What is Worship?

This is an article that featured Todd Johnson and Ed Willmington address the question "What is Worship?"  It helps to get inside of the heads of these two worship gurus.



Pastors’ Gathering Explores Worship Issues

Worship was the topic of Fuller’s semiannual President’s Breakfast for Pastors held Thursday, November 9, with speakers Todd Johnson and Ed Willmington, both of the Brehm Center for Worship, Theology, and the Arts. More than 100 attended the event in Payton Hall.

“What and who is our worship for? Why do we worship?” These must be central questions we ask in our churches, said Todd Johnson, the William K. and Delores S. Brehm Associate Professor of Worship, Theology and the Arts at Fuller. In his talk “Worship Choices: Going Beyond the Categories,” Johnson discussed what we can learn from early church worship history, and then went on to offer pastors some “neutral terms to help you evaluate what you are doing in your worship, and why.” Professor and author Lester Ruth offers three helpful questions we can ask, he said: First, whose story is being told in your worship—God’s story, or the individual’s story of coming to faith? Second, who do you understand your church to be when you worship—one part of the larger corporate church, or a more autonomous, homegrown congregation? And lastly, where do people find God in your church’s worship—in the Word, table, or music? It is helpful to understand who you are as a church and work to strike a balance between these different elements, Johnson said.

“A Pastoral Approach to Local Church Worship” was the topic of a second talk given by Ed Willmington, director of the Brehm Center’s Fred Bock Institute of Music. First considering how pastors and worship leaders relate to each other, Willmington emphasized the need for a strong level of trust and communication between the two. When bringing worship leaders and musicians into your church, “look past the talent—look for a servant heart,” he urged, and also noted the importance of providing spiritual support and direction to worship team members. “Who is walking alongside them?” he asked. Moving to the pastor-congregation relationship, Willmington stressed the importance of studying and preaching specifically about worship. Congregants need to understand, he said, that “worship is a verb—something you do, not something that is done to you!” Involving the congregation in worship-centered seminars and formalizing a congregational statement about worship are also helpful practices, he noted.

A time for questions and answers with both speakers followed the talks, led by Brehm Center Academic Director Clayton Schmit. “However we conduct our worship,” Schmit said in conclusion, “let us serve the One who is worthy. Then we will be on the right track.”

Complexifying the Liturgy

Worshiptodo_1 As we plan weekly worship here at Fuller Seminary, the worship interns and I have been talking quite a bit lately about three persistent and related problems.

The first problem is theologically inspired boredom: we are growing weary of planning and leading the same twenty minutes of “opening exercises” every week. The dominant feature of our pre-sermon worship time is a significant chunk of music interspersed with words of welcome and perhaps a prayer or two. In the past months we’ve worked hard at intentionally selecting congregational songs that have cultural breadth, theological depth, and liturgical clarity. Still, the logistics of the service (including the architectural shape of our space) leave us with a default organizational ordo with which we are increasingly uncomfortable. It is an order that feels not blessedly simple but distressingly simplistic: songs (led by a group from the right hand side), followed by a sermon (preached by a professor from the left hand side).

The other problems we’re struggling with are thematic coherence and sacramental expectation.

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Thanksgiving - Tried and True, Fresh and New

840400 On Thanksgiving Day many churches offer a very traditional worship service: Psalm 100, a litany of thanksgiving, “Come, You Thankful People, Come.” On a day when we look back with gratitude at God’s good gifts to us, it makes sense to make use of the work and wisdom of our forebears and to worship using that which is tried and true. Other congregations seek innovation: pilgrim puppets behind the pulpit, prayers of thanks colored (not written) in crayon on scraps of paper and dropped in the offering plate.

Our culture craves novelty, which may explain—but doesn’t necessarily commend—our thirst for it. A more laudable urge is to offer in our worship not a stale tradition, repeated out of habit, but something original: our creative expression, our prayers and words and music, our very selves. We want to offer something fresh and new. But must it be an either/or choice?  Many congregations are very successful in their efforts to examine the tried and true traditions (often more true than actually tried), identify the best in them, and then freshen them in ways sensitive to their contexts.  Here are a few ideas...

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What Must We Not Do Without?

Question_mark_people What should Christians do when we gather to worship?   Of course, there are all sorts of things we actually do: we stand, we sit, we sing, we raise our hands, we are silent, we eat and drink, we pray.  Then again, we do all these things when we attend a football game.  But in worship we do all these things (and many more) with worshipful purposes in mind: to confess, to praise, to hear the Word, etc.  But we don't do every possible option at every single service.  So what elements are so important that we should not do without them?

