One of the projects I’m currently working on is a fresh, practical application of the Nairobi Statement on Worship and Culture. If you’re not familiar with this document from the Lutheran World Federation, you can find it here. This statement has 4 main ideas:
Worship is transcultural.Certain elements of Christian worship transcend all cultures, binding us together across time and place. By lifting up the transcultural elements of our worship, we can keep the holy things central in our assemblies. Here are some examples of things that transcend all cultures in worship:
Scripture is read.
The waters of Holy Baptism wash us.
The meal of Holy Communion is shared.
Worship is contextual.Certain elements of Christian worship adapt to the context they are in. The basic idea behind being contextual in worship is using what you’ve got where you are. In other words, the worship of a big cathedral church in a metropolitan area need not look the same as the worship of a small church in rural Montana. It is OK that they do not look, sound, or feel the same. Here are some examples of how worship can adapt to different contexts:
There is no single or preferred sacred language. The language of the local people is always appropriate in worship.
Music is reflective of the surrounding culture.
Local customs can be adapted for use in worship (think “Go Texan” Sunday).
Worship is countercultural.Praising God may be at odds with what the surrounding culture deems worthy of praise. Some parts of our worship will stand in defiance to the world. Here are some examples of how worship can meet opposition in the surrounding culture:
Jesus welcomes all with open arms, where the surrounding culture may seek to reject those who don’t fit.
God speaks in silence, where the surrounding culture prefers noise and hurry.
Liturgical action teaches us self-denial and humility, where the surrounding culture may teach us to get ahead and have it our way.
Worship is cross-cultural. The church is gathered into one from many times and places. Throughout scripture God is encountered in the “other.” Our worship should give us chances to experience the strange/stranger and find God’s presence in everyone. Here are some examples of how worship can cross over cultures:
We can imagine more of God through the artistic offerings of cultures besides our own.
We can hear the gospel in cultural stories besides our own.
We can exercise humility and sacrifice by singing the songs of cultures besides our own.
Stay tuned for more as I continue to think about this…
I’m part of a new community that is forming called the “Ancient Future Faith Network” (AncientFutureFaithNetwork.org). I’ve always felt the need for ministry to be rooted in the historical, not just concerned with the novelty of the now. Bob Webber, in “Ancient-Future Faith” writes:
“In biblical and ancient times worship was the primary way of experiencing God’s saving work in history. Early Christian sermons (as in Acts) and liturgies (both Eastern and Western) are oriented around the proclamation and enactment of God’s saving work from creation to the consummation. This historical and symbolic recitation expressed the identity of the church, gave shape to its communal self-understanding, and signified its place in the world. During the first three centuries of the church, worship took place in homes or the catacombs. Its content was primarily the proclamation of God’s salvation and the anticipation of Christ’s return. The culminating praise of worship celebrated the work of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist. Because believers did not meet in churches, worship was informal and intimate.” (p. 97)
The vision of the Ancient-Future Faith Network (AFFN) is to grow and facilitate a grassroots network of like-minded individuals and churches.
At its core is Bob Webber’s 2006 “Call to an Ancient-Evangelical Future”. But the association is not so much about doctrinal bona fides as it is about mutual encouragement and resourcing. The very heart of the Network is its members. Our desire is that members will find in this virtual community of faith a vibrant place for interaction. The Network:
Is purposefully ecumenical and non-denominational.
Exists for the purpose of championing and promulgating an Ancient-Future theology and philosophy.
Is open to men and women around the world— both ministers and lay persons— inside and outside of established churches who are interested in worship renewal and what it means to be Ancient-Future.
Exists for established churches, and people who serve them, who want access to Ancient-Future materials, resources, and ideas, and want to learn from, share, and collaborate with those who are using them.
Exists for brand new church starts, and those called to start them, who need a network of encouraging, like-minded communities of faith.
Promotes and coordinate conferences, workshops, and offer appropriate resources and materials consistent with the mission of the AFFN.
