Reverence and Formality, are they the same?

By now you know from experience that I tend toward informality and interactivity in my worship leading and preaching.  I do not believe the most effective way to share the Word and have it understood by people is with a serious straight lecture. I have my theological and personal reasons for that emphasis, and might lay those out one day.

The thing to address for now: the danger of interpreting informality as a lack of reverence.

The reality of life is that there is a dictionary definition of reverence, but also that each of us have our own personal understanding of what it involves — what it should look like. Starting broadly, each culture on the planet has it’s own understanding, and each culture’s understanding changes over time. Not only that, but regions or provinces within cultures have their own expectations of what reverence should look like, and those change over time. Diplomats and large businesses have advisers who keep up to date and inform them as to whether when you meet a person from another culture, you should bow to them or extend a hand in greeting to show respect. It makes headlines, for instance, when a national representative touches the Queen of England. In the book of protocol, that is a violation of respect and reverence for who she is.

Time and differing locations also shapes how people believe you should show reverence for God. It creates different expectations. And when we encounter something different than what we expect, it can grate on us. If we are not careful, we will show ‘cutural-ism’ or cultural arrogance in our speaking of the problem. This is not good no matter what, but it is especially not good when Christians do it to other followers of Jesus. I plan to write more about cultural arrogance at a later date. My point is, once we realize our expectations are simply our expectations, we have lots of room to practice some humility in examining why we feel challenged by behaviour that is different than we are used to.

If you were raised in a church similar to that of my youth, you were raised with ideas about reverence, and you obeyed them or you got a ‘look’ or worse yet, a “stealth pinch.” There were predictable things that happened in church, and it became clear to you and your bruised butt and/or dignity what you were supposed to do. When the Judge/Pastor came in, you stood, to show respect or reverence. When it got boring in church, you sat still to show reverence. When it was time to so-called ‘celebrate’ the Lord’s Supper, you kept a solemn expression, because this was serious celebration.

Later in life you might have experiences, as I did, that expand your understanding of what is respectful and reverent and what is not.  When you accept that you are not so easily bothered by what appears to be irreverent behaviour by another. For instance, I’ve been in situations where kids wore ballcaps in church, having no idea of the cultural history of removing headwear as a sign of reverence. I was able to accept that, because I was happy they at least showed up and realized they just didn’t know better. But I still get upset when the ballcap has a company logo on  it, because to me that does not belong in church…

If you are attending Nobleford CRC and are having a hard time adjusting to my more informal approach, there are a couple of things you can or must do. First, according to what we’ve learned from Jesus in Matthew 18, resist talking to others about it before talking to me. You can also start with some soul searching that can sound like this “Is what I am expecting simply my own understanding of respect that is tied to a time and a specific sub-culture?” and “if so, how can I adjust my expectations so that I don’t let it interfere with my experiencing God in worship?” There are other questions like this you can work on. Yet another area of reflection could be to explore why you might expect a very formal, predictable, lecture-like, serious, impersonal style of worship service. Where does that expectation come from? Where is it scriptural, if it is? And a final thing to reflect on, once you’ve done some thorough self-examination, is to look to other aspects of my work and life, and ask the question of whether Pastor Pete has great respect and admiration and awe for God in those. I’m confident you will see that I do, and that discovering that will help you adjust to my worship leading style, even as I’m adjusting it down a notch or two to respect those for whom it has proven to be too big of a stretch.

My view is that formality is not guaranteed to show reverence.  Nor is informality a lack of it.

I’ll leave you with some Definitions of “reverence”

wikipedia:  “a feeling or attitude of deep respect tinged with awe; veneration”… Reverence involves a humbling of the self in respectful recognition of something perceived to be greater than the self.

Definition: high opinion of something

Synonyms: admiration, adoration, approval, awe, deference, devotion, devoutness, esteem (high), fear, homage, honour, love, loyalty, piety, praise, prostration, respect, worship

Opposite: disdain, disregard, disrespect, scorn

Pastor Pete

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: