We recently got back from a trip to Florida. We traveled to my graduation/commencement ceremony at the Robert E. Webber Institute for Worship Studies in Orange Park, FL (www.IWS.edu). We also managed to do 5 days at Disney World for family vacation, but that’s another story.
I started the Doctor of Worship Studies program in 2007, after a year off from completing my MA in Worship. Interestingly, I began my studies the first session after the passing of Bob Webber, the founder of the school and worship guru. It was a heavy atmosphere, but profoundly formative for me regardless. I got turned on to Webber’s writings in the late 90s in Worship Leader magazine. His monthly column always drew my attention as I began to wade into the waters of leading worship. There was a depth to his writing on worship that attracted me and made me want more. Before finishing seminary, I knew I wanted to continue my studies at IWS.
Here are the big factors that impressed me about IWS and made it one of the best experiences of my life:
The focus on worship (not just music). It is unusual and unique for a school to focus that greatly on one area of study.
The professors. I received instruction from Andy Hill, Lester Ruth, Connie Cherry, Jeff Barker, and Reggie Kidd. They’ve said stuff that has stuck with me to this day and shaped how I do ministry. Not only were the profs great individually, but the courses were all team taught by 2 faculty – usually from diverse denominational heritages. It was so helpful to see unity and respect modeled in everything.
The communal feel. Sharing meals, singing in chapel, and working on practicum projects in a group. You get connected to people in a very intimate way – far beyond just lecture in class.
The diversity. The cohort I did my learning with was a great mixed-bag: Wesleyan, United Methodist, Mennonite, Anglican, Southern Baptist, Presbyterian, Lutheran, Charismatic, Foursquare, Evangelical Free, etc. The variety of experiences and backgrounds creates a layer of richness that you can’t really get any other way.
The curriculum. Every course in the doctoral program was fascinating to me: history of worship, renewal of the arts in worship, the liturgical calendar, and sacred actions (sacraments). Every course was very self-directed, especially in the final projects. You could take a direction that works for you and run with it. The practicum experiences were also invaluable. Planning worship services with a diverse group in a short time frame was challenging and inspiring.
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.
Every time the church gathers together for worship it does God’s story. God’s story is that epic narrative that we can see unfolding throughout the Bible. When we step back and look at the big picture that the total Bible paints we can see a three-part story unfold. The three parts are creation, incarnation, and re-creation. Every time we gather for worship at Faith we do God’s story.
The story of God begins at the story of creation. God, existing as a Triune community, created human beings to participate in the community of God. Unfortunately the idyllic community didn’t last forever and corruption and evil entered the picture. But God sets in motion the plan to redeem and fix everything that went wrong. Out of the desolation of the desert the line of Abraham is established to begin the process of bringing back the peace once found in the Garden. God kick-starts the plan of redemption.
The incarnation of God is witnessed in the person of Jesus. Jesus was God’s response after centuries of being nothing more to us than what we thought God should be: angry, insecure, and the vengeance-seeking tyrant we would be if we were God. In Jesus, God’s loving desire to really be known overflowed the heavens and was made manifest among us. Jesus’ humble mission was to become the Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world. God comes to us and accomplishes for us what we cannot do ourselves: salvation.
Re-creation is what the Holy Spirit brings about through the work of Jesus. Re-creation is the work of salvation healing all the broken areas of our lives. Re-creation is the new life we find as people born of water and the Spirit. Re-creation is the Jesus-garment that we put on when we become new creatures. Re-creation is the power of God to redeem everyone and everything. Re-creation is a new heaven and a new earth, where sorrows find their end and Jesus is the only light we need. Re-creation is the Garden restored.
The story of God is the story that our worship does. How? Every time we lift our corporate prayers we acknowledge God as the Creator of every good and perfect gift. Every time we invoke the name of the Holy Trinity we recognize that God was before creation came to be. When we bring our gifts and offerings to God we realize that as the Creator, everything is already God’s. That is how our worship remembers creation. Every time the Word of God is read and the Gospel of peace is proclaimed we hear Jesus. Every time the bread and wine are shared at the Table God’s love is experienced anew in the community of his Body. That is how our worship remembers and experiences incarnation. Every time we prepare for the meal and hear the words “until he comes again” we anticipate the feast to come. When we share the peace we experience the reconciliation that comes from being new creatures. Every time we celebrate at the baptismal font we are connected with the death and resurrection of Jesus that brings us new life. That is how our worship experiences and anticipates re-creation. When you step through the doors on Sunday remember that we are doing God’s story!
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”).
“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.
Here is the benediction we have been using the last couple of weeks at Theophilus:
We have been washed in the Word, We have been nourished at God’s table,
We are sent forth as agents in God’s Kingdom
To love and serve our neighbors.
Go in peace and live the church.
This benediction clearly outlines the order of service that is concluding (Gathering – Word – Meal – Sending). It reminds you of everything we’ve just experienced:
We’ve heard portions of God’s Word read and the Gospel proclaimed in the message
I borrowed the phrase “washed in the word” from Ephesians 5:25-27, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.”
