Weekly Worship Thought – The Crisis of Worship

In his book, Ancient-Future Worship: Proclaiming and Enacting God’s Narrative, Robert Webber identifies three crises facing worship today (p. 90-91):

  1. The crisis of content
  2. The crisis of structure
  3. The crisis of style

The crisis of content has to do with the story we tell in worship. His point is that worship should both remember and anticipate. Worship leads us to remember the mighty acts of God’s salvation in history as well as anticipate a new creation. The content of worship often falls short in providing the full breadth of God’s action in creation, incarnation, and re-creation.

The crisis of structure has to do with how the story is narrated. If worship is to remember and anticipate God’s story, it is best accented in the Four Fold historical model of worship that hinges on word and table. God’s word helps us remember, God’s table helps us anticipate. This is not to say that readings and preaching can’t cause anticipation, and that the Eucharist can’t cause remembrance. Word and table are less a rigid framework that stifles and more an acknowledgment of how God comes to us in worship (and in examples throughout the Bible, such as the Emmaus Road story).

The crisis of style has to do with how the content and structure of worship are communicated. Webber suggests that the content and structure of worship should be made indigenous to the local setting. I would use the word contextual. Style is less important than content and structure. Appropriate use of style makes God’s story more readily heard in any given culture.

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Weekly Worship Thought – Taxonomy of Contemporary Worship

I’m convinced that labeling worship isn’t helpful. It puts our gatherings in boxes that they aren’t meant to be in. It creates the illusion that our assemblies are homogenized and that we can get away with using one genre or style that reaches and represents everyone. We should be able to design and implement any order of service with a full, robust toolbox of resources that draw from the best the church has to offer from all time and traditions.

This is why I have issues with labeling worship “contemporary.” It suggests a genre of music, and perhaps a philosophical approach, but is too vague. I’m growing to appreciate the work of C. Michael Hawn in identifying different streams of song in the church today. You can go knee-deep in this idea in his article from The Hymn, “Streams of song: An overview of congregational song in the twenty-first century.”

Here are the seven streams he identifies:

Stream 1—Roman Catholic Liturgical Renewal Song

Since the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965), Roman Catholics have been finding their voice. This voice is diverse ranging from folk and classical song to African American gospel and various Latino styles. Many of these songs may be found in most Protestant hymnals, adding vitality to liturgy. Some of the key names include David Haas, Michael Joncas, Marty Haugen, James Moore, Cesáreo Gabaréin, Omer Westendorf, Delores Dufner and many more.

Stream 2—Contemporary Classical Hymnody

These are the hymns that follow in the tradition of Isaac Watts and Charles Wesley. Their themes range from creation, ecology, mission of the church, social issues, to worship and the arts. Some of the most important names include Fred Pratt Green, Timothy Dudley Smith, Brian Wren, Carl Daw, Jr., Tom Troeger, Ruth Duck, Shirley Erena Murray, Mary Louise Bringle, and many more.

Stream 3—African American Gospel Song

This streams includes major African American voices including Andraé Crouch, Doris Akers, Margaret Douroux, Edwin Hawkins, James Cleveland, Kirk Franklin, and more.

Stream 4—Urban Gospel Song

Urban Gospel Song writers are represented by the Gaithers, John W. Peterson, and extensions of this song in the UK, Graham Kendrick, Stuart Townend, and Keith Getty.

Stream 5—Folk Hymnody

These songs use an acoustic musical idiom grounded in the folk and protest movements of the 1960s. The theological focus of these songs is on direct language, unvarnished frankness, a social consciousness, and a simple singability that allows everyone to participate.

Stream 6—Pentecostal Song

The roots of CCM/CWM may be found in the Pentecostal movement that began with the Azusa Street Revival (1906) on the west coast. Vineyard, Hillsong, and others.

Stream 7—Ecumenical Global Song

The twenty-first century church is the recipient of songs from the world church—signs that the overseas mission efforts of the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries have born much fruit. The former mission fields are sending their songs back to the church in the West. More than two-thirds of Christians now live outside North America and Europe. They have been singing our songs for nearly two centuries and now we have the opportunity to reciprocate by singing the songs of the world church.