The Bible offers many examples of the sorts of things worshippers do when they assemble:  the Old Testament records in great detail what Temple worship was supposed to look like, including the specifics of animal and agricultural sacrifices.  The gospel of Luke tells of reading from the scriptures as part of synogogue worship.  Acts 2 tells us that the early church devoted itself to the "apostles' teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers."  So my question is this:  what are the non-negotiables of worship?  When God's people gather, by the power of the Holy Spirit, to renew the convenant of grace in Christ Jesus, what stuff do we do?  What actions do we perform that are non-negotiable?  If we gather to worship and never hear a sermon, is it worship?  If we don't break bread at the table, have we worshipped?  If we don't pray., or sing...  You get the idea.  What do you think?  Post your comments.

7 Worship Leading Principles from Bono

B000bnxdeg01_aa240_sclzzzzzzz_ Dr. Steven Taylor is the founding pastor of Graceway Baptist Church in Ellerslie, New Zealand. He has a PhD on the Emerging Church and a Masters in Theology in communicating the cross in a postmodern world. Steve recently did a course at Fuller Seminary entitled “Communicating the Biblical Text in a PostModern Culture” in July.

He argues that to communicate the biblical text for today’s context requires one to “incarnate, indwell, our culture.”  Taylor goes on to use the phrase “DJing” with respect to the community.  A record DJ learns the historical stories (old records) and uses them authentically in contemporary culture and integrates them into the community's stories.  There is too much to summarize here, but do look for his book “The Out of Bounds Church: Learning to Create a Community of Faith in a Culture of Change” from Zondervan.

Taylor cites Bono of U2 as a person who effectively DJs today.  According to Taylor, Bono is in fact a worship leader for over 40,000 people; Bono recontextualizes the biblical text and leads concert goers into a time of community worship and prayer. Taylor plays the “Vertigo ‘05” DVD and shows us how Bono is leading worship.  This intrigued me to the point that  Dr. Taylor and I discussed this further after the workshop. The following is from Steve’s article “7 Things I learnt from Bono about Worship Leading.”

1.    Connect uniquely. In the Vertigo DVD, Bono speaks about Chicago and his memories of Chicago. He makes a unique connection with context, day, and time.
2.    Engage through familiarity. Bono includes songs that resonate with previous experiences and previous encounters.
3.    Use repetition to call forth prayer. Bono uses the repetitive “Hallelujah.” It is easy to sing. The simple repetition enables the audience to sing with the band.
4.    Secure a 5th (visual) band member. U2 now has a 5th member of the band to add a visual layer to the experience. A wise worship leader will look to add not just singers or musicians, but a “visual” person to their team.
5.    Create hope by drawing the best from the past. Bono tells the audience in the Vertigo DVD, “We as a band are looking to the future. We’re taking the best of the past and moving forward with hope.”
6.    Plan participation. Bono can draw one boy from the audience to sing to, one woman from the audience to dance with. He uses repetition to call forth prayer and encourage congregational singing.
7.    Invoke passionate practices. Bono invites the audience to hall out their cell phones and to text “Make Poverty History campaign.”  A worship leader turns singing into action. He turns entertainment into justice.

Living Wet

Ron’s story about baptizing his nephew and the connections of baptism to our care for creation show how multifaceted the layers of this sacrament are. All of life, for those of us born of water and the Spirit, is wet. In other words, every moment of each day is grounded in baptism. Even if we are not following the will of God, those moments are redeemed in God’s grace, which is one aspect of baptism (cleansing from or forgiveness of sin). This is why confession or at least a reflection on how we “missed the mark” or sinned is a part of the compline prayer. The ancient “compline” prayer, or prayer at the close of the day shapes our sleeping and rising in the death and resurrection of Christ. This image is one of baptismal life; continually dying (repenting and turning from ways that separate us from Christ) and rising to new life each day.

Throughout the worship service there are several moments each Sunday where we can engage water in ways that help us understand and live more deeply into our baptism. Here are a few examples:

During the gathering of the people you can pour water into the font or baptismal pool with words that accentuate our inclusion into the family of God such as:

You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you m ay proclaim the mighty acts of the One who called you out of darkness into God’s marvelous light. (1 Peter 2:9)

After confession, you may pour or splash water while you while declaring God’s grace and forgiveness. Any words of forgiveness and grace accentuate baptism. However, you may use words that are more explicit:

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. (Romans 6:3,4) Know that you are forgiven and be at peace, walking in the light of Christ, loving God with all your being and loving your neighbor as yourself.

Calling for the offering is a great place to remind people of the promises they have made at baptism. We promise to follow Christ, obey his word, love God and one another and live our lives in ways that show Christ’s love in this world. Our best offering is the way we live. While money is important, how we make that money and our priorities in the way we spend money are also part of living into our baptism. The way we live each minute of the day is our best and most important offering, even more important that anything that has to do with money. Too often the offering seems to revolve around money, especially when we process plates of money down the aisle singing a doxology. What are ways we can expand our offering to include living the baptismal life?