So on the twitter, this guy David says, “What are your best tips for young worship leaders leading an older congregation?” This immediately made me give a knee jerk response: “ask older folks what songs they like; learn them; sing them.” This is an important lesson I’ve learned. So the rest goes like this:
David: what if they recommend songs that are nearly impossible to do? Just too old & too irrelevant? Me: you’re joking right? If it’s old it’s not irrelevant. Try reading the psalms to start. If music is difficult, try practicing.
David: i was referring to a song like “in my heart there rings a melody” something that wouldn’t connect with the majority. Me: that’s a cool song. It sounds like a challenge to make it cool to me. I’m gonna work on a recording to prove ya wrong…
A big THANKS to all who participated, especially Michael Nelson for hosting our gatherings!
Big Takeaway from Session 5: The general consensus was that Theophilus does need “members” (although “member” may not be the best term to describe what we mean). Members of Theophilus are simply those that belong to the community. The discussion also led to an agreement that there should be certain behaviors that are expected of those that belong to the community. Some of the possible expected behaviors that were discussed include 1) embracing a baptismal spiritual journey, 2) embracing diversity and welcoming new people, 3) investing in Grace Groups and the community life of Theophilus, and 4) discovering your unique spiritual gifts and using them to participate in the ministry of Theophilus.
Several of us had a great time reflecting on the question,“What does it mean to be a church community?” on Wednesday night. You can download the handout that guided our discussion so you can follow along: Session 4 Handout
Big Takeaway from Session 4: We dove into some biblical and theological explanations of what the “church” is. The church is the creation of the Holy Spirit. No one really decides for themselves to become a part of the church. The Spirit of God is always drawing people into community first. The church’s model for community comes from the Trinity. The Trinity is our model for a relational, organic community of interconnected, mutually submissive relationships. The mission of the church is wrapped up in the narrative story of a Three-in-One (communal) God that is re-creating everything into a new and perfect community.
We also completed a comparison of how three different churches handle their membership practices. Several values and practices are beginning to emerge in defining how Theophilus might help people belong to our community:
It might be helpful for new Grace Groups to be created around new “members.”
A process for discerning whether “membership” is where God is leading someone might be a helpful thing to offer (but without a specific time frame expected for completion).
If a process for discernment is suggested, it would be helpful if the steps are easy to understand and communicated well.
It seems that regardless of people’s “membership” status, everyone should feel welcomed and encouraged to participate (with no guilt attached for not becoming a “member”).
If you’d like to follow along you can download the notes from Session 3 here: Session 3 Handout
Big Takeaway from Session 3: We took some time to read an article called “A Rite of Passage“ (p. 12-16) that describes baptismal rituals in the early church. The symbolism and community participation involved in this rite would have had a profound effect on the Christian community. It has many similarities to modern day initiation ceremonies in social organizations. We then reviewed “Church Bs” membership practice for our comparison. This church talks about membership being similar to “teammates,” which is a helpful analogy using modern language. We also wrestled with questions around how to contextualize membership in an “open source/wiki” world. How do you help people belong to a community without setting expectations that are either too low or too high?
“Exploring the Future Church” is a series of discussions around the question, “What does it mean to be in a faith community?” These sessions are the foundation of the ministry intervention for my doctoral thesis (Discerning the Meaning of Church Membership at Theophilus). If you’d like to follow along you can download the notes from Session 2 here: Session 2 Handout
Big Takeaway from Session 2: God’s covenant with Abraham (Genesis 15) was meant to be a blessing for all people (Genesis 12:3). The fulfillment of God’s promise to bless all people is realized through the Holy Spirit working in and through the church (beginning at Pentecost, leading to today, and into the future). There is some difficulty in explaining ideas like “covenant” and “Kingdom” today. They are foreign terms for most people. God’s Kingdom and covenant can be simply understood as “God’s love working to bless all people and bring peace.” When it comes to the church, people are wary of joining institutions that are interested in their own preservation. The foundation of the church has to be authentic and genuine relationships.
If you’d like to keep up with the discussion from “Exploring the Future Church: an open discussion on what it means to be in a faith community” you can download the notes here: Session 1 Handout (.doc file)
Big Takeaway from Session 1: We had some significant discussion around the question, “Does church membership matter anymore?” We noted that the idea of “membership” has evolved from what it once was because people’s social needs have changed. One difficulty is that church membership rolls are never accurate. Some people will become a “member” of a church, but never participate or develop relationships. On the other hand, some people are highly engaged in the life and ministry of the church, but never officially become a “member.” Regardless of where people stand in their “membership,” it is essential that everyone feel welcome and invited. The conclusion the group came to was that “membership” as it has been known and experienced in most churches does not matter anymore. What does matter is “belonging to a community.”
Our future sessions will continue to explore this idea of how to encourage people to belong to our community.
Here is the video from Sunday’s message at Theophilus. Marcus and I had a great time “tag-teaming” the message.
We each had enough material to preach our own individual messages, so I left a couple of points out due to lack of time. Here they are:
If you’re going to follow Jesus, you might have to follow Jesus (even to death). Is it possible that I could be killed for my faith? Or one of you? I don’t know. The point is this: If we claim to be followers of a Savior who was crucified, should we expect any different? The question is, will we allow our own crosses and our own martyrdoms to be an opportunity to imitate Jesus, his compassion and mercy?
(Hat-Tip to Peter Rollins for this point, taken from his blog post)
Anecdote – “One evening a guy is driving home after a long and tiring day at work and gets a call from his concerned wife, “Dear, be careful on the way home as I just heard on the news that some crazy guy has been spotted going full speed the wrong way up the freeway” The husband says, “Sorry honey, can’t talk right now… there isn’t just one crazy guy, there are hundreds of them!!!”
This is funny, but this is the situation the Jewish mob that murders Stephen find themselves in. They don’t even consider that they may be wrong. This situation is sadly all too common. Now look at this story in your own life – put yourself in the shoes of the angry mob. How do we encounter people with different political, religious, and cultural values to our own? When we’re confronted with someone who thinks differently than us, how do we respond? Most people respond in 1 of 2 ways: (A) Consumption – attempting to neutralize the difference by changing them to our way of thinking (making them like us), or (B) Rejection – rejecting them from our group as a foreign agent that must be expelled (protecting the integrity of our group).
But there is a better option. The better option is Communion. Communion can be described as eating with the other who thinks differently. Here the community seeks to sit down with the other and seek out places of convergence. Communion is saying there are places where we are both right, lets see where those places are, and move forward together.
To be in Communion with someone means we put ourselves in the other’s shoes, we look at the situation through their eyes. This is an alternative type of encounter with people who are different than us. And it’s what Jesus came to show us. Jesus came to show us that there is a different way to treat people. We don’t have to change them and we don’t have to reject them. God can save us as we are, whether right or wrong.
“There has been a huge surge in liturgical interest among young people like myself that Christian media has really picked up on.
The Gen-Xers and Baby Boomers see this as a “trend.” It’s something that young people are into, like Arcade Fire, Invisible Children, social justice or Tom’s Shoes. In part, it’s seen as “cool” or “hip.” They see a return to liturgy as a turning over of traditional evangelical or low-church Protestant tables. It’s a way to stick it to the man or not be part of the status quo.
I do agree that this liturgical, ancient-future worship movement is a turning over of traditional tables. But, this turning over of tables is not a spilling over of a century’s worth of low-church Protestantism as the table is flipped over. Instead, this movement is a return to the center. It’s a journey back home. It’s a realization that almost 2,000 years of vibrant Christian worship had been totally eclipsed and stuck in closets or the histories found in dusty theological books.
This movement of my generation is a turning over of traditional tables: but we’re not flipping them over and sticking it to our parent’s and grandparent’s generation. We’re righting the tables. We’re dusting them off and putting the chairs back under it.”