Weekly Worship Thought – Easter Vigil Recap

Faith Lutheran Church began to hold the Easter Vigil in 2012. Some of our long-term members can recall gathering for worship on the Saturday before Easter decades ago, so technically 2012 was not the first time the Vigil was held at Faith. However, Faith began to celebrate the Vigil anew in 2012. That means that this was our fifth year to gather on the Saturday evening before Easter Sunday.

I’m not going to sugar coat it: this service is not easy. It is not the most “user friendly” worship we offer. It starts late (8:00 PM). It runs long (nearly two hours). There is a procession from outside the building to inside the gym. There are SIX scripture readings (but I want you to know that there are 12 readings assigned for the service, so it could be worse). The air conditioning turned off half way through the service. I could go on, but you get my drift.

Why is it so challenging? Our version of the Easter Vigil is modeled after what we know the church did based on historical documents from the first several centuries after the resurrection. In the first centuries of Christianity, believers would gather together and hold vigil, all night long from sunset on Saturday till sunrise on Sunday. The church would be gathered in prayer in one part of the building, while in another part of the building, final preparation was being made for candidates for baptism. These candidates had in some cases been preparing for three years. Three years of gathering with the believers on Sunday, hearing the word read and the gospel proclaimed, and then being ushered out of worship into a separate space for further explanation and instruction. There time of preparation was intense and included fasting and exorcisms.

Why did it take so long? Mainly because the church didn’t assume that their candidates understood the doctrinal basics of the faith. But also because these candidates weren’t simply transferring their name to a new church directory or joining a country club. They were undergoing the radical transformation that we call conversion. Their thinking, their livelihood, their origins, their idolatry, and everything else about them were called into question. It was a slow, measured, weighty process. These churches weren’t interested in the assembly line production of Christians. This was slow-growth, organic, artisanal discipleship.

Now you see some of the rationale behind the First Steps @ Faith catechumenate. Our motivating factor is slightly different though. We think that it is relational connectedness that is most needed for a newcomer in this day and age. More than fully grasping what it means that Jesus is both human and divine, more than renouncing our idolatrous ways of being, we think that candidates need to know that they are loved and cared for by a group of people called into community by God’s Spirit. That is the bed of soil that the seed of faith is planted in.

I have many favorite parts of the Easter Vigil, and one of them is how we gather together for this service. We start outside around a fire. If you’re a fan of camping you will get this. There is something magical about being outdoors around burning wood. If we try to explain the magic we can trace it all the way back to the origins of what it means to be human. What set us apart from the other animals is that we learned how to use tools and start fires. So gathering around a fire outdoors is perhaps one of the earliest, oldest cognitive memories of humanity. Fire is also a central symbol in our faith. God led Israel by fire through the desert. God spoke to Moses in a flame. All the way down to the narrative of Easter, where around the fire Peter denies even knowing the Lord. We start the service around a fire. But not any fire, a new fire, signaling a new way of being that is burning into our world.

If you’ve never been, make plans to attend the Easter Vigil next year.

Weekly Worship Thought – Breaking Down for Lent

breakingLent begins this year on March 1 with Ash Wednesday. I have begun to think about all the possibilities of our music and space for worship during the upcoming season. Lent is a time to reflect, to pause, to weigh the costs of discipleship, and to prayerfully prepare for marking time with Jesus’ death and resurrection.

In particular I am thinking about the music for worship in our gathered assemblies. What can be done musically to carry across the layers of meaning we find during the Lenten season? One idea I am exploring is breaking things down. In a musical sense, this means simplifying things. The simplicity of our instruments and ensembles can bring out the themes of Lent.

An article at WorshipLeader.com makes some suggestions for improving congregational singing that I think are helpful: I did not have my band play on every verse and chorus. Musical accompaniment has one major purpose: supporting congregational singing! The most important sound on Sunday morning is that of your congregation. Have the band stop playing occasionally and let the people hear each other. I promise they will sing louder and more heartily in response!” Breaking things down instrumentally and providing simplicity can help the assembly sing – a worthy goal regardless of the liturgical season!

Scott Weidler shared a tip for Lent in a recent ALCM email regarding unaccompanied singing: “Lenten simplifying may well mean singing some music without instrumental accompaniment. If this is new (and, perhaps, terrifying) to your congregation, Lent may be an appropriate time to introduce it. The human voice is the primary instrument given to us by God. Let’s find ways to amplify its centrality. Many settings of psalms, Lenten verses sung as the Gospel Acclamation, Sanctus, Lamb of God, and other music may appropriately be sung without accompaniment. If eliminating accompaniments completely is unrealistic, try to imagine how to minimize the instrumental leadership in order to maximize primacy of the human voice.”

