The Wastefulness of Worship

It has been a long time since I’ve written in this space and don’t know how many people would even read this.  This is actually an odd post to start a resumption of my blog


I must admit that this post is a response to a write up I read by Hugh Halter in Outreach Magazine.  Now admittedly, I don’t know the man and don’t regularly read anything he writes, so I’m not qualified to make any broad assertion about what he thinks and how he interacts theologically with the issues he raises in his post.  With that disclaimer in mind, I found myself responding a bit negatively to what he says. but since I was inspired I thought I’d strike while the iron is hot, so to speak.

He says a couple of things to which I agree wholeheartedly:

In other words, worship on Sunday is only going to be as deep as our worship the rest of the week.

I agree with this.  Worship is intended to be a whole life response to God, not just a weekly musical concert with a lot of emotional content.  However, he then continues to assert:

Depth through song, liturgy, spoken word and preaching is only going to be as meaningful as the level of meaning we bring to others around us.

Whoa!  That’s where my caution meter kicked in.  Depth through song, liturgy, spoken word and preaching is only going to be as meaningful as the level of meaning we bring to others around us?

This is, in my opinion, quite an erroneous statement and a misapplication of the biblical admonition to Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength and your neighbour as yourself, which he cites as support for his assertion.

He mentions:

The average church spends well over 75 percent of their time and financial resources keeping the “house of worship” open for business. How can minimize the consumer tendency, justify the expenses or at least find a balance that brings glory to God?

He then goes on to make some quite interesting suggestions geared towards minimizing the consumerism that threatens to creep into the life of the church — something that I believe NEEDS to be combated fiercely.

My problem though is at another level, and again, I’m not attacking the man, his motives, nor really even his good intentions towards the reform of the church.

My issue is that worship is inherently wasteful.

Significant sections of the entire book of Leviticus and Numbers are given over to description of elaborate ceremonies, costly garments, excessively expensive structures that God commanded to be constructed for the sake of his worship.  A huge waste of materials, time and resources.

All of Israel was required to pay tax (tithe) to support a whole tribe of people whose sole job was maintenance of the worship apparatus.  These people literally did nothing but conduct religious services.  How wasteful (and unfair!).

Sacrificial ceremonies required people to travel quite some distance to offer the first and best of their produce and flocks as worship to God.  In a subsistence agricultural context, this is very costly — indeed wasteful.

Israelite boys were required to be cut in their most vulnerable parts a mere eight days after birth without anesthetic, without antibiotics and in a context where infant death was very common.  Also a wasteful act.

Of course these are all Old Testament references, which does not of course invalidate them though many Christian effectively behave as if it does.  Rather we ought to look at the Old through the lens of Christ.

In this light, Mr. Halter’s words seem stunningly familiar.  There was another disciple who decried wasteful indulgence of worship while insisting that the money would be better spent on the poor, or in Halter’s words:

put the same amount of money into serving the poor, equipping people to go out in missional communities or simply giving the money away to smaller church plants that can’t even afford to buy a portable Bose sound system.

Of course Judas was a thief and betrayed Jesus.  I’m not suggesting that Halter is either a thief or a betrayer.  I am merely observing that their suggestions are virtually the same.

Christians shouldn’t be wasteful and extravagant and wasteful in a consumerist fashion, spending only on themselves and their entertainment, and it is far too easy for the apparatus of worship to become that. Agreed.  The larger point though is that everything concerning worship can be considered wasteful or extravagant.

By a drum set? Wasteful.

Pay the musician? Wasteful.

Have a carpeted sanctuary? Wasteful.

It is all waste — depending on your point of view, the money can always be spent on something more ‘worthy’.

God save us from a Judas spirit.

(Cathedral picture from: