit to the congregation. It won’t eliminate the class divide we have but the church appears to be very apathetic to these things. Anything move in the right direction is better than nothing.

  2. Amy

    Ok, first of all, we have to ask ourselves, “who is worship for?” Is it for us, or for God? The way I look at it is that it is our gift to God, and also a blessing from God.

    That in mind, cancelling worship would be a complete disaster. We might as well be athiests out there serving the poor. What is it about us being Christians and serving the poor that makes things different?

    The issue then is how to make the poor feel welcome. It’s a tough one. I go to an urban congregation, and we have people that will come in and ask people for money during worship. They are loud. They often target the guests to ask for money. But, they should still be welcome. They should still feel like my congregation is a place where they feel safe and comfortable, and where the Holy Spirit can work through them.

    There’s something about liberation theology that helps me here. When I’ve decided (on some level) that I am better than someone else (we all do it whether we know it or not), I have to remind myself that the Gospel, according to liberation theologians, is for the poor. The poor often get it in a way we often don’t, because the struggles of the poor are so different than my struggles. I’m worried about protecting my assets (house values, stock prices, etc..), and the poor are worried about survival. Two very different ways to look at the world.

    I don’t have any answers here. I just know that while giving an hour to serve the poor is a good idea, cancelling church to do that is a huge problem for me. Worship is a gift from God and for God, and gives us space to stay connected to the divine.

  3. folknotions

    Absolutely not should worship be canceled to serve the poor. Worship should inform and sustain our spirit and longing to serve the poor during the week and even on Sunday.

    We aren’t Unitarians; We don’t just believe in the absolute value to “serve the poor”. We are Christians, we believe God came to earth, taught us to how to live, and died so that we may live.

    My personal opinion is that any movement toward canceling worship in favor of serving the poor says more about the debasement of worship in evangelical ciricles than it does the committment to service. And don’t say “serving the poor is worship”; it is an offering to God, but it isn’t the same thing as worship.

    We serve the poor because Christ commanded it, not because it is good (though it is good!). If we put too much value on the effect and don’t acknowledge the first cause (i.e. God in Christ through worship), then our service to the poor is meaningless.

    I think the strategies you mentioned are absolutely essential in integrating the poor. Moreover, our communities should be communities of unity, and not uniformity; Mennonite tend to confuse the two and emphasize the latter. As such, not looking the right way alienates lower-income people.

    Christ taught us that when we see the “other”, we are not to treat them like the other. In fact, we aren’t to even treat them like we treat our friends. We are to treat them as Christ.

    How often we fall short. How much more needs to be done. Lord have mercy.

  4. TimN

    I wonder if part of the problems here is that for many of the churches in question, there is no church beyond the worship service on Sunday morning. So if something’s to be done, it has to happen during that time.

    In contrast, what we seem to be describing is church as a body that is active and alive together in many ways, one of which is worship together on Sundays.

    On the other hand, the wording of the survey does not specifically specify worship services:

    But the study also reports that 60 percent of respondents “would support their church if it occasionally cancelled traditional services in order to donate that time to help the poor in their community”.

    “Traditional Services” covers a lot. Perhaps some respondents had in mind canceling some of those Tuesday night business meetings…

  5. tomdunn

    It was interesting for me to read Amy’s comment where she mentioned that:

    “it’s a tough one. I go to an urban congregation, and we have people that will come in and ask people for money during worship.”

    I deal with the opposite problem: I live in a rural area where I could easily go weeks, months, or years without coming into direct contact with the poor. I drive by houses that indicate the folks living there are not well off, but actually coming into contact the poor is a rarity. Sometimes I find myself thinking that it would be a lot easier to serve like Jesus asked us too if I lived in an urban area.

    I don’t know where I am going with this, I am just reacting to Amy’s comment and my own frustration with not being apply to apply so many of the teachings of Jesus.

  6. Jason J

    Was I the only one surprised by the fact that close to 70% of churches think they already do enough to help the poor?

    Is that for real? How could you possibly do enough to satisfy all the needs in your community. I wonder if that is a reflection of how clueless some people are as to what needs there are out there, or if they honestly think their programs are really that great.

    Honestly I think it would be a good idea for those 70% to skip out on worship and serve the poor because they don’t have a very good idea of whats really going on.

  7. somasoul

    “Sometimes I find myself thinking that it would be a lot easier to serve like Jesus asked us too if I lived in an urban area.”

    It is. I moved to Baltimore City 2 years ago. City people are outside more often. They sit on their porch. We know everyone on our street. I know more people in my neighborhood after two years here then I did in 10 years in the county.

    I’m convinced that Christians could do a few things to increase the kingdom of God. Move to the city and adopt.

    Jason J., to think that 70% think they are doing enough is very strange. Obviously there is a disconnect between actual needs and perceived needs. The early disciples didn’t give 10%, they gave it all according to need. Are any of us giving all according to need?

    Is it weird to me but Jason J and I are more “conservative” than others on this site yet we think cancelling worship to serve the poor is a good idea while our more “progessive” brethern do not. I’m not saying one idea is better then the other but this just struck me as odd.

  8. Skylark

    Tom, it’s not that there aren’t poor people in your/our rural area. It’s that the poor are hidden, driven underground primarily by their status as undocumented immigrants. If you were able to do a survey of everyone in your/our rural area, I think you’d find that the 2,000 or so immigrants (undocumented and otherwise) are much poorer than the 110,000 people who consider themselves not to be immigrants. (Although they’d really probably be third, fourth or fifth-generation immigrants.)

