Worship Wars III : We’re all in this together

My last post on Marva Dawn’s Reaching Out without Dumbing Down : A Theology of Worship for this Urgent Time finished with this quote :

I need public worship to bring me a holy and merciful God who shows me my sinfulness and yet offers the possibility of repentance and forgiveness… I need an assembly of people who ask God to be God in their lives and thereby proclaim God’s power, faithfulness and gracious healing. (p93)

We saw the dangers of playing to our culture’s individualistic self-seeking by tailoring our church worship services to attract new people or please people in general.  There are delicate but significant nuances found in the counteraction to these ideas.  We must move away, both as those who lead worship and those who participate in it, from this individualism that is so engrained in us by our culture.

We are not, however, moving away from it just for the sake of moving away, but rather because as the Church, we are called to embody God’s Kingdom and His created order.

An integral part of who we are as humans created in the image of God and who we are as the Church, is precisely that : who WE are.  WE are a group, a community, a family of followers of Jesus.  If what we’ve said about worship forming our character is true, then our worship ought to be firmly community focussed, community driven.

Eugh – and then I trip and fall over my own words.

How can worship be ‘firmly community focussed and community driven’ without retoasting toast and diminishing our focus on the infinite truth of God’s character???

Good question.  Let me explain…

It comes back to our illustration of the parable of the Lost Son and what it says about the character of the Father that He does not say the son is not worthy.  I said this :

…because God is our Father and we are His children, the fact that worship is all about him is inextricably linked with our well-being.

So, rather than worship focussing on how the community shapes worship, worship focusses on God – who is the essence and model of community (as the Trinity embodies what it is to live in relationship) – and worship is therefore shaped and shapes according to that truth.  Man.  There’s a whole blog post in itself…

Anyway, hopefully it’s clear that I’m saying we think about the community of worship because GOD is community and so I’ll have greater freedom to express my reflections without having to restate that in every paragraph.

What does it look like, therefore, to plan worship (and participate in worship) which revels in the God who created us for and calls us to community?

Marva says this :

Our preaching and hearing of the Word, the way we use liturgical forms, our participation in the sacraments, our song, art, and architecture all contribute to create the sense that God is with us (plural) and that we respond by dwelling in His new world. (p140)

God is with us

I remember when I first heard Crooked Shore question the practice of closed eyes during worship, I was surprised to find myself in agreement.  I’d never really thought much about it as I have a terrible memory for lyrics and so closing my eyes while singing is barely ever an option, but it makes sense that if God is with us, I should at least be able to see who I’m worshipping with.  Another practice which undermines the sense of community in corporate worship is the number of songs that express their sentiment in the first person : “I will offer up my life”, “Here I am, humbled by your Majesty”, “You are the only one who sets me free”…  Marva Dawn would add a third: practice of expressing subjective (that is personal, depending on each individual, changing according to many factors…) emotion in worship songs.  Too often, worship becomes about what’s going on with ‘me’.  As worship leaders, we need to work hard to remind ourselves and those we lead that God is at work in US as a community of His people.

The community of the King

In worship, the church is identified as the people of God, committed to the lordship of Christ p131

The church is not seeking to counteract/subvert culture and establish itself as separate from ‘the world’ just for the sake of being different, but because God’s Kingdom life is true life.  The church is a community of people who are seeking to live in the reality of God’s Kingdom come, on earth as it is in heaven – a community who are building (being built into) a new kind of society over and against that of the world.

There is something completely other about corporate worship – let’s not pretend that to come together in a church service is the same as a ‘worship time’ at home alone, or even with a couple of others.  Many, I imagine (and I have heard some), say that they prefer what they experience when they are alone or with two or three like-minded friends; that they cannot connect to worship in a church service the way they do on these less formal occasions.  This is, perhaps, a valid way to spend time worshipping God but the experience it affords is often then set up as an aspiration or even expectation for corporate worship in a congregational setting.

When we lead worship in a way that puts personal preference and entertainment above the importance of the church community and gospel inclusiveness, we are undermining the purpose of the church in the world.  When we seek to lead worship under the lordship of Christ, personal preference or cultural relevance must take a back seat.

Drawing people into the common heritage of the Church

I think so far one of the subjects covered in this book that I’ve really enjoyed poking around with my brain-fingers, is the importance of the church’s heritage when it comes to corporate worship.

A little while ago, I did some thinking about the bible with my good friend JC (that’s Jayber Crow by the way) and I was greatly enlightened as to the role of the faith community in writing, canonising, understanding and applying the word of God.  So, I suppose in some ways, Marva Dawn’s thoughts have been stirring that up a little more in a way that is even more interesting and practical to me as a worship leader.

Once again, I have to admit, she often comes across as a little bit grumpy and I have trouble separating my feeling about that with an objective view on what she’s stating is a valid form of worship or not in regards to how we teach and integrate the church’s heritage.  But I am really intrigued about her encouragement to churches to continue to use liturgy, hymns and rituals in order to create/sustain/nourish a sense of collective memory, understanding and practice within our congregations.  In this way, we link people not just to each other, but to the greater community of faith of the worldwide, historical church.  By invoking the heritage of the faith, we model the life of faith not only to those well-versed in kingdom living, but to our children, to those new to the community and to those outside of the community looking in.

There are dangers, of course, in this pursuit.  Many churches in an honest desire to remain true to their heritage, have been traditionalists for the sake of tradition (for example those who fly certain flags in their sanctuary because its always been done, regardless of the message it sends…) and lose sight of the true heritage they originally claimed to be pursuing.  In some ways, this kind of rigid adherence to perceived heritage is possibly why some other churches throw the baby out with the bath water and go in the absolute opposite direction, serving Mountain Dew and tortilla chips at communion, or even replacing communion with a game of volley ball… (source “Emerging Churches” Gibbs/Bolger).

I’ve always sought to use familiar forms and ‘old’ hymns where possible when leading worship, but partly if not mostly in order to please as many people in the community as possible.  However, this gives a whole other incentive as to why to discover and perpetuate the forms with which my grandparents and those before them were familiar – even in the context where many members of the church are first-generation – or saved later in life – Christians.  Particularly in our light-speed moving culture.

As we bathe in and walk with the heritage of the Church together, we enrobe ourselves in the story of God’s movement in and through His people down through the ages.  We live and breathe the truths of God’s grace at work in the world.  We eat and drink His life until He comes again.  We worship…

Together with all the saints, worldwide, we worship.

Together with all the saints, down through history, we worship.

Together, we worship.

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Filed under church, culture, God, questions, worship

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