Where Is the Joy???

I wonder if you remember the song from way back in 1972 ~ “Where Is the Love” sung by Roberta Flack and Donnie Hathaway? I just loved the sound of their voices together.

But now I wonder, where is the joy? I’m talking about the joy that people don’t seem to be feeling when they attend church services. What is it that leaves our congregations feeling bored, unfulfilled or mediocre?

I had been thinking about this for some time, especially in the Roman Catholic Church. I found that it seems to be something that is happening around our diocese. I also wondered if this is something that is affecting just the Roman Catholic Church or is it affecting other religions as well?

I was taking a break from something called “Worship Jam” a weekly worship service that uses the 4 Paths of Creation Spirituality to praise God. We were doing some sacred circle dancing and I began to feel so terribly sweaty and extremely warm, so I went outside to get some air. As it happened ~ (don’t you just love it when God points you in a direction that you didn’t know you were headed?) So, as it happened, I picked up a little newsletter from the WPAUMC.org, which is the site of the Western Pa. United Methodist Church

The lead article talks about parishioners just not feeling joy in their worship. . .

According to Bishop Thomas J. Bickerton of the Western PA United Methodist Church he was told by his superintendant, “After making the rounds to the churches in my district, I have come to a very disturbing conclusion. If I were a lay person I don’t know how many of them I would bother to attend.” And, “Many of my churches are dominated with internal and external politics. They are consumed with meetings that have no disciple-making consequences. The worship services are boring. Frankly, there’s a stark absence of joy.”

This is a big question and one for which I don’t have a complete answer. I believe we all know that sometimes we just don’t blend well with the personality at the pulpit.  It could be just a personality clash or a misunderstanding. Whatever the case, those things do happen. It is one of those things that some people use as an excuse to not go to church, and if that’s the case I would hope they would find another church community that more suits their taste. I hate to put it that way, but sometimes a person just needs a change of scenery to make worship better.

Getting back to Bishop Thomas J. Bickerton, he said he calls himself “a self-professed music lover”. The night before his cabinet meeting he had seen Pharell Williams sing his Oscar nominated song from Despicable Me 2 ~ Happy.” He played that song at the cabinet meeting and here is what he writes: “Then a remarkable thing happened. My cabinet ~ my staid, professional, reserved bunch of Panera Bread eating, early to bed sleepy-headed group started dancing! It was a release of sorts, a chance at being given permission by a song to let it flow. Even the most reluctant of rug cutters got into the act.”

I find the Bishop’s remarks very encouraging. It seems that what the people need is a big dose of joy and “permission” to enjoy their worship. Doesn’t it say in scripture to “come before the Lord with dancing”?

Of course this isn’t the only thing that needs looking at or “fixing” to help the people of God find their worship more meaningful. And so I am asking all of you what does your worship service do to help your relationship with God??? For me, joy is a good sign that things are going well in your church community.

I’d love to hear what you have to say.

Sandy Ozanich © July 18, 2014



2 thoughts on “Where Is the Joy???

  1. Where is the joy? Good question – and a crucial question.

    I spend a good part of my year as an itinerant (on-the-road) preacher. I find myself in a variety of parishes. There is nothing more frustrating to me than looking out over a sea of bored faces, people talking to each other, barely muttering the responses at Mass – and singing? forget about it. It would be deadly quiet if there was not a music minister or choir. Passion, enthusiasm, joy are lacking. Yes, there are some truly faithful and engaged worshippers but many seem to just endure. If people showed but 10% of the excitement that they show at a ball game, our churches would be “rocking” with joy. One writer has said that the great malaise of the Western churches is that they suffer from a “fatigued” faith. I agree! And I will say this not only true of people but also of clergy.

    Faith is an issue but so is poor Liturgical preparation and even worse mediocre preaching. I agree that a good dose of joy is needed as well as “permission to enjoy their worship.” People’s faith needs to be nourished. One woman said to me that everything would be fine for her if the music was of good quality. She gave me the impression that all would be well if she were “entertained.” We don’t go to church to be entertained. We go to worship. Having said that it’s important to emphasize that environment is helpful. I sometimes find myself asking, “Why are some of these people here? It’s obvious that they are bored and can’t wait till this is over with.” The era of “cultural” Christianity is rapidly coming to an end in the Western world. Increasingly, people go to worship because they believe not because it’s expected of them. Faith communities that are filled with passion for the Lord and exhibit genuine joy are the communities that will thrive.

    May we sing a joyful song to the Lord and not just sing with joy but live with joy!

  2. Thank you for your reply. Yes, joy in worship is something that I crave and I dare say many others do as well. I completely agree with your statement that we are not there to be entertained. . .where is faith in that way of seeing worship?

    I think really getting in touch with God who lives within us instead of always chasing other things would help greatly. As you said, sports, electronics, games, anything that can distract us from “life as it is” is what takes up space in our minds and hearts.

    Getting away each day to be quiet and to wait for God to manifest in our hearts will give us the joy we desire. With joy in the Lord comes responsibility. Hmmm, perhaps that is part of the question.


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