The Gospel of an Imperfect Worship Service

I subscribe to Seth Godin’s blog. I enjoy his short, pithy posts, often full of wisdom about life, productivity, and service to others. Saturday morning, I opened my email to find a new post from him in my inbox—“A note from 2020.” The content was simple and insightful: “Twelve years from now, your future self is going to thank you for something you did today, for an asset you began to build, a habit you formed, a seed you planted.”

The first thing that struck me, however, was not the content but the math error. 2020 is not twelve years from now. I followed the link to his blog, which opened to the same title but quickly refreshed to “2030.” Seth had caught his error.

I laughed. And I relaxed. This was good news. Even Seth Godin, a master of social media and blogging, knows that moment of panic and frustration when you discover your error five minutes after it publishes. The content of Seth’s post served me, even with the error. It reminded me that I don’t have to be perfect to serve people well on social media.

The same holds in our corporate worship services.

Those of us who lead services, serve in music, prepare service guides, preach sermons, read scripture, pray publicly, manage audio-visual components, and attend worship serves need to hear this message: Mistakes preach good news.

What Does Not Happen?

Do you know what does not happen when you make a mistake in the worship service?

We are not handed over to Satan.

The redemptive plan of God is not overturned.

The Holy Spirit does not go away in disappointment.

Jesus does not become ashamed to call us brothers and sisters.

The Father does not forsake us or annul our adoption as his children.

What Does Happen?

Do you know what does happen when you make a mistake in the worship service?

God still reigns—and he works through those mistakes to accomplish his purposes.

Jesus still loves you—and he sympathizes with your weakness.

The Holy Spirit works in you to make you more like Jesus.

A Sigh of Relief

When mistakes happen, imperfect people breathe a sigh of relief. Imagine being a first-time guest, an awkward teenager, or (who am I kidding?) a long-time staff pastor whose life seems to be falling apart, who is overwhelmed by everything they’re failing at, and who feels unworthy of approaching God. You walk into a church that is perfect. The welcome team doesn’t miss a beat. The musicians are all A-listers. The décor makes your home look like a dump. The happy, smiling members are decked out in the latest fashions—the likes of which you’ve only seen perfected on Instagram.

Inwardly, you groan. Is this place for me? you wonder. It soon translates to, Is God for me? If this is what the body of Christ looks like, do I belong among them?

And then it happens: The lead musician blows the intro. The cordless mics cut out and quit altogether. The pastor mixes up his words and says something hilarious (or entirely inappropriate). And then they laugh, and smile, and take it in stride, and say, “Bear with us folks, we’ll get there…” And you relax, and breathe a sigh of relief, and realize that these people aren’t perfect and that the church is a place for imperfect people.

This is what it is like to glimpse Jesus. He is a the Perfect-Imperfect Savior. (I know that sounds heretical. Stick with me here.) Jesus is perfect. Christ is fully God and fully man. He lived a sinless life. He is the Righteous One.

But he didn’t look perfect. “He had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him” (Isaiah 53:2). Those who knew him saw him as little more than the carpenter from Nazareth. The message of a crucified Messiah seemed to be “foolishness” and “weakness” (1 Corinthians 1). The resurrected Lord has scars (John 20:27). Even in the glory, the Lion of Judah appears as a Lamb who was slain (Revelation 5:5-6).

If you want a Savior who bears no scars or marks of humility, you’ll need to find another. Jesus doesn’t qualify.

If you want a religious community without weakness, mistakes, and scars, you shouldn’t visit a Christian church. Jesus’ body is conformed to his image.

Pharisees can’t stand this Savior or his gathered people. But sinners find refuge there.

Perfectionists Challenged

When mistakes happen, perfectionists are challenged. They’ll cover their perfectionism with religious language. “Undistracting excellence” is what I call it. I want our services to be done well so that the attention of attendees is focused on Jesus and not distracted from his glory. This service is about honoring God, so I want it to be the best it can be.

That’s what I say. But, often, what’s going on deep down is that I want people to think well of our church and me. I know that (some) people are judging me and us by external appearance and performance. I want them to keep attending. I want them to approve of me. I want them to pick us. But that’s not the gospel.

The gospel is the message of a Savior who sees our mess, our mistakes, and our outright rebellion and chooses to enter into the midst of it. He didn’t come for the healthy, but for the sick. Jesus didn’t come for the righteous, but for sinners. He didn’t come for the perfect church service winners—he came for the losers who don’t have it all together. The Messiah loved them. He dwelled with them. Christ experienced the discomfort of their imperfection, dying on the cross for their sin so that they could be counted as righteous through faith in him.

If you leave the church on Sunday venting to your spouse and messaging your friends about what you didn’t like and what went wrong, I encourage you to meet Jesus sometime. He’s not doing that. He can set you free from that. If your love for your church is based on the flawlessness of their performance, spend less time looking at your church and more time looking at the crucified and risen Savior.

You know what else happens? The church forgives you (if it noticed at all). Honestly, unless it is huge, no one but the over-picky perfectionist even noticed—and those who did probably don’t care. They’ve forgotten it before the waitress seats them for lunch.

Admire Your Eggs

Hershael York, my preaching professor in seminary, told us, “If you lay an egg, stand back and admire it.” Amen.

Friends, when the mistakes happen on Sunday morning (and they will!), stand back and admire the grace of God. Remember a Savior with scars who loves and dwells with imperfect people. Remember that the reason you gathered is that there is none who is perfect but God alone. And in the cross of Christ, he has purchased grace for imperfect people.