Saturday, July 29, 2006

[THO] Worship II

Whenever we begin a new kinship (our name for a house church group) there is a process of adapting the liturgy to the community. The people that initially form that community have a huge impact on how that liturgy is formed. We shape a liturgy from their likes and dislikes, their liturgical history and from a desire to push beyond the box of their previous experiences.

Worship styles and liturgical forms, much as we hate to admit it, are really a matter of taste. If you look at the responses so far on my best liturgical practices post, few though they may be, there is a diversity there. Some people want to be surrounded by artwork, others want no distractions from their focus on God, others prefer chanted and integrated liturgies and still others a staccato experience with clear demarkations between liturgical elements. All of these preferences form the building block for the community worship experience.

By uncovering these preferences we can create an atmosphere of worship in which the majority of participants can engage with the experience and in which we can begin to push them towards other liturgical shapes. But without that initial connection to preferences you will not achieve the essential connection with worship that will draw other worshippers to participate in the experience.

Worship as a corporate experience is quite different than worship in a private setting. As a member of a public praise band, Plugged' In, we used to gather for what we called 'experimental worship' sessions. We had no audience except God and we came with a sense of expectation that our various liturgical backgrounds would spark something unique that would touch the heart of God. And it did, those were amazing times. But that is quite a different experience than one could ever have in a congregation, well unless you have a very special congregation. Those experiences were not conducive for anyone else to follow and only worked because as a band we had a history together and had learned to play off each other. This ability to jam is what we translated into a very private form of worship - very special but not corporate in the sense I want to talk about here. But even though that is a differnt experience, it does still show that we worked from the basis of our preferences. Each of us played in our own style trying to simultaneously compliment each other's playing and to connect with our creator. If we ignore preferences we reduce the ability of our congregants to participate.

Participation in the liturgy, a word that means 'work of the people', is essential to draw others into the experience. Many times we come of the service tired, beaten, introverted and unless others are willing to be caught up in the worship then we will not be either. At this point it doesn't matter how much the leaders of worship have prepared the experience will just not be all it can be when you have everyone engaging in the work of worship. But when the foundation of the liturgical experience is one that a good majority enjoy, they will find themselves caught up in the worship despite their weeks. The result is a snowballing of participation in the liturgy, which is always a great thing.

Liturgical history is also important for a community. Many communities have deep roots in classic liturgical expressions. When these elements are introduced into your liturgy they provide a sense of comfort and familiarity. In our community we have a number of folks with Roman Catholic backgrounds, so it is important that as we develop the Eucharistic side of the worship we draw from those deep wells. Eucharistic prayer three has been our main touchstone, however it is important that we unabashedly adapt that form to our community and theological understanding. With a number in our community who have broken away from their Roman Catholic roots to pray that the elements become the body and blood of Jesus smacks of heresy and provides a stop to their worship. It is only after we have established a more true sense of the mystery of the Eucaristic experience that we have been able to re-introduce these phrases and have them enrich the experience of the liturgy. This is my final point, pushing the box we want to put around worship.

Liturgy is fluid, not static. Just as the people change, their work changes. I want to be careful to not say that it improves, because certainly it does, but the worship an older community enjoys might have been highly inappropriate to a new worshpping community. It isn't about moving towards an ideal but rather towards a worship that is particular to that community. A worship that challenges that community. A worship that is part of the process of making disciples of all women and men; and I mean that in the sense of putting women and men in the face of God rather than being a stale didactic experience.

If our liturgy is just what we like then we are never challenged to grow beyond our understandings of God and humanity. If our liturgy only draws from our common roots then we miss much of the richness of the Church. Yet if we throw too much, too soon into the mix of worship then we can lose the participation that is so essential for a great worship experience. We need to strike a balance of pushing into new relational avenues with God and providing a familiar and engaging framework for this push to happen.

