For many, home worship during this Covid-19 pandemic is a “novel” experience (pun intended!). Though many churches have offered online worship for years, the majority of Christians still primarily worship in person, together, at church… until now. Now, at least for the moment, if you want to worship it’s your only option.
But, home-based worship is nothing new.
Jews have observed the Sabbath, Passover, and Hanukah in homes for many millennia. The New Testament indicates the normal place of Christian worship was the home. In more traditional times, daily prayer and Scripture reading was a part of most Christian households. In modern times, in places where Christians are persecuted, worship usually occurs in the privacy, and safety, of homes.
A common practice in many world religions is the tradition of a home altar, consisting of holy books, religious symbols, candles and incense. This is commonly practiced by Catholic and Orthodox Christians. I’d even argue the evangelical “prayer closet” fits in this category. The home altar serves a dual function: (1) as a visual reminder of a family’s faith, and (2) as a place for family prayer and worship.
As my own Church has recently transitioned to “on-line” worship (by necessity, as a result of “social distancing”), I’ve wondered what that experience is like on the receiving side of the screen. I don’t know if this is true, or not, but I often picture my members lounging on the sofa, still in their pajamas, sipping coffee, surrounded by various and sundry toys, remote controls, magazines, dirty dishes, etc. I guess that’s what I might do, if I weren’t the pastor!
I don’t mean to suggest my members live in messy houses! But, I do wonder if we treat home worship with the same degree of respect, reverence and holiness we do when we gather at church. Beyond the physical environment, I also wonder if “on-line” worship is a more passive, less engaging experience. After all, when I watch TV or casually scroll through my social media, I’m more-often-than-not kicked-back, relaxed, and chill, wearing nothing but boxers and a t-shirt, and likely not particularly engaged. Why would worship mediated through a screen be any different, unless I strive to make it something more?
I don’t really know if that’s true for stay-home worshippers, or not. I’m always on the other side of the camera. But, if it is true, at least some of the time, I’ve been pondering ways to make home worship a more “worshipful” experience.
- Why not set up a home altar? Why not include a Bible (that you actually read), candles to light when you’re praying or worshipping (but, don’t leave lit, unattended!), flowers, a cross, maybe pictures of people you actively pray for, etc.?
- When a family gathers for on-line worship, I suggest preparing the place you’ll be worshipping. Before worship starts, clean up, and clear off the coffee table. Make it your home sanctuary. Maybe place a Bible, a lit candle, and some flowers somewhere in view.
- It might help to get dressed for the day – brush your teeth and wash your face. You don’t have to wear your “Sunday finest.” But, something better than a bathrobe might make you feel a little more reverent!
- Gather the family before “on-line” worship starts. Light a candle together. Hold hands and say a prayer. Help everyone transition from sleep, play and casual time, to worship the Lord of the Universe.
- This week, especially, for Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, engage with as much reverence as you can. If your church is celebrating communion “virtually,” use a nice plate and glass – maybe china and crystal – and maybe a linen napkin. Gather in a more formal space, like your living room or dining room.
- Say the prayers, out loud. Say the responses. Sing the songs, if you know them. Grab a Bible, and read the Scriptures. Take notes during the sermons. Don’t let home worship be a passive, spectator experience.
- When it’s time for the offering, write your check, or give on-line. Do it right then!
- Engage the technology. If your church uses Facebook Live as their preferred platform, Facebook offers “Watch Parties,” where you can invite others to worship with you. What a great evangelism tool! You can also share the service on your own page, after the service concludes, so others can see it. You can also use the “comment” section to greet others, respond to the sermon, and share prayer requests.
My point is this: as a pastor, when we gather for face-to-face worship, I strive to create an environment that is reverent, beautiful, inspiring, and as free of distractions as possible. When I plan public worship services, I strive to create experiences that are engaging and participatory. I do the same for our “on-line” worship experiences. But, pastors can only do so much. My challenge for anyone who worships “online” – by necessity or choice – is to create a home environment for worship, and a personal attitude of worship, that seeks the same goals we have for in-person worship in church!
We worship the same great God at home or at a church building. Likewise, we ought to offer our best to God, whether our worship is in a cathedral, or the den.