Breaking things down can be done in many ways. It could be using acoustic instruments instead of electric instruments, hand percussion instead of full drum kit, or just using piano or unaccompanied singing. Try one of these ideas in your context.

Weekly Worship Thought – Counter-cultural Worship

You probably see the same things on social media that I see. Ever increasingly, when it comes time to compose the prayers of intercession for weekly worship, all I have to do is open Facebook to see what we should be lifting up in prayer. Disturbing posts like this have become all too common in my feed:

screen-shot-2017-01-27-at-12-46-31-pm

According to Nairobi, one thing worship does is stand against the prevailing attitudes and assumptions of the culture when they don’t align with Jesus’ gospel.

14237698_10154491382356804_4811150322787948244_n“Worship calls us to alternative visions, questioning and critiquing culture. Praising God may be at odds with what the surrounding culture deems worthy of praise. Worship needs to challenge us to live into the freedom we receive in Christ, a freedom from all that defies God. The counter- cultural lens asks us to reflect upon what in worship does not look and sound like the cultures we take for granted.” (“Can We Talk?: Engaging Worship and Culture,” p. 3)

Worship at Faith this Sunday will be counter-cultural by having the assembly sing in 4 different languages (Shona, Arabic, Chinese, and English). Out of the 8 pieces of music that will be used in worship, only 1 was composed in the United States. The other 7 all come from different corners of the world.

God’s kingdom has no borders or official language, besides the language of love.

Weekly Worship Thought – Confession

456903_381360738576439_143418169037365_1103943_1194963067_oOne of the elements of worship at The Gathering will change this week. It is the Prayer of Confession that takes place before the presider speaks the words of institution and we share communion. We added this confessional liturgy into The Gathering worship earlier this year and use it every week. I have been writing and compiling these prayers and this week will be our fourth iteration of it. The structure is the same from season to season:
  • Introduction (which might include acknowledgment of God’s attributes, thanksgiving for the offering that was just collected, and a call to confession from the presider)
  • Silence for reflection
  • Communal confession of sin (spoken in unison by the assembly)
  • Words of Forgiveness (which might include a call to the meal, transitioning us to the table and the words of institution)
One of the tricky things about curating this confessional prayer is to not transition into the meal focused on my sin and my forgiveness. Although the words of the confession us “us/we” language, there is a tendency to make confession about personal wrong-doing and personal forgiveness. However, the table is not so narrow. The table is not only concerned about me as an individual. The table is broad enough for the universe, and is the place where I “become what I eat” and am in turn made to be bread for the world. My goal in this prayer of confession is to set our minds and hearts on the cosmic reach of God’s forgiveness at the table, not merely what God has done for me individually.

Eucharistic Prayer of Confession @ The Gathering
Easter Season 2016

P:        Let us pray. God of all creation, we joyfully give back to you what you have given to us in abundance. All you have made is good, and your love endures forever. You give us bread from the earth and fruit from the vine. We do not presume to come to your table trusting in our own righteousness, but in your overflowing mercy. Let us confess our sin in the presence of God and of one another.

Silence is kept for reflection.

P:        God of grace and glory,

All:     you have brought us from death to life in Jesus’ resurrection. Yet our lives are still shadowed by sin. Make us alive in Christ, new creations in you. Rescue us in our time of need, renew us in grace, and restore us to living in your holiness, through Jesus Christ, our risen Lord. Amen.

P:        Brothers and sisters, we have victory in Christ who has defeated the powers of sin and death through his glorious resurrection. Join in the meal of God’s forgiveness. As we eat and drink the body and blood of our risen Lord, may we live in him and he in us, a foretaste of the feast to come.

In the night in which he was betrayed…

Weekly Worship Thought – Patriotic Music

photo-1428515634197-76c85896cf1fThis weekend is the Memorial Day holiday. Every once in a while someone will ask why we don’t sing patriotic songs in worship around Memorial Day, or Independence Day, or other national holidays. I am aware that there are many churches that will sing “God Bless America” or “O Beautiful for Spacious Skies” during worship around a holiday. In my thinking, that makes about as much sense as going to a Post Office and singing “How Great Thou Art” or “Amazing Grace.” Churches don’t owe their allegiance to a government. People of faith, while being citizens of a nation/state, are citizens of a spiritual country, a far off land. Sometimes (most times?) the priorities and engagements of a government can be in complete opposition to the principles of God’s kingdom as taught by Jesus. In some churches, the nationality of the members is so diverse that it wouldn’t make sense to lift up the patriotic music of any one group. Shouldn’t hospitality be shown to residents of every country, not just “ours.” God calls us to a higher citizenship.

