Guest Blogger: Jason Helopoulos
There are words that just don’t go together. We would never think of describing sandpaper by the adjective “smooth”–it doesn’t work. You will never hear someone call a surgical operation “fun”–it doesn’t exist. No one has ever slept on a “hard” pillow, maybe “firm” (which is the one my wife seems to give me every night), but never “hard.” There are adjectives that should never be used as descriptors for certain nouns.
Maybe I am an old fuddy duddy, but it seems to me that we should never use the word “casual” as an adjective for worship. I know what is meant by it, or at least I think I do. It seems that churches put this descriptor on their lighted marquee sign to announce to the world, “how you are dressed doesn’t matter here.” Or they are trying to convey to a culture that is obsessed with the comfortable that their service isn’t traditional or firm or stiff or joyless. If this is the case, then I say, “Let the sign say that.” I would have no problem with a church announcing on its sign, “Our 10:30 service at Crossroads Presbyterian is a “non-stiff” service.” Just don’t call it casual.
Why? Because worship may be a lot of things, but it is never casual. Worship is an encounter with the living, true, holy, sovereign God of the universe. And just think about encounters with God in Scripture that elicit worship: Moses takes off his shoes (Exodus 3), Israel is fearful (Exodus 20), Isaiah quakes (Isaiah 6), Job silences his lips (Job 40), John falls down as though dead (Revelation 1). Even the elders and angels, who are worshipping day in and day out before the throne, aren’t casual in their worship (Isaiah 6; Revelation 4). Casual worship of the living, true, holy, sovereign God of the universe just doesn’t exist!
You may think, “Jason, you’re nitpicking. It is just a descriptive word. It is what we do and the motive of our heart that matters.” But I want to cry from the rooftops, “Words have meaning.” We of all people must continually emphasize this reality. We are a people of the Word. Words matter. And so calling something casual that should never be considered such has no place in our world and surely not on our marquee signs.
And it is not only what it means, but the influence it has. Eugene Peterson has written multiple times about “subversive spirituality.” There are things we do or say that seem minor and yet have a gradual penetrating affect upon the ministry around us. Peterson uses the example of calling the Pastor’s room in the church a “study” instead of an “office.” It is subtle, but each word conveys something. And that something ingrains itself in the minds of the people and even the pastor himself. If you think or even want your pastor’s primary duties to be prayer and study of the Scriptures, then you call his room a study. If you envision him answering emails, putting together budgets, and organizing agendas with most of his time then you call it an office.
Words matter. They have an altering affect over time. McDonalds understands this–that’s why it is called an Extra Value Meal and not the “Extra 1000 Calorie Option.” Retailers understand this–that’s why it is “refurbished” instead of “previously broken and now we want to sell it to you.” Homosexual activists understand this–that is why they are laboring so hard to do away with the language of “domestic union” in favor of “marriage.” Words matter and have a gradual influencing affect upon those that use them.
Because of that, let’s abandon the word “casual” as a descriptor of our worship services. Church dinners can be casual. Sunday School classes are casual. Let’s even call the church dress code casual (As many point out to me, I am a work of progress in this regard!). But let’s never call worship casual. Because worshipping God is anything but casual!