Posted by Jon Egan on 11 November 2013

As worship leaders, we all desire to lead a “worshipping church.” We think of ways to increase engagement, brainstorm methods to inspire passion, and encourage the body to go for it. We pray before services for an outpouring of worship to fall on our congregations. And while these thoughts and prayers are all good, I wonder if we’re fighting against a culture we have actually created.  

Have we trained a generation of worshippers to believe that we will worship for them? Have we encouraged them to become spectators?

Let’s look at the great worship story from over 2,000 years ago…

While Jesus was in Bethany in the home of Simon the Leper, a woman came to him with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, which she poured on his head as he was reclining at the table. When the disciples saw this, they were indignant. “Why this waste?” they asked. “This perfume could have been sold at a high price and the money given to the poor.” Aware of this, Jesus said to them, “Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you,[a] but you will not always have me. When she poured this perfume on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial. Truly I tell you, wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”  -  Matthew 26:6-10

It’s a typical gathering of people enjoying one another’s company. Jesus is relaxing. The woman (who only John identifies as Mary) walks up, breaks open a box of perfume and pours it all over Jesus. It costs her. Not only is it worth a year’s wages, or even her life-savings, it’s an extravagant act full of risk. What would people say? How would they react? 

The onlookers in the house all have a choice to make. Immediately we see that for some, her extravagance is not appreciated. They think it’s wasteful. But I’m sure there were others who felt differently. Surely some of them appreciate the beautiful aroma that filled the house?

This scene sounds an awful lot like church, doesn’t it? We have our worship leader - the woman with the perfume - giving something costly. We have Jesus, receiving her worship. We have the onlookers, wondering how they should respond. Some respond favorably, loving what is happening. Some criticize it, wishing it were done differently. Starting to sound familiar?  

That night, we can assume that the extravagant display of worship was messy, awkward and risky. But we know that Jesus considered it beautiful. We know that He wanted us to never forget it.

Here’s my question: Have we trained our congregations to believe that there is only one extravagant worshipper in the house? Have we taught them to observe while the guy with the guitar and the voice shows everyone else how it’s done? Have we become preoccupied with chasing the fragrance of someone else’s worship rather than encouraging everyone to break open what they have? 

I believe that we need to teach our worshippers that enjoying the fragrance of another person’s extravagance is not the same as offering up their own. 

Hear me, preferring and enjoying the fragrance of someone's worship is not at all bad. All over the world we see churches and arenas filled with people who are enjoying the fragrance of a certain worship leader or band. It's wonderful to enjoy the aroma of worship, but there’s a danger that we mistake it for our own worship - and our own worship will always consist of risk, boldness and cost. It’s hard to pick those three out when you’re in a crowd of thousands.

These days, we have made worship so easy for people. We’ve made our rooms comfortable, our sound great and our transitions smooth. Have we made it too easy? 

There is no substitute for our own extravagance. We are all called to offer something to God that costs us. Talented or not, singer or not, poetic or not, the actions of a brave woman in Bethany show us what worship actually is. 

We all carry around a box of costly perfume - our own specific fragrance. God is calling us to break it open and release it into the earth. He desires the aroma of all His children to be released. It takes risk. It gets messy. It can be awkward.  And it will be costly. But just imagine what it would be like if we all lived with the same boldness, courage and generosity? What would the Church look like if we all decided to risk it all for the love of God?

May we use our gifts to always call the people to the kind of life-changing, extravagant worship that Mary displayed. 

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