Sunday, September 14, 2008
WORSHIP: FORWARD TO BASICS
I like that. It could become the mission statement of a the worship committee acting as curators of the worship space working on new approaches to doing worship. Someone in a book I read recently described his top 5 qualities of worship in a postmodern culture as authenticity, community, abandonment of dogma, focus on the arts, and diversity. To which I would add a sixth, participation. These are the six basics of worship that I am suggesting we need to move forward to.
Authenticity is the most important. It is also the most difficult to achieve. When a community gathers to worship there is a tremendous weight of history and expectation that comes into play. One person’s authenticity is seen by another person as a lack of self-control, or being overly emotional, or sloppy. At its heart, the call for authenticity is a call for honesty and integrity in what we are asked to do in worship and in the words that are said about God and about those who are at worship. Worship that is slick or superficial isn’t worship and doesn’t enable worship. Where is the lasting benefit and life changing power of worship that ignores or overrides the reality of how we’re encountering life? We debase ourselves when going to church is a segmented compartment of our being, unconnected to any other part of our living, and when we are unable to express our doubts and fears among those who profess to being sinners saved by grace.
Community flows out of authenticity. Being loving and accepting is easier when we realise we’re all in the same boat. As long as some people check their real life at the door as they come into church, community will remain elusive. Holding common beliefs isn’t enough. Being in the same place doing the same things doesn’t help much either. We have to know each other at some level as well. Authentic worship builds community.
Abandoning dogma isn’t a plea to give up on the basics of the faith. Rather it’s a reminder that good worship is more interested in connecting the grace and love of God with the real and tangible issues of life than with theoretical ones. If our corporate worship doesn’t address the realities of our lives it lacks authenticity and will not build community.
Focussing on the arts in worship is a plea for passion and creativity. A call to recognise a broader range of gifts in worship. And recognition that people learn in a variety of ways and through all five senses rather than just numbness in the backside. It doesn’t necessarily mean using a painting in place of a sermon (but it might).
Acceptance and encouragement of diversity in all its forms - ethnicity, age, background, intelligence, time on the journey, maturity, perspective, ability, etc- among the worshipping congregation can only strengthen the authenticity of the community at worship.
Participation almost seems to not need to be mentioned after what has been said above. Perhaps that’s why it wasn’t originally separated out; it flows from the other basics. But I want to emphasise it lest anyone think that authentic worship that builds community and reflects the reality of the people worshipping can be planned and led by one man. It can’t. Not even by one woman. Not even by one theologically educated and ordained person. Liturgy is the work of the people. Active involvement in shaping our worship week by week is a basic right of every follower of Christ. Our diversity will only be recognised by a diversity of leaders. We need to be willing to risk awkwardness and poor theology and embarrassment. After all, building a community of authentic worshippers is our aim. Isn’t it? Would this style of worship be so completely against the grain of what else is out there that it just might have something to say to those who are leaving the Church in droves, and even to those who are on spiritual journeys but have decided that the Church wouldn’t have anything worthwhile to offer?
I personally am anti excellence. I’m anti excellence in church life and I’m particularly anti excellence in worship. In fact I’m really not so much anti excellence as pro participation. I reckon participation is what church life should be about. Participation rather than performance. And a pursuit of excellence always, always, ends up being about performance. If excellence is a primary goal, then the weak, the timid, the depressed, the disabled, the unskilled, the sick, the introverted, overweight, the less attractive, the poor and the untalented aren’t going to get a look in. They’ll be relegated to being spectators for someone else’s worship performance. From this perspective excellence doesn’t look so good. How can a process and a value that excludes large sections of a worshipping community from active participation be anything but unchrist-like?
I am reminded of the passage in John when the woman taken in adultery is brought before Christ in an attempt to trap Him in order to have a basis for accusing Him. And Jesus bent down and wrote in the dirt. I have always thought of that as an eerie moment in the gospel narrative. It is the only record of Jesus ever writing anything. The first scurry of wind blew it away or perhaps he scuffed it out with his own sandal. Who knows?
The irony for me is that we who follow him have erected whole mountains of books over his simple teaching. We have at times created an exclusive faith beset by rules and decrees and incapable of expressing and extending the unconditional love of God.
So the watchword for the Worship Committee is Forward to Basics, keep it simple and inclusive and open to all.
(Presented to the church Jan and I attend - East Doncaster Baptist Church, in Melbourne - by Frank Fricke, chairman of our worship committee.)
- with gratitude and acknowledgement to Mark Pierson