Weekly Worship Thought – Worship and Culture

NAIROBI STATEMENTOne 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:
  1. 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.
  1. 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).
  1. 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.
  1. 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…

Weekly Worship Thought – Holy Week

easter-10-0As we prepare for Holy Week, I invite you to invest your time in worship. Specifically I invite you to join in stride with Jesus as he advances through the last days of his pre-resurrected life. The three services of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Vigil unfold like three movements within a larger composition. Individually they stand on their own as thematic events, but bound together they walk us through Jesus’ passage from death to life. These three services are sometimes called Triduum, or Three Days. The meaning of Easter is embedded in these Three Days. 

The Future of ELCA Worship

The Future of ELCA WorshipOn October 19-21 I will be in Chicago for a trip to the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America’s churchwide offices. It is an honor to be asked by Rev. Kevin Strickland, Director of Worship for the ELCA, to participate in the Consultation on the Ongoing Renewal of Worship in the Church. We will be discerning what the continually unfolding renewal of worship in our churches might look like in the years ahead. As I prepare, I have been reflecting on what I long for in my own life and in my own ministry context. Where do I need to experience growth in my pilgrimage as a disciple following along the Jesus path? In what ways do I want to see the worship I design and lead stretched and deepened? Here are three areas I want to discover and grow into the future – both personally and corporately:

  1. Learn to Worship – I realize that stating a desire to learn to worship can sound bizarre coming from a professional church musician. Perhaps a better proposition would be that I desire for all my assumptions about worship to be challenged. Asking the right questions can peck away at our engrained assumptions about worship. Where is my understanding of worship one-dimensional when in reality it is three-dimensional? When am I distracted from truly worshiping in the midst of the assembly? Why don’t I make room for quiet and stillness? Where is God present when I assume God’s absence? How do I faithfully prepare my heart for worship before every assembly? Why do I suppose the living, breathing, moving God of heaven and earth is restricted to my preferences and tastes? What would a Sunday without music or speech look like? Where have adiaphora taken place of the central things? Renewing worship means asking critical questions about why our worship is the way it is.
  1. Learn to Feast – I have long felt that communion is more feast than funeral. Yet we more often than not connect the weekly Eucharist to Jesus’ last supper, betrayal, and subsequent execution. What about every other meal Jesus ate? What about the food with tax collectors, and the miraculously expanding fish and loaves, and the meal with two disciples at Emmaus, and the post-resurrection fish breakfast tacos? Jesus was doing something significant in reconstituting the Passover, no doubt. Christ is our Paschal Victim/Victor. But I think there is something important beneath it all: Jesus ate with people. Our celebrations around God’s table are connected to every meal Jesus ever ate – including the everlasting meal to come in God’s eternal Kingdom. What does the ritual action of feasting look like? How can communion become more feast than funeral?
  2. Learn to Converge – We are trapped by the need to clearly label and categorize our worship. Using worship as a tool to target a specific group of people produces consumers, not disciples. Instead of being preoccupied with the copyright date of the songs we sing (as if church music had an expiration date), we should be singing the best and broadest types of music from God’s people in all places and times. In doing so our worship becomes countercultural (perhaps counter to the surrounding culture, perhaps counter to the prevailing church culture). Liturgical action teaches us self-denial and humility, where the surrounding culture may teach us to get ahead and have it our way. Through singing broad types of music we also become cross-cultural and can see God through the artistic offerings of cultures besides our own. This is the heart of convergent worship. Convergent worship is not a style. It is a mindset. Convergent worship is the coming together of the historic and the contemporary at every level of worship (not just the music) to create maximum opportunities for engaging worshipers with the presence of God. Convergent worship expresses a willingness to reopen all questions about worship and to learn from the entire worshipping community. Convergent worship has a healthy respect for the past while maintaining an absolute commitment to contemporary relevance.

These are the areas where I see a need for growth in my own personal and corporate worship. What about you – what does the future of worship look like to you?