This is not an easy one. Status quo is safe. But status quo will eventually get boring for worshippers. Any of you who has been through the process of introducing drums into the service in the 80s has seen how hard this can be, but how many congregations now feature drums in their worship bands? I see them all over the place and often used to great effect. If liturgy is about work, then it must be about accomplishing something. Guarding the status quo only accomplishes a spiritual stagnation and an entrenchment of elitist ideas about how 'we' do worship.

We try to not introduce a lot of new songs in our settings. Each worship leader comes with a different set of preferred songs so by mixing up the song leaders we do gain a variety of songs, but when we put together the songs for a liturgy we try to choose the majority of our set from songs we have done in the past and that the congregation has really engaged with. Adding new songs is not really a push but more of a way of building a resource of songs to give voice to a wider range of liturgical high-points. More about that in a further edition of this series. Where we push is more in how we execute those songs. Our base liturgical form is a three cresendo service: worship (in song), teaching (usually interactive and laid back), prayer (our comminity praying for each other often in smaller groups). Let us leave aside the form of our Eucharistic service which is monthly and quite different. Our basic form provides a familiar framework that folks know and expect. To push we will do things like introduce responsive readings or creeds into the worship in song. Change the teaching to a preaching or discussion. Have the prayer time take on more of an altar call type experience. Each of these foreign additions can keep the participants on their toes so to speak. Breaking their automatic expectations with a sense of anticipation. Often when you do a small change there is an increase in expectation that God too will do something new within our midst. If you change them all you run the risk of completely alienating the congregant. And these are merely a few of the possible pushes you could use.

A push works best if it is blatent at first and has the potential to be naturalized in after depending on how it impacted the quality of your communities worship. This brings us to Byron's suggestion of evaluating worship experiences within the context of a community. Look for that in Worship III.

11 comments:

byron said...

Thanks Frank, keep going.

Anonymous said...

I just wanted to respond to this bit:

"Many times we come of the service tired, beaten, introverted and unless others are willing to be caught up in the worship then we will not be either. (...) But when the foundation of the liturgical experience is one that a good majority enjoy, they will find themselves caught up in the worship despite their weeks."

(First of all, what on earth is wrong with being introverted? It's simply a part of one's psychological make-up. Should you try to change other people's personalities?)

But what I really wanted to comment on, is that I'm not really convinced that you necessarily have to get "caught up in" or "enjoy" worship. Worship isn't about us; it's about God. It should be focused on God and what is pleasing to him, rather than on our own preferences.

Of course, I am sure I have a huge plank in my own eye, as I have my own very definite preferences about worship. But I do believe that the occasions on which I am most truly worshipping God are not the times when I felt revved up or enthusiastic (that can happen at a sports event or a concert), but the times when I was concentrated on God rather than on myself and my feelings. As C.S. Lewis said somewhere, God will give us feelings or not as he chooses, and we can't judge how spiritual we are by how spiritual we "feel".

Most of the blogs I have previously read are Anglican/Catholic/Orthodox/Lutheran ... the kind of theology and worship I am personally drawn to, and so I am not very accustomed to the kinds of things you describe your church doing. Honestly, they make me want to run in the other direction. Probably the kind of worship I favour makes you or at least some of your parishioners want to run in the other direction. But I feel sort of conflicted about this... Is it a *good* thing to have this kind of diversity, so that everyone can find the kind of worship that suits them? Or would it be better if Christians worshipped as similarly as possible? (Taken to the extreme, this means the mass in Latin in the pre-Vat2 RCC.) Then there would be a sort of unity throughout time and space. I must admit, a big part of the appeal of Anglicanism for me is the Book of Common Prayer and the worship tradition that goes back for centuries. I love to think of what my worship service has in common with Anglicans throughout the world today, and also in past eras. I especially love the bits that are most connected to the pre-Reformation church such as the Creeds or the Te Deum. Is it selfish of me to value that unity and tradition, when it is perhaps a difficulty for some of my fellow Christians? Is it not the unity of spirit that matters most? On the other hand, does our worship not reflect and embody our beliefs? If you compare two groups of Christians celebrating the Lord's Supper, one of which is meeting in a small group with only laypeople present, using regular bread and grape juice, the other one is at a Eucharist presided at by a priest ordained by a bishop in the Apostolic succession, using unleavened wafers and wine, are they not expressing very different things about their theology?

