Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Let's talk about Worship

I'm going to take a break from studying Greek to talk about Worship. I was raised in the 11:00 Sunday Morning model which involves things like liturgy, hymns, a sermon, and an almost exclusively passive congregation. What does it say about our churches when the most lively part of Worship is when the Children run to the front of the church? That's maybe 60 seconds out of the hour long service.

I'm not satisfied with that. I want a Church that is alive. We use words like "vibrant" to talk about worship, but really anything that isn't vibrant is dead. Our current worship style is a lecture, and the congregation is the audience.

Take a look at your pastor next time she steps into the pulpit. I think you'll find that there is a strong resemblance to a podium on a stage, and that frightens me.

It doesn't frighten me because of any idolatry that might be occuring, confusing the pastor as someone who has all the answers. It frightens me because it limits the ways people can experience God.

Think about your worship service. How do you experience it? I'm not talking figuratively, I want to know what senses are stimulated during a worship service. For the vast majority of Christians, I would imagine that the only one that gets used to any extent is ones hearing.

We hear the scripture read, we hear the sermon delivered, we hear the anthem sung, we hear the corporate prayers, we hear the responsive liturgy, we hear the music. We might also see the architecture of the church, or the symbols on the walls, or the words printed in the bulletin or in the hymnal, but a creation as amazing as the human eye can certainly do more than follow words on a page.

I don't think the church is being a good steward of the senses God has given God's people.

I am a Word oriented person, which means that I, of all people, should be able to identify with the traditional style of worship that puts so much weight behind reading and hearing the Word. But even something as basic as a text can come alive just by remembering what it is I like about words. I love the way words sound when spoken aloud, I love the way that a particularly delicious word feels in my mouth when I say it, I love the coarse texture of a page on my finger as I trace the lines across a printed page. I love the acrid smell of an old book, well loved over time by many readers. I experience words with my eyes as I read them, with my ears as they are spoken to me, with my mouth as I say them aloud, and with my hands as I hold the physical books themselves.

And yet very little of worship involves those senses, and worship involves matters much more important than poetry.

I think the reason that people don't step out of this model is because it's the only color on their palate. They either don't know of another way to worship at all or they don't know another way to worship while remaining faithful to their traditions and theology. The truth is, Worship only needs a very basic framework, and needs a change from time to time to keep it from growing stale.

Imagine a worship service where the preacher chose not to read a prepared speech during the pulpit, but instead used the tools given to the world by Abstract Art to create a visual representation of the emotions of a scripture reading. This is only moderately different than turning off the lights during a Good Friday Service. I would not recommend the preacher paint first and then explain what he created, then we just have another sermon. I would challenge that pastor to splash the paint on the canvas while the scripture was being read, to give an immediate visual connection to the text, not a reminder.

Imagine a Congregational Prayer where rather than reading in an unofficial chant the group gripped a rough stone in their hands and meditated on the brokenness in their own lives as mirrored in the cracked gravel, then release the stone to clatter on the floor as they symbolically give up their own brokenness and embrace the wholeness of God.

Imagine passing out coarse sandpaper to a congregation and having them run their fingers over it while being told the story of the forty years in the wilderness, and then replacing it with a soft cloth when the promised land is reached.

Imagine a church service that is conducted in silence, with images given to direct congregant's thoughts, and physical touch given to emphasize the oneness of the community.

We all experience God in different ways, why do most Churches only allow people to express their understanding in one way? Worship has the potential to be much more far-reaching than the model we are currently using allows.

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