Spiritual formation by pointing to a life of worship and prayer–faithfully and obediently followed as a lifestyle–Two noble and ennobling human activities that, by design, are to be steady and repetitious (in the best sense of the word). They are patterns that have a compounding effect.
So let’s linger on the issue of worship. Many have written in recent years about transformational worship. The proposition offered here is this: the pattern of public worship is transformational insofar as it is an authentic engagement with God. That may sound obvious, but since we are entirely capable of “doing worship” in ways that come no where close to God, or come close but are hesitant to engage, we have to commit to the work of creative and deep thinking about our planning for worship.
But let’s get concrete so we don’t just linger in the theory. We know that worship in the local church, at it’s worst, can be lifeless, rote, vacuous, cliche (an insult to both divine and human nature), selfish, prejudicial, exploitative, manipulative, dehumanizing, or idolatrous. In other words, “false worship”–an expression that should strike fear into us. No wonder churches are capable of displaying as much fragmentation as any other human association. We are capable of taking our highest moment–the worship encounter–and turn it into an isolating experience.
Worship is dangerous. Just think of the apostle Paul telling the church in Corinth that their gatherings were so destructive that it would probably be better if they didn’t meet (1 Cor. 11:17). Imagine putting an announcement in a church bulletin that said: “Due to the fact that we are doing more harm than good, we will no longer be gathering for worship, effective immediately.” Of course, churches don’t need to close themselves down–people take care of that on their own. They walk away, leaving a core that is very happy living as one extended dysfunctional family.
We can do better. And it won’t be better necessarily by working harder or acquiring a new model of worship. What needs to happen is for us as church leaders to have a vision for engagement with God in worship and to be committed to that absolutely. Again, let’s get concrete. Engagement with God in worship looks like…
- a song, In Christ Alone, that marches people through a progression of spiritual truth, carried on a tune that is singable and consistent with the tone of the meaning of the words
- a prayer offered by a young woman who has a gift of faith and who flourishes in prayer, who is aware of leading the congregation, but far more aware of the presence of God
- a pastor explaining the offering as an act of worship because it is an act of honoring God, with an ancient biblical history
- a sermon that engages because it brings God’s supply (the word of truth) into contact with real human need (including practical application), leaving people with a sense that they heard from God, not just from a speaker
- a personal word from an ex-cop who at one time despaired of his life, but who found Christ at the low point of his depression
- a “gathering time” before the worship service which is 10 minutes of singing, helping people ramp up to their engagement with God
- a led prayer at the end of a worship service with quiet moments for people to open themselves to God before leaving and reentering the rush of normal life
- a time of communion where extra time is alloted to allow for more meditation
- a sense of anticipation because there is usually one creative element in the worship time that could be almost anything (a personal story, a video message or illustration, an interview with a missionary, a dramatic sketch)
Creativity in worship is important, although that does not mean a major production. Some of the most creative elements are very simple. More important is engagement. Does every element of worship seek to connect divine supply and human need? And is that the motive of the people leading?
WORSHIP AS A WHOLE CHURCH PATTERN
Worship has always been and will always be one of the most significant points of engagement between God and his people. Today’s ongoing experimentations with worship mean that we know we still have to find a communal way to engage with God that is true and faithful. Our drive to worship is clear: from the beginning of history to the end, from walking with God in Eden to the vision of all creation worshiping Christ in John’s Apocalypse. There is such a drive to adore, to glorify, to exalt, to venerate, to revere–we die if we don’t.
As a practical matter and as principle, church leaders need to be on the same page about why they worship, how they worship, and what their expectations of worship are. We need to develop a common worship mindset and keep reinforcing it. To be a Whole Church, we have to see the act of worship as a prime time when the people of the church are pulled together–although we have to be honest that worship is so personal, so powerful, and so important, individuals will always have mixed opinions about what their leaders in worship are doing for them or to them.
THE PURPOSES OF WORSHIP
Here are three of the dynamics of worship: purposes, practices, and effects. We may be most aware of the effects (or non-effects) since we are very human and we tend to think nothing matters more than our experience. But the best way to promote authentic worship is to begin at a higher level.