Very sorry for rambling on like this on your blog! Hope you don't mind.

Anonymous said...

All that, and I forgot to mention my thoughts about "church shopping", self-selection by preference, the benefits of being in fellowship with people who are not "like you", and the possible benefits of the parish system , i.e. going to your local church rather than choosing the one you "like best".

One of Freedom said...

Anonymous, you do raise some good points. I hope I can address them - sorry not to do so sooner, I've been without connectivity for a few days.

First I think you are biased in thinking that we are trying to "rev" folks up. In fact I too dislike worship that tries to manipulate my emotions or force me to worship in a way that I didn't intend. For me being caught up is not dependant on an outward manifestation of worship. I would describe times of dancing as being just as profoundly worshipful as times I've sat in quiet and personal introspection. However, there is an atmosphere of worship that does draw others to that place. See there is something core that happens in worship - we actually do something tangible. We open ourselves to the encounter of God. And that is something that is so particular to the individual. So my goal, as a liturgically conscious pastor, is to provide environments where folks can encounter the living God. If this wasn't my heart/intention then I think the service of worship becomes nothing but a self-indulgent waste of time.

I'm glad you are taking the time to hear my perspective. I love engaging others who make me want to run too - in the long run I know that I am challenged and enriched.

There is nothing wrong with being introverted. I'm an introvert with extrovert spasms and my wife is more of a pure introvert. But what I am talking about is feeling shy towards God, I think that requires more discussion that a blog reply can afford.

As for the goodness of diversity I would affirm that absolutely it is good. I love visiting a Catholic mass and experiencing the historic richness it embodies. I love the stiff yet didactic presbyterian worship of the church my wife attended during her university days. I enjoy the exuberance of the Brazillian Baptist congregation that were not afraid of emotional worship. I love the laid back Anglican worship I've been part of, especially the time my friend and Anglican pastor invited me to help distribute the host during the Eucharist for my father-in-laws funeral service. There is much to be enjoyed about diversity - the issue is, though, that I wouldn't want to live in any of those great expressions. But I do want to live in the context we have created and enjoy from our particularily Vineyard paradigm.

Finally you distinguish between Eucharist and Communion. Do you feel what we do is less than Eucharist? Because I don't. I've worked hard to restore that, and to bring it to the hands of the people where I feel it belongs. I'll have to do a series on the Eucharist, in fact if I were to write a book at this point in my ministry it would definitely be about our restoration of an Eucharistic sense to worship. Yes, it does say something about our theology - worship influences belief just as belief influences worship.

One of Freedom said...

Parish vs. multiple local congregations.

Anonymous - what part of the world are you writing from? Here in my North American context there is a huge hurdle of anti-state church that we would need to address. This was burned into our culture by the American Revol(u)t(ion). Canada has been infected as well, and it is part of the ecclesial psyche here. But to be honest I am not sold on the parish system - I think we have ecclesially evolved too far for us to go back now.

One of Freedom said...

I have been thinking of my evaluation of what I call hype worship. That is worship that either is or flirts with emotional manipulation. I was chatting with a friend at our National Vineyard Gathering, he goes to a 'hype' worship church and said the big difference was that the worship (song) leaders at the conference were not 'trying', they weren't trying to force anything to happen. They were simply getting lost in worship themselves and people were following. However as I reflected on this over coffee this morning I think that I am still a bit harsh on 'hype' worship. I am not a fan. But I think that many folks do find that atmosphere worshipful - so who am I to trash it. Rather I would say that I think it is uneccesary to have hype worship. I think those same worshippers would be served just as well by non-hype worship. But quickly jump in with the statement that this could be my preference talking coupled with my experiences of people who have been hurt in 'hype' churches.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for responding to my comments!

