For several years beside my front door, we had two small baskets of shoes. This was our compromise. We had a shoe rack where my wife and I put our shoes, but try as we might we could not get our children to use it. Lucas was nearly five. Emerson, six-going-on-twenty.
They've always taken off their shoes when they come in the house but then where the shoes go after that is anyone’s guess. So we instituted the baskets. Don’t worry about matching. Don’t worry about setting them side-by-side. Just chuck them in the basket. Doesn’t even matter which one…
It was a crazy pile of styles. One pink Velcro sandal, two pairs of crocs – one tan, the other pink with fuzzy liner, dirty tennis shoes for playing in the backyard, and clean ones for going to school, a single hiking boot and a pair of water socks. Shiny black dress shoes that go with a dress my daughter never wears, and a crazy pair of green high-tops that she loves more than anything. Somewhere at the bottom is a pair of ballet slippers.
Shoes of different style and color. Shoes for water. Shoes for mud. Shoes that look fancy, and some that are just fun. There’s shoes for hot days, and for rainy cold ones. There are a lot of shoes in there.
I’ve been thinking about those shoes and something occurred to me. It’s nice to have all of them and all the options they create. But what matters most about all those shoes isn’t the shoe at all. It’s the little feet inside, and what direction they are walking.
What’s that have to do with worship?
I’ve been a part of most every kind of worship style experience that Christian spirituality has to offer. I was born in the church and have lived most of my life around (and in reaction to) the church. I’ve been in full-time ministry for twenty years, most of those years leading and planning worship.
I’ve participated in high church liturgy and low church praise-stomps. I’ve sung and played and listened to worship music of every flavor: majestic organs and trumpets, electric guitars and drums, jangly nearly-tuned twelve-string acoustics, and a cappella both good and bad.
I’ve given time to reflective meditation, whether written in a journal or prayed step-by-step around a labyrinth. I’ve worshiped with groups of artists while we painted, or sculpted clay, or made collages expressing our heart’s cry to God. My worship experiences have happened in cathedrals and mega-churches, small sanctuaries and living rooms, mountain tops (both literally and figuratively) and walking around the block, or at my local coffee shop. If someone’s given it a name – charismatic, seeker-sensitive, the Vineyard movement, Taizé, Harp-and-bowl, post-modern – I’ve experienced it.
After a lot of years of worship – planning it, leading it, experiencing it, sometimes enduring it, reading about it, even arguing about it – I’ve come to realize this:
A lot of what we talk about when we talk about worship is just the shoes.
What matters most?
What matters isn’t the shoes.
What matters are the feet inside, and the direction they are walking.
Some of the shoes were more about fashion, and their time has come and gone. Some of the shoes are more about a specific need, or context, or purpose, and in their place they are incredibly useful. Some of the shoes are long-time classics that never wear out. But all of the shoes are about helping you get somewhere you need to go.
There are a lot of worship styles and techniques, practices and traditions. There’s corporate worship with the gathered church and daily worship for the individual believer. There’s the ongoing attitude of worship as we submit our lives and decisions to Christ. All of these matter, but what matters most is the heart at the center, and the direction it’s heading.
Is your worship getting you where you need to go?
Worship is heavy.
At its core, worship is about glory. The word worship comes from an old English root that means acknowledging something has worth. When we acknowledge God’s worth, we are acknowledging His glory. Glory is about significance. The Hebrew word translated as “glory ” in the Old Testament is kabod. It’s about weight. Think about gold being really heavy. Things that matter are heavy. The hippies used this word right. “Oh man… that’s heavy.” They meant “significant.” Well, in worship we acknowledge that God has weight in our lives, that He is significant above all else.
True worship is what comes from a heart where God is the most important thing. The shoes the heart wears are less important than the direction that heart is headed. True worship is always God-ward in orientation. Sometimes it’s an act we undertake with the intention of turning our hearts God-ward. That would be a discipline of worship. Other times it’s the overflow of our hearts, already God-ward, amazed at who He is and what He’s done. That’s an expression of worship. But regardless, when our hearts turn toward God and acknowledge His glory, that’s worship.
How that looks is going to depend a whole lot on who you are, where you are, when you’re worshipping, and who you’re with. But how it looks is not nearly so important as where you’re headed.
So, what kind of shoes have been your favorite, when it comes to worship? Have those shoes helped get you where you needed to go?
Marc Alan Schelske writes about life at the intersection of grace and growth at MarcAlanSchelske.com, where this article was originally published (it is reprinted here with permission). He is the teaching elder at Bridge City Community Church in Milwaukie, Oregon where he has served for 17 years. He's the author of Discovering Your Authentic Core Values. Marc is a husband, dad of two, speaker, writer, hobbyist theologian, recovering fundamentalist who drinks tea & rides a motorcycle. You can follow him on Twitter at @Schelske