Sending people into the world is another place where the image of water can remind us that we leave this place to live into our baptism. Perhaps you could use such words as this while pouring or splashing water:

We are the people of God, members of the household of faith, a royal priesthood. Let us proclaim with our lives the good news of Christ for all the world!

These images are just scratching the surface of the mystery of baptism. There are many more aspect of this life we live in faith and many more ways to express it. The Presbyterian Church USA is inviting all its member churches into five practices each Sunday:

1. Set the font in full view of the congregation.
2. Open the font and fill it with water on every Lord’s Day.

3. Set cup and plate on the Lord’s Table on every Lord’s Day.

4. Lead appropriate parts of weekly worship from the font and from the table.
5. Increase the number of Sundays on which the Lord’s Supper is celebrated.

You can read the whole report, including supporting material that is helpful for studying and reflecting on baptismal life at http://pcusa.org/theologyandworship/worship/sacramentworkgroup.htm

By engaging in these practices each Sunday we can begin to explore how baptism is a part of every aspect of Christian living. Just a few examples would be forgiving others, caring for creation, what we do at our jobs (or our vocation), the way we spend money, we interact with others, all this is grounded in the life of faith which is the baptismal life. The mysteries of the faith are never fully exhausted. These practices can be explored each and every time the community of faith gathers and even in our daily prayer.

Tradition: From Current Local to Historic Global

It often seems that tradition is in the eyes of the beholder.

A friend visited for a while with our large suburban congregation and suggested that what she discovered was a heritage of worship that was part town hall meeting, part local talent show, and part lecture series. Perhaps there are other congregations whose Ordo follows in a similar path.

As pastor of the congregation for a little over two years, I have been faced with a number of questions related to local tradition. Making appeals to the great traditions of the church and faith don’t carry much freight for people who mark tradition according to what their parents taught them or what the last great preacher suggested.

For large churches, change often comes slowly with much conversation – especially if change is rare and sometimes has been disastrous.

Bearing this in mind, we have created safe spaces for conversations about worship. The conversation was structured by a graduate student we engaged for the purpose of exploration in small group and one-on-one interviews. As you might imagine, our conversations about worship were all over the map. We discovered yearnings amongst some for dimensions of worship that we did not offer at the time our questions were asked.

Openhand_2 In large measure, those expressed yearnings related to a sense of emotion and involvement that some felt was lacking in our more traditional church setting. So we decided to create some space for innovation. We are currently in the process of adding a new service of worship. The idea of adding an alternate worship service is nothing new.  What is new (thus far) is the cooperative spirit being shared as we progress.  This spirit is the outcome of much communication in many different forms.  Since we began the process with an open conversation, the continuing development of new worship has become a shared conversation in meaning and problem-solving for the congregation.

A friend is joining us in a few weeks to offer a worship service that demonstrates for the congregation the way that we can add a “contemporary” feel while also rediscovering the riches of sacramental practice. I suppose this is a small move toward "emerging worship." Learning to dance in large churches is, as some have coined the phrase, like waltzing a gorilla – so small steps are alright.

One purpose of our “trial” worship service is to expand a conversation about experience, meaning, and tradition. One small thing we will do on that day is outlined in an idea you might try (listed in the ritual section - “Wade by the Water”). This is an example of the “small steps” I named above.

Ultimately, exploration of tradition in local context relates to the relational character of ministry. It’s been my experience that time and trust open pathways for conversation and innovation. It also has been my experience that larger numbers of people require larger amounts of time for conversation about any change.

When we create avenues for trust and conversation in congregations, then our boundaries for tradition and imagination begin to expand. As leaders, we create room for congregants to see their relationship to other believers in every time and place. If tradition is ultimately a kind of “handing down,” then one task of leadership is to join hand to hand through the gentle art of friendly conversation.

Where to put the Lament

Mpaperlament24mm After being persuaded that we need to be more serious about lament in our worship, we have been struggling with where to put it in the service.  There seems to be no natural place in our order of service where it "fits."  Then someone at a planning meeting suggested we replace the confession one week with a lament.  Not to avoid our own sin, but to recognize that our personal sin is caught up in the brokenness of the whole world.  We lament then, and say not so much "I have messed up" but "I am messed up." 

But then there is another difficulty: what is the appropriate response to lament?  After a confession, we long to hear words of God's forgiveness:  "As far as the east is from the west, so far do I remove your transgressions from you."  This doesn't seem quite right when we're talking about racism and environmental degradation and cancer. 

But a declaration of God's ultimate sovereignty is exactly right -- it follows the Biblical pattern (see, for instance, Psalm 42 or 43), and it assures us (just as an assurance of pardon) that in the end, all will be well, and all manner of things will be well.

(Art courtesy www.davidsweeneyart.com)