I would say that in my idiolect, "Eucharist" is a subset of "Communion". I don't tend to use the word "Eucharist" for those churches which subscribe to a "memorialist" view. (They usually call it an "ordinance" rather than a "sacrament" anyway.)

It is not definitively worked out in my mind, but I lean toward the belief that a valid Eucharist requires a minister ordained by a bishop in the apostolic succession. Generally though, most denominations that do not have the apostolic succession, also do not believe there is anything "happening" when they celebrate Communion, that it's just symbolic, that there's no Real Presence in the elements. They don't believe in sacraments anyway. As for those who believe in the Real Presence but do not have apostolic succession (Methodists, for example), they would be making a "spiritual communion" in the Catholic sense, which certainly has value.

Some people say that apostolic succession is part of the "bene esse" rather than "esse" of the Church, but others say it is better to err "on the safe side". Just as we baptize in the name of the F, S and HS and do not recognize other baptisms, that does not *necessarily* mean that those baptized in the name of the "Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier" are not thereby regenerate, just
that we don't know for sure. But if you don't believe in baptismal regeneration to begin with, then it's no big deal either way, is it?

I notice that on the website of Vineyard Churches Canada, in the statement of belief is the following: "WE BELIEVE that Jesus Christ committed two ordinances to the Church: water baptism and the Lord's Supper. Both are available to all believers." This seems to indicate to me a standard evangelical non-sacramental perspective.

Whereas I believe in sacraments as a means of grace "ex opere operato". This I believe with all my heart despite never having experienced a sacrament! (I will be baptized soon, God willing.)

I am in Montreal, so very close to you. ;) Does the parish system necessarily need a state church to function? I don't think so. The barrier to the parish system, I think, is more that a) people are used to being consumers and selecting products, and b) that people are so mobile nowadays that is possible to attend a church many miles away. When I chose to become an Anglican, there were two Anglican churches located in my borough. I unfortunately chose the one that is farther from me, because there was one thing that I just could not accept at the other. But other than that, I did not select based on my taste. If it were a matter of worship practices, I would be at St John the Evangelist (very Anglo-Catholic church downtown) in a heartbeat. My church is very middle of the road, neither high nor low. I am often the youngest person in attendance, especially when there is no Sunday School that day. I have a feeling I am more educated than most. These are not the people I would choose to hang out with. I could find fault with many things this church does (I am unfortunately a very critical person!). But I see this as being a major benefit of the parish system. I am being stretched by being thrown together with other Christians who have little in common with me other than geography, in a service that does not respond to all my preferences.

Anonymous said...

Question: What are the characteristics distinguishing what you call "hype" worship?

One of Freedom said...

Great conversation Anonymous, one day you will have to let me know your first name. I just drove back through Montreal coming home.

Let me deal with sacramentalism first. As a movement a statement of faith captures the lowest common denominator with regards to what they believe and practice. The way I agree to that statement is that I believe there are two ordinances entrusted to the Church. But this does not preclude these ordinances from being part of a wider sacramentalism. Then again we are not a typical Vineyard liturgically speaking. For me the Eucharist is a sacrament and the whole point is that there is real presence - otherwise there is no recognition of Christ in the breaking of the bread.

Also it depends on how tightly you define apostolic succession, I don't believe it is required but I have not missed an opportunity to be blessed by those who have received such a blessing.

One of Freedom said...

As for the parish system. Which community would you be of more service too? Obviously there is no perfect church, at least I haven't found one even the one I am planting. But there are churches that I instinctively know I will thrive in and ones I would not. In fact I know of many great churches that I would not thrive in but love to bless because they reach a segment of people I have no passion for reaching (at least not in the same way they do). I guess I'm just saying it is a defunct model. IMO of course.

One of Freedom said...

Lastly, the 'hype' worship is where the music is all 'happy clappy' and is specifically designed to play on or influence your emotions. It is a fine line between this and worship that holds out the hand of opportunity to have a moving experience with God. I'll talk about this in Worship III.