National Lutheran News

Worship not a consumer choice, Lutheran theologian says

Marva Dawn

Marva Dawn

Marva Dawn keynoted liturgy conference at Mount Olive Lutheran Church, Minneapolis.

A frequently-published LCMS lay theologian posed a series of provocative questions during two worship lectures January 11. Speaking to an attentive audience of over 150 at Mount Olive Lutheran Church in south Minneapolis, Dr. Marva Dawn asked, “How has it happened that, in North America, worship has become such a consumer commodity? Why do we think that we’re doing God a favor by showing up? Whatever happened to the belief that God condescends to welcome us unworthy supplicants, through grace, into his presence?”

Dawn spoke twice at “Liturgy as Prayer,” the first annual Conference on Liturgy at Mount Olive Church. She warned that U.S. Christians are turning a community experience into an individual one. She said, “A student once told me, ‘I became a Christian all by myself.’ When I asked how that happened, he replied, ‘I just read the Bible.’ I asked, “Do you think that could have happened without a community — the one that wrote those books?”

She said, “I cannot hear everything God has to say to me until I hear it in the faithful community.”

Prayer, she said, “is not just another consumer choice.” She called believers to recover a rhythm to praying that remembers specific times daily for doing so. “Muslims have times in the day for prayer,” she said. “Christians used to do this too, but are largely forgetting ‘the Hours’ for prayer.”

Half joking, she said, “Maybe we should program the beeper devices on our watches to signal prayer times. That way, they’d start giving us messages worth hearing for a change.”

She said, “Being at worship with people we don’t like is to be expected. How else will we get any practice loving our enemies?” She said, “People who leave one church for another are usually saying, ‘They didn’t pamper me enough there.’”

She told of growing up in a Lutheran congregation where her mother kept her finger in the worship book to help her follow along in the liturgy. “She helped me love, not learn to hate, corporate worship.” She added, “Sadly, I don’t see many mothers doing that these days.”

Studies show, she said, that when fathers worship with their children and sing the liturgy and hymns, their children, especially boys, learn to love it too.

“I’ve asked a lot of teenagers why they no longer come to worship,” she said. “Almost none of them say it’s because of the style of music they encountter. Most say, ‘Nobody really cares if I’m there or not.’”