Worship is Not a Spectator Sport

This Christmas Season, the Christmas story characters that have most captivated me have been the shepherds – the riffraff to whom the angels first announced the birth of Jesus in Luke 2. As part of their announcement to the shepherds, the angels invited them to participate in worship, to go and find the baby who was “wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” This invitation prompted these lowly shepherds to set out on an adventure, to “go to Bethlehem” and see the thing that the Lord told them about.

However, seeing Jesus was not the end of worship for these shepherds. Instead, seeing Jesus sparked even more worship, causing them to go forth, eagerly spreading “the word concerning what had been told them about this child.” For these shepherds, worshiping the King literally changed how they lived from that day forward, prompting a lifestyle of continual worship.

So it is with us – or at least it should be. In fact, I believe that if we let it, worship has the power to change our lives today. Worship teaches by doing. It's in worship, that we participate in the story of who we are as a people of God – singing, praying, reading Scripture, dancing, healing, sharing the peace, and participating in the Lord's supper. By participating in this story, we slowly but surely are transformed into the people God made us to be, something that enables us to go forth and be His image-bearers in the world around us.

Undoubtedly, the power of worship lies in its participatory nature, without which, worship becomes a mere performance, not unlike one I might see at the theater. While I might be moved by such a performance, seldom will I be changed by it. Not so with worship, which has the power to change me and in so doing, change the world around me.

I think that's why this Christmastime, I've been amazed at how many times I've been invited - not to come worship - but to come see a Christmas Eve service; To be a spectator, rather than a participant in the greatest story ever told. While such performances – which is what a Christmas Eve service that does not invite people to participate in it becomes – might, in fact, draw crowds and even move said crowds to tears, I fear that such a performance will never transform people in lasting ways.

So please don't be offended if I don't invite you to come see our Christmas Eve service tonight. Know that you're always welcome to join me at this service or any other throughout the year. But know that if you do, you're invited not just to come see, but to come participate. And then to go forth and live differently, both as a result of and an act of worship.

Jen Bradbury on Youth Ministry

Jen serves as the Minister of Youth and Family at Atonement Lutheran Church in Barrington, Illinois. A veteran youth worker, Jen holds an MA in Youth Ministry Leadership from Huntington University. Jen is the author of The Jesus Gap: What Teens Actually Believe about Jesus (The Youth Cartel), The Real Jesus (The Youth Cartel), Unleashing the Hidden Potential of Your Student Leaders (Abingdon), and A Mission That Matters (Abingdon). Her writing has also appeared in YouthWorker Journal, Immerse, and The Christian Century. Jen is also the Assistant Director of Arbor Research Group where she has led many national studies. When not doing ministry or research, she and her husband, Doug, and daughter, Hope, can be found traveling and enjoying life together.

More about Jen

Jen's Books

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A Mission That Matters: How To Do Short-Term Missions Without Long-Term Harm

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Now Available!

Unleashing the Hidden Potential of your Student Leaders

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The Real Jesus

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The Jesus Gap

What Teens Actually Believe About Jesus

Based on National Research

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