Playing Games

Playing Games in Church

I confess it: I often play games in church. Actually, just one game.  It is not solitaire or tic-tac-toe.  It is called The Kierkegaardian Game.  I do not go to church intending to play the game, but sometimes half way through a service, I think I hear God saying to me, “time to play the game!”

I do not always worship well in corporate settings.  Sometimes the sermon is boring and trivial.  Often the music is painful to my ears, and the prayers seem like meanderings of an unfocused mind.  Occasionally the theology of sermon, song or prayers seems close to heretical and the special music reminds me of Tiny Talent Time.

It is at such moments when I become chief fruit inspector that the order comes, “play the game!” So what is this game? It may have been invented by me, but I owe it all to Søren Kierkegaard.  Kierkegaard was a Danish Philosopher of the 19th century.  He thought that most of us had turned worship on its head.  This is what he noted about the worship services that he observed.

Conventional Worship.

  • The minister, the worship team, and the choir are the performers. The scripture reader and the instrumentalists are also among the performers.
  • God is the prompter.  He whispers in the ear of the performers to help them play their parts well.  Earlier He has inspired the worship leaders and the musicians to choose the right words and songs.
  • The congregation is the audience.  Worship is for their enjoyment or edification, who get to leave knowing that a good time was had by all.

Alternative Worship

Kierkegaard suggested another way of seeing worship.

  • The members of the congregation are the performers.
  • The minister and worship team, the instrumentalists, the projectionists and the soundboard operators serve as the prompters of our worship.
  • God is the audience.

When I find myself wincing at a poor effort, I think I hear God asking, “So, how are you doing?” and I have to say “Not very well.”  And then I think I hear God saying, “I noticed!”  Then I am reminded; worship is an offering to God, not a performance for my pleasure.  I quickly confess my foolishness to Him, and turn my heart and mind back to worship Him.

So how do we worship well when we find ourselves a bit unhappy with what’s going on? Play the game!  Worship God!

(Read Søren Kierkegaard, Purity of Heart, trans. Douglas Steere, (N.Y. Harper & Bros., 1938.) p. 163ff. for further elaboration.)

Additional materials on worship

The world can be saved by one thing and that is worship.

For to worship is

  • To quicken the conscience by the holiness of God,
  • To feed the mind with the truth of God,
  • To purge the imagination by the beauty of God,
  • To open the heart to the Love of God,
  • To devote the will to the purpose of God.

William Temple, The Hope of a New World, (N.Y. Macmillan, 1942.)  p. 30.

Published in Light and Life,  March-April, 2004

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