“Washing” also reminds us of our baptism and our inheritance as God’s children
We’ve celebrated the Eucharistic feast at God’s table (where all are welcome), a foretaste of the eternal banquet that Christ presides over
With the conclusion of this benediction we are sent forth to work in God’s Kingdom, the Kingdom of light
What does work in God’s Kingdom practically look like? Loving and serving our neighbors.
We’re reminded that as we leave our liturgy, we don’t just return to normal life and self-centered thoughts/actions. We are launched out as missionary vessels to witness to God’s purposes and redemption of the world.
We are sent in peace. We have peace with God through Christ, and we are sent with the ministry of reconciliation, bringing more people peace.
“Live the church” is a little phrase that we end every benediction with. I borrowed it from Vox Veniae. The church isn’t a building or a social club. It’s the living/breathing Body of Christ, and it needs to be lived out in the world.
“We know already that the unvesting of the catechumen before Baptism signified the rejection by him of the “old man” and the “old life,” that of sin and corruption. It is indeed sin that revealed their nakedness to Adam and Eve and made them conceal it with vestments. But why were they not ashamed of their nakedness before sin? Because they were vested in divine glory and light, in the “ineffable beauty” which is the true nature of man. It is this first garment that they lost, and they “knew that they were naked” (Gen. 3:7). But then the post-baptismal vesting in the “robe of light” signifies above all the return of man to the integrity and innocence he had in Paradise, the recovery by him of his true nature obscured and mutilated by sin. St. Ambrose compares the baptismal robe to the vestments of Christ on Mount Tabor. The Transfigured Christ reveals perfect and sinless humanity as not “naked” but vested in garments “white like snow,” in the uncreated light of divine glory. It is Paradise, not sin, that reveals the true nature of man; it is to Paradise and to his true nature, to his primordial vestment of glory, that man returns in Baptism.”
I recently read Reggie Kidd’s With One Voice. So much good stuff in it about Christ as our singing Savior – our Chief Liturgist. As we sing our songs of corporate praise and adoration here on the earth, we’re merely echoing and pointing to the greater song that Christ is already singing to the Father as He leads all the saints in song.
The challenging stuff is about the different voices of Christ and His body (Bach, Bubba, and the Blues Brothers). Congregations develop their own nuances and styles of corporate worship appropriate to the people they’re made up of and the surrounding culture. That’s the part of Christology we call “incarnational.”
“But we say something profound about the gospel itself when we stay a family and refuse to allow ourselves to become insular, a closed-in group. By God’s grace, we can nurture the good we’ve inherited from our family tree, further its contribution to the larger body of Christ, and at the same time appreciate – and perhaps learn from – folks who sing Christ’s song differently.” (p. 156-157)
Keeping a congregation opened-out to the variation of Christ’s song is tough. It’s too easy to just go to the top 25 songs from CCLI and create a set list every week. It’s too easy to just stick with what the denomination prints. It’s too easy to just keep doing what the Pastor or Worship Leader likes and prefers.
I think in most cases, a pleasing variety of Christ’s songs are present in any given congregation. Just from the people that are already there, the music of their hearts and backgrounds. The tough work is mining it. It means building relationships and learning about people. “What does it sound like for your heart to be engaged by God in worship?” That should be a frequent question from servant-leaders.
And then comes the skill of creating a collage representative of what God has already knit together in the congregation. And on top of that, the task of patiently explaining and teaching everyone that “It’s OK if you didn’t like, or get, or enjoy the musical offering/palette today. Rest assured that it was beneficial to someone else in this Body. And rest assured that it’s not about you.”
There are 3 ideas/images/sounds that are lingering with me after this session has finished:
1. Professor Reggie Kidd made this statement (paraphrased) in lecture one day: “You and I don’t make it through each day because of our good looks and accomplishments. The only reason we can make it is because we have a High Priest continually interceding for us in heaven. His prayers are continually offered up on our behalf. He was completely human and identifies with our struggles and sufferings.”
2. The DWS 704 class has the privilege of designing and presenting a Eucharistic worship service of healing. Our class focused on the theme of “Set Free to Serve.” The motif of chains was carried throughout the service. As worshipers entered the space they were handed a 6 in. piece of chain. As a response to the Word we invited everyone to come to the front of the room and cast their chains in a large metal receptacle. The jarring sound of the chains slamming into the container was powerful.
3. One of the other practicum presentations featured a dramatic presentation of Christ’s death and resurrection from the grave. But instead of ending there, the person portraying Jesus went on to become our Great Liturgist (“in the presence of the congregation I will sing your praises.” Hebrews 2:12), victoriously delivering the bread and the wine to the very table we gather around to share the holy meal. The reality of Jesus’ presence at the table has never been more felt. The connection of the holy meal to the resurrection (not just the death) of Jesus was heavy. I was left with the image of Jesus presiding forever over the celebration feast of heaven, as well as the table each time we commune.