Vending Machine Worship

We went on an epic road trip. I think 2,249 miles with a family of eight (including a 3 month old) in our Honda Pilot classifies as epic. It was an adventure, I say, not a vacation. :)


At one of the hotels in Tennessee, my kids were craving the treasures held by the vending machine around the corner from our room. Sadly, it was one of those vending machines that was hungrier than they were. It gladly accepted their money, and then did…nothing. Ugh.


But not all vending machines are like that. You can totally get nourished by them. If you choose wisely enough. I’ve even seen refrigerated ones with sandwiches in them.


You know how it works:

  1. Smooth out your crumpled dollar bill by rubbing it on the side of the machine.
  2. Insert it carefully in the bill acceptor. (try it again because it spit it out the first time)
  3. Pick your favorite granola bar, noting carefully which battleship number it corresponds to.
  4. Press E-4 and pray that it falls. Without getting lodged.
  5. Push open the bottom door and presto! Self-service at its best.

But I was recently at a worship service that felt really similar. Like I was standing in front of…an opportunity to worship. If I so desired. 


I felt like the team was impersonating a vending machine. We were free to worship, but there was no leadership, no serving. It was help yourself.


And I did that morning. I distinctly remember having the thought “Well, I can get bent out of shape because they aren’t leading us, or I can just choose to press E-4 and worship.”


That’s fine. I get it. We all lead that way sometimes. But our congregations need more from us. They might not know that they have change in their pockets. Or what buttons to press. And their nutrition might get snagged by…songs they don’t like, volume that they don’t prefer, or their own lives shouting at them.


They need us to lead them with kindness, clarity, authority, and sensitivity.


And that’s something a vending machine can never do.


So, let’s tie on our aprons each week and serve our congregations like dear friends we’ve invited over for a wonderful meal. How?


Multiple on-ramps

You’re ready at 10:00, but most of the congregation isn’t. Sure, you give a “welcome” at the beginning, but people come in late. They also aren’t ready from go. They may need a minute. Depending on the length of your set, you may have several “calls” to bring people along. Not multiple welcomes. Not mini sermons. Short invitations. Helpful clarifications. Inspiring connect-the-dots. If you don’t, people might stay on the access/feeder/frontage/service roads rather than getting on the Psalm 84:5 highways to Zion! 


Begin with songs that magnify/praise God

If worship is a response to the revelation of God, then it is helpful in leading worship to call our attention to who God is. Starting a set with an intimate prayer song can certainly work, but you need to set it up. Generally, beginning with songs that talk about God more than our experience is helpful. Look for words like magnify, extol, praise, bless, worship, etc. to begin activating the congregation.


Respond…for the LOVE!

None of us have it go the way we planned every time, right?! So if the congregation doesn’t seem to be engaging, for the love…do something!

  • First, ask God if you should do something.
  • Make eye contact with your pastor to see if they are tracking.
  • Wait, create space.
  • Cut a song short and move on to the next one.
  • Let a scripture reading lead worship
  • Ask for participation “Can we sing this together, focusing our hearts on the Lord in an intentional way?”

Our congregations need us to be more than just vending machine worship leaders. As we serve heroically week after week, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”(Galatians 6:9)