    Yes, the immigrants tend to have a lot more space, utilities, and higher incomes than anything they could get in the Third World, given the opportunities afforded them. But, there’s an idea I only heard about, strangely, when I got to Bolivia–the Fourth World. The Fourth World is people from the Third World who live in the First World. The person who mentioned the concept to me is Honduran, living in Bolivia, and said most Fourth World dwellers have a lower standard of living than they did in the Third World. That struck me as odd, given what I’ve heard and seen. I called and asked a close friend who lives in our county and is from the Third World. He said most definitely the standard of living is lower, but not for reasons I expected. The “stuff” is there. They are not physically poor in the same way they were in their home countries. What is lacking is the social network, the community, the person-to-person constraints that keep people from doing stupid things like drinking too much alcohol, going around with prostitutes, etc. He said he knows many people who never did those sorts of things in their home countries, but now that they are far away from virtually everyone who knows them, they get mixed up in things that ruin their lives. There’s no shortage of those vices in the Third World, of course, but now these folks had both money to sink into them and a sense of disconnect from the people to whom they are responsible.

    I need to learn more about this idea of the Fourth World, obviously, but I though I’d share a little of what I’m finding out so far.

    Yes, a person living in your/our county could go a long time without interacting with even one immigrant. But, I know that’s not the case with you because I frequently hear immigrants talking about interacting with you. :D

    My point is the poor are everywhere. In smaller percentages in some areas, sure. Different behaviors are common in urban and not in rural areas. Just because poor people don’t walk into church services asking for money in some areas does not mean there are no poor people. Or, even no homeless people. I recently read an estimate by a county health professional that there about 100 homeless people in the county. That upset me, not because of the number, but because when I wanted to find out about the local homeless population to write a newspaper story, my editors shut me down and said “There is no homeless problem here.” And yet two years later they run a story briefly recognizing that yes, there are homeless people here, too?” It probably should have raised a red flag to me that they seemed to view homeless people as a “problem,” not “part of us.”

    Somasoul, I think it doesn’t matter how much rural people do or don’t sit out on their front porches as long as we still have a dominant culture centered around cars. People in urban areas are more likely to have a store right around the corner where they walk to pick up essentials, and stop to chat with the neighbors on the way. Rural areas rarely even have sidewalks on which people could walk if they were so inclined.

  9. somasoul

    “Rural areas rarely even have sidewalks on which people could walk if they were so inclined.”

    You’re right. Part of what I meant was when I’m sitting on the porch I see people walking by. It’s a culture where people more likely to come into contact with eachother. People walk, take the bus, go for walks, plus there are more people clustered together.

    Caring for the poor is great. But I think that we need to do more. And that is simply meet needs where we can find them. The poor are an easy target. But the rich have needs. The middle class have needs. We do a poor job of meeting needs in general. We lack any type of community, geographical or familial, and people’s needs go by the wayside because of it.

  10. tomdunn

    “The poor are an easy target”–This is how I feel, and I am not completely comfortable with this idea. Skylark, thanks for your response, and although a lot of what you said was new to me, the main point was not: I know I am surrounded by poverty even in the rural middle class area. The problem is, I feel bad treating them like target. I see a run down place, a trailer park, folks shopping at a thrift store because they have to (not because they want to support MCC), etc. and my gut reaction is, “Thomas, these are the folks that Jesus would be spending his time with, not the middle class folk in your congregation.”

    How do we get there short of knocking on doors and saying: “I want to spend time with you, and have a mutually beneficial relationship with you as we learn from each other…” Slam goes the door.

    Maybe I’ll write the Mayor and ask for sidewalks.

  11. Jim U.

    Our church was a pilot church for Faith in Action. The program was a very good beginning step for justice action. Faith in Action is not designed to be the ending place, but to offer an entry place for wholistic justice.

    For the Bible studies leading up to the service Sunday, we looked at several passages in Luke and encouraged one another to follow the actions of Jesus. The Faith in Action program does not eliminate the Sunday worship service, it suggests holding it later in the day after spending time in community service.

    A worship paradigm that I am considering is seeking justice together as a “church” body in a way that leads to worship and greater dependence on God. I believe, this could be a model for the church to consider. I think it fits with the vision of the OT prophets and our Messiah Jesus.

  12. Norma Baum

    Our church occasionally has a Faith in Action Sunday. The first time we had worship later in the day. Now we have worship approx. 8:30-9:15, take a few minutes to pray, gather as a team and then go. Later we come back around noon to share a fellowship meal and invite those we have served.
    In order to try not to offend anyone we work in conjuction with local civic groups such as the Chamber of Commerce who would know of folks who might need help with yardwork, housecleaning, etc. These folks are contacted ahead of time and given an explanation of what our church would like to do, how we got their name, and ask their permission to help on a Sunday. When permission is secured members can sign up in areas where they wish to help such as:yardwork, packing a school or medical kit, visiting shut-ins. In reading the scriptures I believe that regularly gathering as a body for worship is of primary importance but when there are occasions like Matt. 12:11-12 we’d better be serving. Perhaps all of us have within us the tendency to become legalistic. Let us worship and serve in a Chrsitlike spirit.

  13. SteveK (Post author)

    Latest News from Crosswalk:

    Churches Close Doors to Serve Communities

    As the worsening economy continues to make life difficult for families across the country, churches are putting their faith into action by closing their doors to help serve their neighbors in need, ASSIST News Service reports. According to a news release, this year the event will take place on Sun. Oct. 12. About 300 churches nationwide comprising some 36,000 Americans will participate. Congregations do service projects in conjunction with their local community. The program also helps Christians invite members of their community to join in serving together. Since Sept. 2007, Faith in Action has advocated that churches should cancel Sunday services, close their doors and “Be the Church” by leading local community service projects. The Faith in Action program bridges the gap between families who could use a helping hand this year – and churches who have the extra hands to offer help.

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